By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“Triumph” is the word I use to depict the year 2017. It’s not that I had invented a major breakthrough to save the Northwest Asian Weekly, which has been struggling like all print media. But the more I thought about last year, words like “extraordinary,” “serendipitous,” and even “miraculous” began to flow out of my mind.
What defines a miracle? A surprising gift! Something highly improbable and unexplainable.
When I told my friends I wanted to raise $200,000 for two University of Washington (UW) scholarship endowments to celebrate our 35th anniversary last February, quite a few raised their eyebrows. “What if you can’t raise that amount during the anniversary gala?” one asked during a planning committee meeting.
“We have five years to do so, according to UW rules,” I replied. I had my own skepticism and fears at the time. Yet, I hid them well.
“How much do you really think you can raise at the gala?” our event manager, Stacy Nguyen, probed me privately. The truth was, I had no clue.
Together, we sat down and projected the numbers last May. But the numbers were not even close, no matter how we stretched the raised amount. From corporate sponsorships to individual ticket sales, the dessert auction, live auction, and Raise the Paddle, we totaled up to only $75,000. That day, we realized that we had a monumental task.
But I always told myself, “Just work hard. And it will happen.”
Then, the unexpected happened five weeks before our Oct. 21 gala — some major sponsors like Bloodworks gave us $10,000. Individual supporters who couldn’t attend our gala donated online and mailed checks. Dr. Doug and Belinda Louie’s donation exceeded $4,000.
On Nov. 14, the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation handed $100,000 to the UW’s College of Education, completing our first promise. (As of today, it will be the fourth scholarship endowment Asian Weekly has established since 2004.)
On Dec. 7, a $70,000 check was made to the Communication Department. When Wing Luke Asian Museum Co-chair Ellen Ferguson heard our story, she said, “I will pledge another $5,000 in 2018.” She had already given $13,500 at the gala. As of today, we have only $21,000 left to raise for the Communication endowment.
One reader said, “You should raise money for yourself, not scholarships.” Why did we raise funds for two UW endowments when we, like all print companies, are struggling with extreme adversity?
The endowment is part of the Northwest Asian Weekly/Seattle Chinese Post legacy. If we don’t do it now, then when? Do we wait until newspapers are extinct? All I need is energy and enthusiasm. With the support of many community leaders, it would be silly not to.
I admit, it was challenging to raise $200,000. If people give so much to our causes, our concern is, will they still be willing to advertise or sponsor events? However, that’s not a good enough reason for me to give up the scholarship idea. I was the beneficiary of a UW scholarship in my junior and senior year.
What was priceless last year is that we brought back “a village” with us. We were able to reconnect with many past staff and supporters, who contributed many articles and attended our gala. In addition, we achieved innovations during the process. We didn’t have enough manpower to organize an auction, including Raise the Paddle. For those of you in the fundraising business, you know how much work an auction involves. Preparing the bid cards and assigning bid numbers to more than 400 guests is time-consuming. Nor could we afford to hire a professional auctioneer and a management team for all the logistics.
Event manager Nguyen suggested we use the “honor system,” which saved us tons of time. The bidder wrote down her bid number and credit card number on the assigned card, and totaled the amount herself. Many events had long lines of guests checking in before the event, and after, for checking out. Our efficient system had no lines at all.
Our event accomplished many goals in one night. From honoring close to 30 Asian American leaders over the past 35 years, to giving out appreciation plaques for long-time sponsors and advertisers, to raising funds for the scholarships, it was a wonderful community celebration dinner and a joy to see old friends.
There were some folks who came to all three Asian Weekly events last year: Chinese Post and Asian Weekly galas and honoring Mayor Jenny Durkan at a dinner. Bless the Luke sisters. Bettie, Marge, and Ruby for not only showing up, but also organizing a table.
How the 35th gala differed from past galas
Our 35th anniversary didn’t have two governors like our 25th anniversary celebration, including Christine Gregoire and Gary Locke. (Gregoire even changed her flight to accommodate us.) In 2012, gubernatorial candidates Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna attended our 30th anniversary gala. Each led a different dragon in a dragon dance, entering from opposite sides of the Seattle Sheraton Hotel grand ballroom.
Last year, I didn’t expect the top two contenders for Seattle mayoral race, Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon, to be present. But their supporters insisted that they show up. In other Asian community events, I have observed only one candidate attending. The mayoral race might be smaller than a statewide race, but it did stir up a lot of interest at our gala. Each woman had her own star power. Each had their own groups of supporters, helping them to navigate the room. Since we hadn’t endorsed anybody at the time, we had to remain neutral and be a good host, and both seemed to be pleased that they could meet many new friends.
I had many incredible moments last year especially in December. I will soon elevate to the status of mother-in-law this year. My younger son John proposed to his girlfriend and she said “yes.”
David Ka, a graduate of Asian Weekly’s Summer Youth Leadership Program (SYLP) in 2001, asked me at an event and asked, “Do you remember me?”
“Of course, David Ka,” I said. We had lunch in December.
No more the boy when I first met him, Ka now works for Vulcan’s real estate division.
A high school student at the time, Ka did the unusual heroic act. That year, SYLP students were stopped and patted down like criminals by a Seattle policeman, for jaywalking on a side street on 4th Avenue South and South Main. The street was partially closed. The cop asked if the students if they spoke English. When one of the students challenged the cop, he received a citation. Ka quietly snapped a photo of the cop’s act lining up the students from across the street. Represented by pro-bono attorneys Leo Hamaji and Yvonne Ward, that photo was later submitted as evidence showing what the cop did when we contested the citation in municipal court. The judge dismissed the ticket. If this had happened today, that photo will likely go viral. And it would be a video, not just a still photo.
On a Thursday afternoon, librarian assistant Phuong Tran, of the International District Library, smiled as if she had just won the lottery. She had just read my story on Vietnamese veterans. She pointed to the veteran photo we used in the story, “This is my dad. He passed away a few months ago.” It touched her so much that she took a photo of the Asian Weekly page and texted it to her mom. This was not the photo we wanted to use initially. Somehow, my layout editor Han Bui misunderstood and ended up with the photo of Tran’s dad. What a good mistake! I have never seen Tran so happy.
Photos make me proud of the work the Asian Weekly does. Bui put photos of all 10 Seattle mayoral candidates on the front page last July. I didn’t ask her to. It takes lots of time to layout that many photos, just for one story on one page. But it served everyone well at an API mayoral candidates’ forum. Everyone was confused about who was running for mayor. With the photos, the audience matched the faces of the candidates to the photos of the Asian Weekly. A few candidates thanked us for printing their photos.
By now, you know how much hard work we put into each issue. There is no shortcut for putting out a great edition each week. A million thoughts and ideas are threaded together in the stories, long or short.
One reader asked me after reading the front page, “How do you keep up with all these stories?” Teamwork. Brainwork. Passion. Our love for the community. On Tuesday and Wednesday before we go into production, every element seems to blend together, evolving every minute into something magical, as if we are guided by a supernatural power.
Every one of us has contributed her heart and soul in the issue. How we pursue and receive every story, every photo, every quote, every line… has always been a miracle. Whatever it takes…even after 36 years.
Yes, Jan. 20 will be our 36th anniversary.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.