Week 5: Planting Trees Whose Shade You’ll Never Stand In

Jenny Feng, 2018 CAUSE Leadership Academy

This week at my internship placement through OCAPICA, I attended a “We Can” Leadership Institute facilitated by my supervisor. It took place at CAANAPI, or the Center for Asian Americans Native American Pacific Islanders at Irvine Valley College. The Leadership Institute was centered on the attending Asian American high school students and how they can be leaders in the community of Irvine, but OCAPICA interns also attended and to learn from the program.

Although I was disappointed to have missed the first day of the institute, which covered identities and histories, due to a CAUSE Civic Leadership Session, the rest of the week was greatly enjoyable. The first day I attended was about community building. One of the activities we did was a group gallery walk. During the activity, my supervisor put up charts all around the room, which all displayed different pieces of data from a research study published by OCAPICA and Asian Americans Advancing Justice. We walked around as a group and talked about what surprised us and what questions we had. What continues to surprise me is how Asian Americans are the fastest growing minority group in the United States, yet we have such a low voter turnout rate. In addition, the data showed that most AAPI ethnic subgroups are actually doing below average in areas such as housing, education, and income. We talked about the importance of data and the census, and why it’s important so that awareness is brought to communities that need more resources.

The next day, we did a striking activity called “Star Power”. Our supervisor told us it was a game about leadership and negotiation. In reality, the game had unfair rules where it was easier for those who were already winning, to win even more. On the flip side, those in the lowest point group were seated farthest away from the activity’s scoreboard and had less opportunities to win. It was later explained: “When I was purposely blocking the points board, you all in the back craned your necks to try to look at it. But none of you asked me to move. That represents both the frustration that marginalized communities often feel, and how many folks are too afraid to ask.” The activity really struck me because it was a metaphor for power structures, and it made me realize that the work of uplifting our communities isn’t quite so simple. It was a good reminder of what it truly feels like to be in the lower position. I’m thankful for this activity, because it reminded me that we so often think good intentions are enough and forget about the nuances.

On the final day of the institute, we debriefed, and then the high school students brainstormed to think of solutions to problems in their community. It was really inspiring to see how the next generation of leaders is emerging and truly cares about uplifting communities. My supervisor wisely reminded us, “Good thinking comes from the mind, and great thinking comes from the heart, but greater thinking comes from the heart and mind. We need to be smart about what we’re doing, but also root it in our values.”

Afterwards, I talked to my supervisor about the work that we’re doing, and how while we’re not going to fix everything in the world right away, we can still make a difference for many lives. It reminded me of the saying of how great people “plant trees whose shade they’ll never stand in.” I hope that through my work with CAUSE and OCAPICA this summer, and for the rest of my career, I can plant these trees.