To commemorate AAPIP’s 25 years of building a more democratic philanthropic sector, we asked you to help us identify 25 leaders who are making a difference in your local community and/or nationally. The 25 Leaders in Action honorees represent a diverse group spanning a wide range of organizations, years of experiences, roles and sectors. We invite you to learn about these outstanding leaders, their inspiring work and what keeps them going in our blog post series.
1. Why are you passionate about advocating for AAPI communities?
For one, I'm part of Asian American Pacific Islander communities and consider it to be my political home with cultural roots. I think back on the history of Asian American Pacific Islanders in this country in which our contributions to help build society are vast, yet our experiences with pervasive anti-Asian racism runs deep. This sorted past is also part of the country's legacy around stolen land and slavery. As a second generation, Chinese American woman who grew up in a small Chinese immigrant community in the Midwest and now lives and works here, I think about who was here before me and helped to build our local communities. This spurs me to contribute, to make our communities stronger both in my lifetime and for the generation ahead.
I'm also influenced by my parents’ and grandparents’ generations: When I was young, I watched my parents and their circle of friends sit for hours, shell watermelon seeds, tell stories and talk about the political changes back 'home' and what they can do together while living 'here'. This instilled in me that a small group of people make change. I remember my grandmother's story (when she left her home during the war, refused to leave any of her five children behind and traveled by boat alone and rebuilt her family life in a new country). I think about what she did to survive and it reminds me that each generation’s struggle and resilience matters. These stories planted a seed in me early on to build our communities with heart and responsibility.
2. What do you believe are the most critical issues facing AAPI communities today?
To me it’s investing in our voices, power and leaders so we can address any critical issue facing our communities. This means:
- Shore-up the local leadership of Asian American Pacific Islanders especially Asian Pacific Islanders, AAPI lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and youth and elders. This goes hand in hand with shoring up local organizations that act as hubs for develop leaders. For instance, Freedom, Inc. in Madison, Wisconsin does incredible work to develop young leaders in concrete ways.
- Build the regional capacity of communities to address systemic racism, violence, and poverty. And with this, continue to build a sustainable Asian American Pacific Islander movement where local leaders and communities can connect to one another and build regional to national momentum.
3. In what ways do you strive to address the unmet needs for AAPI communities?
One is as a creative community builder. I strive to create work and support work by other artists that tell the many different stories of Asian American Pacific Islander communities and spur our collective imagination and action. Minneapolis/ St. Paul is a regional epicenter of Asian American Pacific Islander artist activists as well as artists of color more broadly. I've had the honor of working alongside fierce Asian American women and other women of color artists to connect, dance, perform and advocate around injustice facing women of color. Another is as a philanthropoid. Being under-resourced and under-funded is a condition facing all AAPI communities. I strive to leverage philanthropy in support of Asian American Pacific Islander and communities of color. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from and work alongside those field leaders with unwavering commitment to justice and inclusion and push philanthropy to do better.
4. What keeps you inspired?
Staying connected and being creative fuels me. This summer I was at an annual conference where spoken word artists and performers, Kit Yang and Chong Moua got on stage and killed it. What inspires me is not only the creativity and collaborative spirit of the artists, but the authenticity with which they tell their stories. I felt it in the room like everyone else there that night who cheered, teared up and laughed. As Grace Lee Boggs said, "a revolution is based on the people exercising their creativity in the midst of devastation is one of the great historical contributions of our time.” Well, Grace sums it up for me. And like so many of us, she keeps me inspired too.
Kayva Yang brings 15 years of experience in the philanthropic and nonprofit sector working to ensure communities thrive with resources, support and a platform for their voices and efforts. She believes in the power of listening and leading authentically to move hearts and minds of whole communities working for social change.
Kayva has worked on regional to national philanthropic advocacy efforts, grantmaking and capacity building programs that help to build the Midwest’s Asian American Pacific Islander, Latino, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Queer communities. Currently she is an independent consultant in the areas of community engagement, community-led grantmaking and facilitation that serve people of color communities. Most recently, Kayva was Director of Programs at PFund Foundation, a regional LGBTQ social justice funder. Prior to this, she lead the gender justice coalition work at a refugee and immigrant service agency. Her work in philanthropy advocacy included the Asian Americans/ Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy’s National Gender & Equity Campaign and Hispanics in Philanthropy’s Funders’ Collaborative for Strong Latino Communities.
Kayva serves on the Board of Directors of Borealis Philanthropy. As an artist, she has performed with Ananya Dance Theater, Aniccha Arts and Mu Performing Arts. She lives, creates and works in Minneapolis.