What are you currently doing (career-wise)?
- My official title is the Philadelphia Youth Projects Director under VietLead, a new organization founded to leverage and engage with our community's collective knowledge, multifaceted histories, and lived experiences to develop innovative solutions to improve community health, increase self determination, and develop Vietnamese and Southeast Asian leadership in Philadelphia and South Jersey. As a youth projects director, I oversee all programming related to youth leadership, political development, and academic and college support to provide the students with an opportunity structure to grow their understanding of the world and of themselves while engaging actively with the community. During the school year, I run two after school social justice programs for low income high school students of color across the city to engage theoretically in histories and social issues through political education and practically through planning and envisioning for a community food sovereignty gathering. Over the summer, I co-run an intensive six-week youth leadership program for Southeast Asian students to explore their roots and (re)connect with their histories through the lens of food sovereignty and social justice; the program also challenges the students to engage directly with the community through an oral history project.
What were you involved with during your time at Penn?
- Throughout the four years at Penn, I was a Civic Scholar, and I participated in the Asian American Studies Undergrad Advisory Board (under which I was a co-chair for 2 years). For the first two years at Penn, I was also involved with VSA and various PAACH projects (like PEER and APALI). Starting the third year, I decided to invest my time and energy in being a youth project coordinator for BPSOS-Delaware Valley, another Vietnamese organization back then. That was the beginning of my involvement in youth political development work.
How were you connected to Civic House while at Penn?
- It was actually the summer before my senior year in high school that I was first told about the Civic Scholars Program from a then-Penn student. I believe the following April in 2011 before my first year at Penn that I was invited to the Civic House by Walter and Arlene to have a conversation about who I was and why I was interested in the program. So I became a Civic Scholar and went through the program for four years.
How do you remain involved with social justice/community engagement in your daily life?
- Social justice/community engagement is the basis of my everyday paid work (as mentioned above), so it's not hard to stay involved with it. Working with young people of color in the city, many of whom not much younger than me, allows me to be more grounded in reality. I can't not stay involved when injustices continue to exist and impact my communities. Given the new reality that is a country already deep-rooted in white supremacy and heteropatriarchy now electing a white supremacist and heteropatriarch as the next President, these injustices will only be more intensified as time passes by. For this reason, it has become ever more urgent for me to continue to fight for myself, for my students, and for my community. I've been able to do this with the support of my comrades in VietLead, who share a collective vision for self-determination for our community through our multifaceted approaches on health, food sovereignty, electoral engagement, and youth development work.
What was something meaningful about your time with Civic House?
- Almost my entire time at Penn, I was self-conscious about my background as an immigrant kid speaking English with an accent from a working class family who was now going to a private institution that was a drastically different reality from what I'd been living in. Civic House provided me with a space where I could be my political self more and allowed me to have access to the collective knowledge of a lot of people before me. That was how I was introduced to, and decided to partake in the Mexico Solidarity Network study abroad program, which was no doubt one of the best decisions I'd ever made in my life.
Do you have any advice for undergraduates?
- Philadelphia is so much more than just what Penn has to offer. Go out there, get involved in the communities that have contributed so much to the city you are studying in right now, but get involved understanding that you're there to learn and to support, not to save them from whatever problems they're trying to solve. If you can't, fight for change on campus, get involved in students-led organizations that fight for social justice like SOUL or SLAP, and educate yourselves on the role Penn has played in devastating the West Philadelphia communities the past decades. Take the red pill, know the path, try to see for yourselves what the world really is. It's challenging and never easy, but given the current political moment, it's the only way forward. And when you finally know the path, the next step is to learn how you can walk on it.