21 Progress Collaborates with Leadership Tomorrow

{BYD Graduates}

21 Progress recently completed a leadership development program with Leadership Tomorrow, a Seattle-based organization that works with emerging leaders to strengthen local communities. Leadership Tomorrow’s support enabled us to develop a comprehensive career planning workshop aimed at immigrant youth who are often first generation college graduates engaging in new systems that provide career readiness programs to young people.

{Community Panel}

Together, we developed a three-part career toolkit to help people get a sense of the kind of work they want to do. The workshop components are designed to promote self-reflection: an analysis of one’s strengths and weaknesses, determining personal values, career anchors, and tips for getting started. Additionally, the toolkit provides advice from people in a variety of careers on each of these areas. Taken together, immigrant youth who attend our workshops learn what they want from a career and how to navigate to their desired goals.

{Build Your Dream graduates}

At this point, the Build Your Dream program at 21 Progress has integrated many of the elements of our work with Leadership Tomorrow, and it continues to be a useful tool to help people figure out what careers they’d like to pursue.

New 21 Progress Office Renovation

21 Progress is grateful to announce that the renovation of our new office in the Historic Bush Asia Hotel is now complete. We would like to extend our deep appreciation for our contractors, supporters of the Legacy of Leadership Event, and our board and staff. We would like to acknowledge James To, Director of Operations and Finance, for his ability to move this project from idea to reality in less than eight weeks. Please find below a few before and after photos and a video thank you and tour of our new office from our team.



The Need Does Exist! Undocumented Asians and Pacific Islanders want DACA

A few weeks ago, I called attention to the need for family and friends of undocumented Asians and Pacific Islanders (API) to bravely address and problem solve issues related to legal status. The article was essentially a call for those who are not affected to step up and take action. After writing the piece, I kept thinking about the complacency I continued to experience and noticed a common assumption being made: the undocumented API community is deeply disinterested in applying to government programs regardless of benefits, and therefore efforts to outreach are not worth the investment.

As I think about this I can’t help but wonder if we are too quickly buying into the common stereotype that APIs are reluctant to enroll into or receive help from government programs. Furthermore, has this stereotype provided us with an easy excuse and allowed us to be complacent?

After all, when faced with a challenging task, such as addressing a deeply tabooed issue, it’s easier to label it impossible and disengage. By excusing ourselves from the call to action, we remain oblivious to the real needs of the API community.

However, as I pointed out in a pervious post, the undocumented API community, like other vulnerable populations, will utilize services when either the needs or the incentive becomes great enough. After our latest efforts, I’m even more certain that this is true.

From the start, the Fearless Asians for Immigration Reform’s campaign efforts were focused on conducting trainings, increasing public awareness, and bridging services and support for undocumented APIs. This generated modest interest from undocumented APIs seeking immigration assistance. Then about a month ago, Fearless Asian’s work dove deeply into ethnic media advertising, and launched the It Should Be Fair Scholarship, coincidentally articles about the work were published in the International Examiner and the Seattle Chinese Post. Shortly afterward, we started to see an influx of inquiries from the API community. In the last 6 weeks, the campaign has received over 80 inquiries about issues and concerns related to immigration, has screened over 50 undocumented APIs for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Deferred Action for Parent Accountability (DAPA), two federal programs that would provide certain undocumented individuals with a social security number, protection from deportation, a work permit, and other benefits.

Currently, Fearless Asians is assisting 15 API youth and young adults with their DACA applications, has helped 27 DAPA eligible APIs prepare for the proposed program, and referred about 12 non DACA or DAPA eligible APIs to partnering organizations (such as NWIRP and API Chaya) to see if they qualify for other programs or benefits. 97% of the APIs we encountered had no idea the DACA or DAPA program even existed, furthermore they were shocked to learn that the DACA program had been around for 3 years. Many expressed disbelief, many asked about risk, and all were overwhelmingly grateful for not only the program but also the support. To this day, not one of the undocumented APIs we have encountered chose not to apply to the DACA program due to it’s connection to the federal government.

The outpour from the API community made it clear: a great need exists, and people wanted to apply to the program regardless of potential risk involved. Additionally, the lack of information and awareness about DACA is great, preventing thousands of undocumented APIs from applying to the program.

Today, I’m increasingly certain that the problem isn’t that undocumented APIs are disinterest in the DACA program. Rather, as service providers, friends, family, or allies to the undocumented community, we need to stop assuming what the community wants or is willing to do. Instead, we need to provide them with options and let them decide what’s best. Anything short of this, is an injustice to the community.

To connect someone you know with resources for undocumented APIs, contact Fearless Asians today, or visit www.itshouldbefair.com to learn more. Allies, take action now and submit a pledge!

