August 15th, 2013
Coming Full Circle
Justice is realized through moments in time – something you must see or experience to understand. There are two defining moments in my life that have shaped my view of social justice. When I was just about 5 years old, my family emigrated from Taiwan. We first moved to Tennessee because my aunt lived there. My cousins, brother and I were the only Asian Americans in our school; we were teased and bullied. I didn’t speak much English so I had limited tools to fight back against the racist teasing I faced. This experience made a deep imprint on me. I have a strong need for everyone to have a sense of love and belonging and the right to pursue their own purpose.
My second experience happened when I was at UC Santa Cruz. I remember seeing a lesbian couple walking arm and arm and thinking, how terrible it is to be ostracized for loving. That was a turning point when I realized that discrimination against any of us truly hurts all of us. I have never looked back.
I stumbled into the non-profit sector after college. It’s not like there is much outreach and support for nonprofit careers, but once I started working for a nonprofit I realized that there were endless opportunities. I started stepping up and saying “yes” to leadership. Through simply taking things on, I have developed the knowledge, networks, and power that have led to numerous advances and shaped me for the better.
I have held many professional roles in the nonprofit space - at the Whitecap Foundation; the Public Corporation for the Arts; the California Association of Nonprofits; and at CompassPoint Nonprofit Services. Now, I am lucky enough to work for an amazing foundation, the Dwight Stuart Youth Fund, focused on supporting underprivileged youth in Los Angeles.
But as much as I love my work, my life would not be complete without the volunteer work and giving I do in my community. Volunteer leadership is both expansive and unlimited. It allows fully self-empowered individuals to co-create with other fully self-empowered individuals. These acts of service allow me to live out my values and spend time with wonderful people. I can’t imagine being happy without giving to the world around me. My current volunteer leadership roles include: Board Member and Investment Committee Chair, Liberty Hill Foundation; Chair, LA Partnership for Early Childhood Investment; President, National Charity League, Inc., Westside Chapter; Chair, Trustee Initiative.
I facilitate a big chunk of my giving through the Liberty Hill Foundation because I love their commitment to inclusion, justice and leadership development.
Additionally, my giving is through giving circles - groups of donors who pool their contributions and make grants together. I am a founding member of five of them:
- Asian Americans Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy’s National Donor Circle,
- Women of Color Giving Circle,
- LA Asian Pacific Islander Giving Circle,
- Circle of Change, and
- The OUT Fund.
Currently, I co-chair the OUT Fund which focuses its giving to the needs of LGBTQ communities in Los Angeles. I believe that Giving Circles are a great way to get more people involved in giving. People are drawn to the camaraderie with the other members and the ability to learn about issues in your community. It’s about individuals contributing what they can or 50 members giving $500 dollars each. Five hundred dollars is significant but $25,000 is BOLD! It’s really rewarding to be able to give $3,000 - $5,000 grants to small, community-based organizations that have not necessarily received funding from traditional sources. The Liberty Hill Foundation offers resources and a home to donors interested in starting a giving circle. In fact, donor circles are the fastest growing part of our donor advised funds. Institutional philanthropy is not part of most people’s cultural traditions, but helping the community is. We are building a new generation of givers who put their heart and soul into it.
Social Justice inspires all my giving. Whether it’s to a youth organization serving at-risk underprivileged students, access to the arts, or building leadership capacity to social justice organizations – the theme is inclusion so that everyone can live their purpose.
I love empowering youth through the arts. I have produced three youth musicals. One of them, “Water and Power” made it to off Broadway as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival. It’s a play about the industrial revolution written by Jeff Lantos, a very talented high school history teacher. We sold out two amazing shows, every line and every note was spot on; our kids blew me away! Every one of those kids learned that there is no dream too big to dream if you just open the door and step through.
People ask me how I do it all. I tell them “You can do everything you want, just not all at the same time. Take it step by step and stay committed.” We each get to create the world we wish to see by simply not quitting. You are the one you have been waiting for. Our circumstances do not matter, what matters is our state of being. We have the power to create reality and give life meaning, but only if we act. Change does not just happen; it is something you do. For me, it is something I do joyfully every day.