Maya Okamoto is a founding member of Changing Our Community, a Los Angeles-based youth giving circle. A senior at Flintridge Preparatory School, Maya met her fellow giving circle members through Yonsei Basketball Association, a cultural exchange program for fourth generation Japanese American youth from Southern California. She is kind enough to share with us her experience attending AAPIP's National Giving Circle Convening with several of her fellow giving circle members on September 20 and 21 in Chicago. (Photo: Maya with Changing Our Community members Eric and Ashley and community activist Eddy Zheng)
I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at the first dinner event on Friday night. As we meagerly ventured inside, a flood of unfamiliar faces rushed past us. The familiar faces that we did see were few and far in between. The first person we met was Eddy Zheng, who after introducing himself, promptly asked what we thought “youth” was and meant. “Oh god,” I thought, “What am I even doing here?”
As the night went on, I began to loosen up, introduce myself to more people, and began conversations. What I learned from these brief but meaningful conversations was how accomplished everyone seemed to be. Everyone was very invested in what they did and had a deep connection with the people they helped. These people were not satisfied with the static nature of philanthropic investments in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Not only had everyone identified with the problem, but they also took action to change the situation. There was a pervading sense of pride among all the constituents that I found invigorating and exciting.
It’s funny because everyone would always say how “inspired” they were by our youth giving circle. The truth is that we were awestruck by everyone else. We gained so much wisdom and perspective from all the other Giving Circles that will be invaluable to our success as very young, inexperienced philanthropists. Before the Convening, I felt as though these Giving Circles dispersed across the country were just independent organizations with their own agendas. In reality, we are all intertwined. We are a part of a larger movement.
At the Convening, I was finally able to grasp the passion and the dedication that everyone has for not only their particular cause but for the larger community as a whole. It was humbling to see the true emotion of everyone as they described how important giving back was to them and how we, as individuals, can join together and enable change. Every single member of the conference embodies the quote by Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” It is amazing to be a part of something that is larger than yourself, something that is a vehicle for real change. I am so grateful that I was able to share this unique experience with my fellow Giving Circle members.