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Black History Month: How Asian Americans Can (and Should) Show Up for Black Communities

In celebration of Black History Month, local Asian American community leaders share the importance of allyship with Black communities. The recent death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis police renews the call for police reform and the importance of all communities to speak out against injustice.


Black and Asian communities have a long history of organizing together. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Asian Americans working as immigrant laborers in the US were often subjected to racial violence. That experience of discrimination created solidarity with the Black community. In recent years, the rise in anti-Asian hate sparked Black communities across the nation to show their support — participating in “Black & Asian Solidarity” rallies.


During the Civil Rights Movement, activists Grace Lee Boggs and Yuri Kochiyama aligned their efforts with African American activists. An active member of the Black Power Movement of the 1960s, with allies like Malcolm X, Boggs and her husband helped revitalize the young people of Detroit.


Kochiyama’s activism branched out from reparations for Japanese internees, to include civil rights for African Americans, prison reform and rights for political prisoners, and the fight for Puerto Rican independence.

TRAN NGUYEN-WILLS

Community Leader & Small Business Owner


First and foremost the rights and privileges Asian Americans have today are a direct result of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 which was enacted during the Civil Rights Movement. In fighting for their own rights, Black activists led the movement and opened up opportunities not just for themselves, but for us as well.


Black men and women were beaten, jailed, and killed fighting for us. This Federal law made it possible for many Vietnamese immigrants like my parents to rebuild their lives here in America after the Vietnam War. It is important that this history continues to be shared, honored and celebrated. This is the time for all of us to start the difficult conversations with our friends, family and the AAPI community, to confront complacency, systematic racism, micro-aggression, and anti-blackness.


I always remind myself and others in the AAPI community that we are not exempt from this work as a marginalized group. My goal is to spark conversations that have been ignored for far too long within our AAPI community.


Speak out against racism and injustice in your homes and communities. Continue to amplify Black voices and honor the sacrifices that our Black brothers and sisters have made so that we could be here today.


How I have shown up for the Black community was to use both my small business and personal platforms to speak out against racism and injustice. I will not tolerate people who say brands and businesses have no say in politics or in issues that hurt our communities and cause suffering to human lives.


After the Atlanta spa shootings, Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod was the only state or city representative who reached out to me as a Denver small business owner to not only amplify our voices but I was able to share our fears, anger, sadness as a community and how the pandemic exacerbated AAPI Hate all over the country.


I hold that act of being seen for once during the pandemic and the very genuine kindness by Leslie close to my heart till this day.

SEAN CHOI

Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, FirstBank

DJ and Promoter


All of our unique experiences and identities matter to the larger story of America. It is impossible to exist in isolation in America and in the world. We all benefit from the amazing things that all cultures have contributed to society, whether in science, music, technology, art, food, etc. The world is more prosperous with diversity.


However, if we want a diverse, just, inclusive, and fair world, we must work together, be allies, and engage in solidarity efforts. Racism has placed all ethnic peoples in similar positions of oppression, poverty, and marginalization.


There are underlying themes to the struggle of marginalized people, and great things can be achieved when we all work together to end hate and show up for each other.


As the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Director, I am passionate about implementing inclusive strategies for employees, customers, and communities. I currently help oversee FirstBank’s Black Employee Resource Group and serve on our Black African American Business Development Group.


Through FirstBank, we introduced the PATH Grant program that strives to build generational wealth and remove barriers to homeownership for Black and African American families, who represent the least likely ethnic/racial group to own a home. Thanks to the down payment assistance program, 150 families were able to become homeowners.

In my personal life, I am a DJ and promoter. For over 20 years, I’ve created hundreds of events that provide opportunities for local black musicians, artists, and vocalists. In partnership with The ReMINDers, a Colorado musical duo, I’ve performed for black communities and in festivals across the country from Oakland to New York City.

NEAL WALIA

Deputy Director, Asian Pacific Development Center


We need to internalize that the rights, freedoms and prosperity we experience as “Asians” are directly connected to the movements, struggles and sacrifices of black and indigenous people. It is because these communities have resisted, revolted, and died fighting for a world absent of oppression and persecution that we are able to live in this country and enjoy the freedoms we love so much.


We must also recognize that we have failed to stand and fight alongside our black, brown and indigenous communities who have long been calling for our solidarity and participation in the movements they have built.


How can we ask these communities to recognize our struggles when we have ignored theirs? How can we demand unity and allyship when we’ve refused to lend our power to those who have been fighting for us for centuries?

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