by Stephanie Kripa Cooper-Lewter, Ph.D., M.S.W.
The minute my feet hit New York City streets this past June, I was struck once again by nonstop lights and the hustle and bustle among a diverse array of people from all walks of life. Visiting this city is always an adventure. While walking in the heart of Times Square, I paused to reflect on Muhammad Ali’s photo prominently displayed across a mega digital billboard; Ali had passed away one week earlier, the greatest boxing legend in the world.
I traveled to New York to participate in AAPIP’s National Network Convening and Giving Circle Campaign Celebration. Joined by my fellow Roshni Sister, Harley Place, AAPIP’s opening plenary deeply resonated with the audience as participants from Asian American, Pacific Islander and Native communities from around the country stood and shared their I Am Philanthropy stories. I was invited to add my story and what inspired me to lead Roshni, Lost Sarees National Women’s Giving Circle. The group collectively laughed and shed tears as we listened to the profoundly compelling stories. I saw a common thread in our journeys: a strong personal commitment to give back and willingness to be a part of a healing movement in order to see our families, along with our communities, fully supported and whole.
With Muhammad Ali’s recent passing, AAPIP Board member Suk Rhee’s plenary remarks highlighted Ali’s journey and commitment to justice, lessons from his life that we could learn from and apply to our own. She challenged us to defy the conventional, to risk something meaningful in our quest to make an impact, and reminded us we are so much more than our every day roles. As she neared her closing, she shared this quote by Ali that has stayed with me: “Boxing was nothing. It wasn’t important it all. Boxing was just meant as a way to introduce me to the world.”
Philanthropy, too, is nothing and unimportant if it doesn’t introduce the struggles, heartaches, and triumphs of our beautiful communities to the world. In Hindi, Roshni means light, brilliance and brightness. I am so proud to be connected with nine other remarkable women who serve as Roshni Inaugural Founding Members, spreading their light and love with others through giving, service and leadership: Rebecca Peacock in Washington, Sumitra Dorner in Minnesota, Parul Agrawal in Arizona, Roshni Rao in Maryland, Reshma McClintock in Colorado, Anuradha Murali in South Carolina, Jahnavi Muppaneni in Texas, Harley Place in New Jersey and Courtney Cooper-Lewter in North Carolina.
In the days and months ahead, we will continue to build our Roshni Sisterhood to South Asian descent women in other states as we support South Asian women and their families across the country. I plan to apply Mohammed Ali’s wisdom to our collective Roshni story – together, philanthropy is meant to introduce our beautiful South Asian community’s legacies of strength and resilience to the world.
We are philanthropy.
Dr. Stephanie Kripa Cooper-Lewter is the founding visionary behind Roshni, Lost Sarees National Women’s Giving Circle and serves as the National Founding Chair. She currently works full-time in philanthropy, and was the former President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Columbia. She received her Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina and M.S.W. from the University of Minnesota.