Racial justice and the long road ahead

The theme for this year’s Asian American Leadership Forum was “Justice Beyond Just Us.” More than a clever saying that paraphrases what the country has been struggling with in the past year, it is a signal of the clear direction that Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago should take in the future. Thank you to the 200 AALF participants — including 10 from out of state (Michigan and Ohio), and 55 high school students from our KINETIC program. Additional thanks go out to We Charge Genocide, Black Youth Project 100, and the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, for making this type of conversation around racial justice possible. This conference also could not have happened without the continued support of our leadership development programs by Aon Corporation.

While we clearly lead with our Asian American identity, our mission is to empower Asian Americans and other underserved communities to promote a fair and equitable society for all. After 15 years at this organization, I see that our community has shifted from searching for one common Asian American voice to one that yearns for the acknowledgement of the intersectionality of race, class, gender identities, religion, abilities that paint the full picture of our communities.
As a staff, we talk about what it means to be in true solidarity for the long-term, not just in those moments when it’s one of our own, like in the case of Jessica Klyzek who was threatened with deportation and physically assaulted by Chicago Police in a security video released last year, or just last week, Sureshbhai Patel who was thrown to the ground by Alabama police after being unable to answer the officer’s questions in English. For some, this is a wakeup call that Asian Americans are perpetual foreigners, strangers in their own country.  For others, these scenes play out in a long history of police violence in communities of color.
In the past year, the country has been gripped with these same questions with the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, with no indictment in Eric Garner’s case, and in the murder of Akai Gurley, shot in a New York City high-rise by an Asian American police officer. When it comes to race, Asian Americans rarely have the space to create our own understanding of where we fit in, in the US’s Black and White paradigm. We are asked to pick a side before we are able to talk about how we are complicit or exploited in continuing racial inequities.
We were reminded recently that violence towards our communities does not just come from the police, as three North Carolina State students, who were also Muslim, were murdered execution style in the parking lot of their apartment complex. Our hearts go out to their families.
When violence is committed by those sworn to protect us, or the justice system fails people of color, how do you maintain hope? What do we do as people who want to be allies, who want to reach out, and who want to learn more? How do we bring our community along for the long road ahead? February is Black History Month, and we take this time to re-commit to the push for justice and continue seeking the best ways to educate our communities that Black lives matter.
Yuri Kochiyama saw a shared fate with Malcolm X and the Black community, while being a fierce advocate for reparations for Japanese Americans, who were incarcerated in American concentration camps during WWII. How do we honor her legacy?
This year’s Asian American Leadership Forum was the only the beginning of a dialogue and our struggle to address these complex questions, and look for hope and solutions. In the process, we sought to educate ourselves, create meaningful dialogue, and take positive action.
I want to thank all of you for being with us on this journey with open minds and open hearts. As Dr. Cornell West says, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”