I am not blaming parents. We, as parents, lack awareness of the importance of leadership because of how we were raised — not to lead, but to be great students so that we can get respectable jobs.
My goal is to break this mould. I believe our young people can be trained.
The Summer Youth Leadership Program (SYLP) was established in 1995 through the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation. To keep an all-expenses-paid program running for 16 continuous years is ambitious for a publishing company.
The three-week training includes learning and networking with community leaders, public speaking workshops, discussing current affairs, daily lunches in the International District, and field trips. The students have to do group projects, journal writing, and write an article for this special issue.
At the end of the camp, some students receive a scholarship if they prove that they will apply their newly learned skills to give back to their schools and communities.
What’s our reward?
One former student told me that the program gave him the confidence he needed to run for class president. Another said the experience gave him the skills to run his fraternity. One had the courage to change her college major from accounting to art. Today, she is a graphic designer. When I saw the wedding card she designed herself, I was moved to tears.
In 2001, one brave student took a photo of the police officer who stopped and searched half of our students, accusing them of jaywalking. The photo was later used in court, with pro bono attorneys Yvonne Ward and Leo Hamaji representing the students and contesting the citation given.
These are the kind of students that make our hard work worth it.
How did this program start?
In 1995, Vivian Phillips-Scott heard about my dream of developing young leaders. As marketing director for the Paramount Theater, she suggested to Ida Cole, then owner of the newly remodeled theater, to benefit the NWAW Foundation by selling us 600 premium tickets for the Seattle prduction of Broadway’s Miss Saigon at low cost. There was one catch though.
“You cannot sell the tickets for cheap,” Vivian said. “You have to raise big money.”
Having never done it, I was scared, yet excited, when I said yes. We only had three months.
The support was phenomenal. More than $55,000 was raised for the program.
We even had to buy 60 extra tickets at full price from the Paramount because we did not want to turn folks away. Many of our readers bought tickets to support the event.
June Chen, who always believes in young people, sold many tickets.
It takes a village
We had to learn to be trim. After 18 months, we eliminated the SYLP staff and executive director, and we hired a teacher to run the program. I volunteered as executive director.
We thank the loyal corporations who sponsor our foundation’s programs. As a result, we have been able to survive for 16 years.
The biggest burden was to find a place to house 50 high school students from all over Western Washington. So many alums return to mentor the new students that it is impossible to use one small room for the program.
I would like to thank former Seattle City Councilman David Della. When he was chair of the Seattle Parks Department, he pushed the city to partner with the program. As a result, we don’t need to pay rent for the three weeks that we use the ID Chinatown Community Center.
The community center is a gem. It offers our kids a chance to get to know the area. Many of our students are the only people of color in their schools. For them to see Asian people every day changes their perspective overnight.
There are so many inspiring leaders like Thach Nguyen, Bob Santos, Phyllis Wise, Andrew Cho, and Lori Matsukawa. They take time to speak to our kids every year. The kids can’t believe that they exist in our community. ♦