Open Letter: After Legacy of Leadership

On May 13, 2015, 21 PROGRESS held Legacy of Leadership celebrating founding executive director, Sharon Maeda’s 47 years of social justice work.  As the program was running long and seeing a standing room only crowd, she did not make this speech; we share it with you now. 

Caged Bird


A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.


That was part of Maya Angelou’s poem, Caged Bird, a companion to her award winning book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  It resonates with me as much as it did when I first read it as a young adult.

I am humbled by your presence and generous support, but to be honest, a lot of my career and community involvement was about being at the right place at the right time and seizing the moment, most often behind the scenes.  That career took me to places where there were many people locked away in real or perceived cages:

  • in inner cities, barrios and reservations where neglect or well intended programs had dulled the people’s spirits and shattered their dreams.
  • on garbage dumps where families lived and picked through the garbage for a living, ingesting methane gas all the while.
  • in my own community where 120,000 members of my family and other Japanese Americans were incarcerated during WWII.
  • among young workers and immigrants where low wages or the broken immigration system keep them far from the American Dream.

The common thread in my eclectic career is that I could practice my passion for justice – and not get fired.  In fact, I had the kind of mentors who trusted that there’s always a path to justice.  “Go help and report back when Elian Gonzalez gets home to Cuba,” was the comment from the General Secretary of the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church when the Cuban Council of Churches asked for help. Meeting heads of state or sitting in China’s Great Hall or the US Supreme Court was just icing on the cake.

I worked with proud, engaged people whose material wealth could be held in their hands or worn on their backs.  I worked with and on behalf of people who had been crippled by their circumstances or the discrimination they faced.  And, more often than not, I just unlatched the cage door and they pushed their way out – and soared!

Near the end of my career, I was blessed to be asked to help launch a new nonprofit, 21 PROGRESS.  UFCW 21 provided a bold vision and values as well as the start-up funds, recognizing how race and gender, legal and economic status affects everything, and allowed experimentation to find our niche to grow the next generation of progressive leaders.

This work is complex. We meet the young immigrants and workers where they are:  at community organizations and gatherings, in their union halls and schools, the library and hang outs, online or their homes.  And, we have to build trust.   Imagine leaving for school each day and not knowing if your parents will be home that night or in the Tacoma Detention Center on their way to deportation.  Imagine working 2 or 3 jobs just to pay the rent and keep food on the table.  Imagine never having a chance to express your frustrations in a setting where you could work with others to change your circumstance, or those of your community, or even dream of changing the world.

21 PROGRESS was in formation as President Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allows young immigrants without papers to go to college or get legitimate jobs without fear of deportation just as .  I was working with attorneys and accountants to set up the organization and had not yet hired staff.  With the enthusiastic and absolute support of the board, we geared up and provided what immigrant rights advocates said was needed: the $465 application fee.  Today, 300 DREAMers have received interest and fee-free microloans and our default rate would be the envy of any lender.  We have been told that 21 PROGRESS is one of the largest DACA loan programs in the Pacific Northwest.  But, there are still thousands still at risk in Washington and millions across the country.  The DREAMers are primarily from Mexico but we have participants from Kenya, Saudi Arabia and all across Latin America.  We’re now also reaching out to the 6,000 -7,000 eligible Asian and Pacific Islanders in Washington who are still in the shadows.

A low wage worker or undocumented student’s economic condition often prevent them from being involved as leaders.  Paulo Freire’s belief that all people can learn and be leaders guides our popular education program.

There are many excellent leadership development programs and we have partnered with the ACLF (Asian Pacific Island Community Leadership Foundation) and Leadership Tomorrow.  Their teams learned about our issues and have provided important research and strategies for our work.  But we also looked at what’s missing or not accessible.  Last year, 21 PROGRESS piloted our Justice Fellows program with a handful of young, experienced social justice professionals.  We focused on barriers to their future and coaching on the day-to-day management of a nonprofit organization, or just being a sounding board for their fears and frustrations.  All five Justice Fellows have stepped up: two have moved on to greater leadership responsibilities, one is running an award winning nonprofit and two have found new paths for the future.  And, they are mentoring others coming up behind them.

At the same time, we’re grappling with how all the –isms and often public policy are designed to keep them apart from each other and still in those cages.  Now, with larger, transit accessible space, these young leaders will also be having regular conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement, about what it truly means to be “legal” in this country from the perspective of prior incarceration or documentation, or the growing undocumented LGBTQ youth who are homeless.  Only when these difficult conversations happen will there be the leadership capacity to truly make equitable change.

Tonight, look around at the amazing 21 PROGRESS staff – and the dozens of young leaders whose names you will come to know in the arts, community, education, labor, public service, and electoral politics.  They are the DREAMers and the workers committed to making this a better community and planet with your help.  It will not look the same as the 60’s and 70’s but – with your support – they will grow a 21st century movement for equity and justice for all.