Q&A: How youth-led nonprofit Asians Lead aims to empower and shatter stereotypes

The teen founders want to help young Asian and Pacific Islanders to redefine, inspire, educate and create.

Three months ago, 15-year-old Riya Goel and 18-year-old Aria Yang teamed up to launch Asians Lead, a nonprofit organization that empowers young Asian and Pacific Islander leaders to embrace their cultures and confront Asian-American stereotypes.

The teens, who are both Teen Advisors for Girl Up – a UN Foundation initiative committed to advancing girls' skills, rights, and opportunities to lead in their local communities both nationally and internationally – want to empower other young Asian Americans to redefine, inspire, educate and create. They’re also looking to raise awareness of long-neglected issues facing the Asian American community and shine a spotlight on Asian and Pacific Islander accomplishments.

Campaign US caught up with Goel and Yang to hear more about the Asians Lead mission, what they think brands can do to help and more. See below for the full Q&A.

What inspired you to found Asians Lead? Was there a specific personal moment or story that kicked it off?

Yang: Being an Asian girl in a predominantly white Catholic school hasn’t been easy for me. I have experienced and seen Asians being picked on or made fun of so many times I am almost desensitized to it. Not to mention how our culture emasculates Asian men and sexualizes Asian women without even realizing it. I aspire to be a theater actress and a journalist in the future, but it’s very rare to see people who look like me on TV or on stage. Asian representation is a very serious issue that’s not being talked about right now and I want to change that for future generations.

Goel: In school and in my community, everyone always thinks that I have great grades or that my academics are my priority. Don’t get me wrong, I do have great grades, but it’s not because I am Asian. I play sports and do several other things, and Asian students and people in general shouldn’t be discriminated against for that. I have also been pushed into specific, traditional career paths, and discouraged from doing creative activities such as theatre and art, which can happen to everyone, but is more predominant amongst Asian families.

Tell us about the main mission of Asians Lead.

Asians Lead is a youth-led nonprofit organization that empowers young Asian and Pacific Islander leaders to bring changes to the world. We focus on shattering the myth of "model minority" and bring awareness to the long-neglected issues that the Asian American community is facing. We encourage young Asian and Pacific Islanders to "Redefine, Inspire, Educate, and Create." We highlight the accomplishments of the Asian and Pacific Islander community and mobilize more Asian and Pacific Islanders to be proud of their roots and take action against stereotypes and glass ceilings.

Media (films, music, advertising), as well as the c-suite departments of companies, are all lacking in Asian representation. What advice do you have for Asians to help address this issue?

Our advice is to be proud and fearless. We need more representation in the media, and when we are represented, we need to call out disrespectful behaviors, languages and toxic stereotypes. We have to be proud of our roots and culture, and own, support, and praise what the Asian American community has accomplished. More Asians should run for office, take up leadership roles, and follow non-traditional career paths to make strides in the media.

Are you hoping to partner with brands or other non-profits to explain your mission? What kinds?

Yes, absolutely. We are hoping to partner with other brands and non-profit organizations that advocate for racial equality, representation, and youth empowerment, especially those led by Asian American youth and young adults. We are very excited about expanding our project and connecting with other empowered leaders.

I’m sure you have many goals with Asians Lead. What’s one thing you’re hoping to have successfully addressed and changed within the next year?

Our main focus right now is to empower youth. We want to make our organization accessible to everyone across the country and the globe. By letting young people all over the world start their own chapters and start their own initiatives under the umbrella of Asians Lead, we can really expand and grow as an organization. Within the next year, we want to empower as many young Asian leaders and establish as many chapters of Asians Lead as possible. We want to eventually be able to roll out a scholarship program in which we can award scholarships to Asian students following non-traditional career paths, and of course, to redefine, inspire, create, and educate along the way.

You’re very driven, hard-working teenagers. How do you find the time to manage this while also doing homework, staying involved in other extracurricular activities and making time for friends and family?

Yang: I have a very full schedule and it’s pretty hard to be on top of everything honestly. I am a broadcaster, an actress, a Mock Trial attorney, a student council senate, a gender equality club leader in school, and a Teen Advisor at Girl Up. I have a planner that keeps me organized so I don’t miss any deadlines. I would say the best way to get things done is to get started. When I think of something I want to do, I just get to it right away. Also, making full use of small breaks in the schedule has helped me a lot. For example, instead of being on social media for five minutes before class starts, I would work on my college application or reply to emails, etc.

But most importantly, I have passions for Asians Lead and everything else I do. It keeps me motivated and excited about life. I don’t mind giving up a couple hours of sleep or not going to a birthday party because I am doing what I love. The best advice I can give is to do the things you truly love and your passion will drive you to utilize every second to get things done.

Goel: I feel like work is a constant for everyone. It is up to our generation to fill in the gaps in terms of representation, equality and just a better world. What drives me through my day to day is honestly my passion for what I do. I am an all-season athlete, a junior in high school taking 4 AP classes, a climate activist with the New Jersey Climate Advocates and New Jersey Sustainability Coalition, a teen advisor with Girl Up, a Girl Scout, and a Girl Advocate with the Working Group on Girls. This statement is going to sound very Gen Z, but using my phone has honestly been a lifesaver for me. With my phone, I can do homework or review terms in transit between activities. Also, between studying for school, I give myself breaks where I can do some of my organizational work. The best thing that I can recommend is to not overwork oneself, so I chunk off parts of my weekend that’s reserved for time with family and friends to let myself unwind and destress. Even if that means a little less time for me to work, being efficient in less time is more effective for me than doing the same amount of work in more time.

Do you plan on continuing to run Asians Lead after high school? Will you bring on more people to help?

Yes. We want to keep Asians Lead running for as long as we can. In fact, we plan on dedicating more time to Asians Lead after high school. We would love to have more people involved in Asians Lead to bring this project to its full potential. We are working on recruiting executive officers right now so we can have more help. Check out our Instagram page @asianslead or email us at asianslead@gmail.com for more info.

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