Asian Women Leaders in Atlanta – Our Hidden Resource
Guest post by Sonjui Kumar, Board Chair of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Atlanta and one of the Founding partners of Kumar, Prabhu, Patel and Banerjee, LLC and Aparna Bhattacharyya, Executive Director of Raksha, Inc.
At 8 a.m. on the morning after the Atlanta Spa shootings on March 16, the Asian American community of metro Atlanta came together on a hastily organized Zoom call. Over 60 people joined the call. There were a few men, but primarily it was the women, the Asian women of our city that came forward bringing their skills, their experience, their resources, and their connections, to help the mostly Asian female victims who had been tragically killed the night before. These were the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) women you often see in the forefront of our community, but so many that you do not – the therapists, and the interpreters, the advocates, and the non-profit leaders, all focused on helping the victims of the shootings, their husbands, their children, their friends and families. This was our moment, our call to action, and we answered it, and slowly, deliberately, did what had to be done, always keeping the unique needs of our population in mind. Immigration concerns, language access, privacy, families. What has struck us in the last few weeks is how we are wired to do this work quietly and purposefully, without the usual conflicts.
A few years ago, a well-known Atlanta journalist stated at a leadership event focused on power and influence in the city, that there were no Asian American leaders that had made a mark on metro Atlanta. We understood that statement for what it was, false, not intentionally but ignorantly. There are hundreds of us, working in our corners of the metro, helping individuals in their times of need, often survivors of violence or crimes, keeping them informed, helping them become citizens, registering them to vote. Our roots in this part of the country are not that deep, half a generation for some, one for others. But still in these short years, we have created a community that is broad, talented and ready to act when needed. As we write this, Asian American women are leading some of the most critical non-profits in Atlanta, including Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta, Center for Pan Asian Community Services, , Raksha, Inc, We Luv BuHi, Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network, Georgia Muslim Voter Project, Korean American Coalition, and the Asian American Advocacy Fund, organizations that greatly enhance the quality of life in Atlanta for everyone.
Whether it is political engagement and getting AAPIs to vote, meeting the critical needs of AAPIs impacted by food and housing insecurity, addressing immigrant survivors of violence, AAPI women leaders are behind the scenes fighting for the diverse needs of this city and this state.
We believe without doubt that the shooter was targeting Asian Americans. Whatever the courts find, the fact that he chose these businesses and these workers as the recipients of his hate is not a coincidence. For us, this was the definition of a hate crime.
We learned so much during this crisis. We learned that there are groups of people nationally that have dealt with mass shootings and every other type of disaster that can impact a city. We, through an informal string of referrals, got plugged into the ecosystem of others who had handled funds for survivors of mass shootings. They were kind and generous with their time and information, giving us documents, protocols and guidance as we navigated an area that was completely new to us. It only took a few calls for us to figure out what we had to do and how to do it because of the work that they had done already. We are extraordinarily grateful to all the community foundations, victims’ advocates and the residents of El Paso, Dayton, Ventura County, Charleston and Orlando for sharing what they had learned during their moments of crisis.
We also learned that there are organizations and people, professionals, who have made assisting others their mission and purpose. We learned how to use their experience without letting it subsume our own instincts.
The Asian American community in Atlanta did what it’s supposed to do, it came together, it supported those who were working on the ground with the families and the survivors. But there was a lot of time spent on trial and error that could have been avoided. We did not know who was supposed to take the lead, we just knew that we needed some centralized leadership. There was a lot of work to be done in a very short period of time. The burden fell on a few people and although they rose to the occasion, it could have been shared, and it could have been more efficient.
We urge you to learn more about our communities and our leadership in Atlanta not just in May, during Asian American Heritage month, but 365 days a year.