Act to Change Gala

The 5th Annual National AAPI Day Against Bullying and Hate


Interviewers: Arvie Martinez @arvielm & Gloria Roh @gloriaroh

Photos: Courtesy of Act to Change

In commemoration of the 5th Annual National AAPI Day Against Bullying and Hate, the national nonprofit organization Act To Change honored trailblazers and youth activists at a vibrant gala event held in Washington, D.C. As a profound sense of unity, purpose, and gratitude permeated the atmosphere, awardees such as Daniel Dae Kim, Kiran Ahuja, Ryan Alexander Holmes, Annie Leyao Dong, and the student leaders of AAPI Youth Rising took to the podium. Here, they shared deeply personal stories, applauded the strides made within the AAPI community, and reflected thoughtfully on the significance of continuing the legacy of their predecessors while paving the way for future generations.

The mission to end bullying for the AAPI community is more critical than ever. A staggering 80 percent of Asian American youth report being victims of bullying, and anti-Asian hate crimes saw an alarming surge of 339 percent in 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of giving in to fear and remaining silent in the face of anti-Asian violence, young people are choosing to rise to the occasion and speak openly about their experiences to advocate for their right to safety. Kiran Ahuja, Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, former executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and 2023 Impact Awardee, passionately expressed, "A big part of what we’re doing here is giving a platform and permission for youth to talk about their feelings and experiences in whatever venue and form they want, and really honoring that."

Echoing the call for the creation of safe environments where the youth can feel both validated and heard, Maulik Pancholy, actor, author, and chair of Act To Change, emphasized the restorative power of shared experiences. “Through the work we do, I see firsthand when a young person shares their experience, it’s healing for them to talk about their stories. It’s healing for another student to hear their story to know they’re not alone. They also find solutions, ways to help each other, and ways to feel empowered by their identity.”

Throughout the event, the power of community was on full display. A common narrative shared by speakers was one of growing up without trusted resources to turn to when they struggled with their identity or sense of belonging. “When I was a kid, we didn’t have anything like this. We didn’t have spaces like this,” shared honoree Ryan Alexander Holmes. “These spaces are truly important because with community behind your back, the smiles are bigger. The voice is stronger and louder.”

Daniel Dae Kim, a renowned actor, producer, and the recipient of the 2023 Impact Award, further underscored the pragmatic necessity of communal solidarity. He stated, "Even though we come from many different countries throughout Asia, we share some very important things in common. Being marginalized for the way we look is something we all share. The ways we act in concert are ways we can amplify our own voices and increase our power." This sentiment underlines the crux of the event—the shared struggle of being marginalized and the collective power of the community acting in unity.

The most inspiring moments of the evening came from conversations with young student activists who are taking action to educate peers and create massive change in their school communities and beyond. Mina Fedor, founder and executive director of AAPI Youth Rising (AYR), runs a student-led program that offers free lessons on AAPI history and advocates for its inclusion in textbooks and classrooms across the country. AYR also fosters safe and inclusive spaces for AAPI youth and promotes youth voices and opinions. The organization has grown to 80 members in 15 different states. Kobi Thomas, an AYR Board Member and Content Manager, reflected on this inspiring movement saying, "What we've noticed is these kids are so ready to take action, they just didn't have the platform to do so. By giving them a platform and empowering them to use their voice, the amount of kids we've mobilized is awesome."

Bearing testament to this blossoming activism, two AAPI Youth Rising Chapter Leaders from different parts of the country brought their unique challenges and victories into focus.Colin Poon and Kira Ly, AYR Chapter Leaders in Florida and Ohio, are well aware of the challenges posed by representing populations where Asians constitute a small, single-digit minority. For them, the stakes are heightened as they strive to advocate for inclusive education and secure spaces for AAPI youth. "In central Florida, we passed a bill to actually include AAPI history in our schools. We were learning about the contributions of African Americans, Hispanic contributions, women's contributions… but not AAPIs. So we got it done,” shared Colin. Kira, on the other hand, stirred up awareness in her school by erecting a large, eye-catching window display endorsing pan-Asian education, with photos from AAPI history, despite her school’s reluctance. “I am not a silent minority,” she passionately declared. “I am a loud minority and I will use my voice.”