Next American Vanguard is the only annual conference dedicated to enlightening, inspiring and networking the next generation of urban leaders. For two days in May 2009 and 2010, two such groups of leaders had the opportunity to network with each other, engage with experts in their field, hear from seasoned changemakers and jumpstart their ideas for improving cities. But the Vanguard’s work continues year-round in the government offices, nonprofits, corporations and communities they work in. Each Monday leading up to the 2011 conference, which will take place in May, we will feature an interview with a member of the Vanguard. To read more of these interviews, click here. To learn more about eligibility, click here (the application period will begin in early 2011). To read a recap of the 2010 event, click here.
Amy Cheung is the Director of Programs at the Asian Community Development Corporation (Asian CDC) in Boston.
What is your typical workday like?
I just started a new position at the Asian Community Development Corporation (Asian CDC) as the Director of Programs, and my work currently focuses on developing infrastructure, systems, policies and procedures to more efficiently carry out our work, especially with regards to our Housing Counseling program. For the time being, as I’m ramping up, the days are pretty standard. I arrive at work around 9:30am, and check e-mail. Following that, I go through my task list, which mostly consists of reviewing our current procedures and systems, doing some analysis on what’s working and what’s not, mapping it all out, and then making recommendations on any changes needed. Some days I work on grants, other days an alum from our youth programs will pop by to say hi and catch up. In between the work in the office, I go out to community agencies for meetings to introduce them to the work I’m doing, and to touch base with them on their programs.
Why do you do the work you do?
I first started at the Asian CDC in 2005 as an AmeriCorps member. I stayed with the organization for 3 1/2 years, left to pursue a Master’s, and now I’m back. I do the work I do because I believe in serving the community I come from, which is the Asian community. I think there’s a perception out there that Asians/Asian Americans don’t struggle with social/economic challenges, but in fact, the immigrant community I work with does. I do the work that I do so I can be an advocate for the Asian community.
What is your proudest achievement?
My proudest achievement is launching A-VOYCE (Asian Voices of Organized Youth for Community Empowerment), the youth program of the Asian Community Development Corporation. I have worked with amazing teens through the program, and helped to develop their leadership skills by training them in public speaking and storytelling, and assisting their running a live radio show! I’ve had the privilege of witnessing their sensitivity, and sophistication, as well as growth over time. I’m an only child, and through A-VOYCE, feel like I’ve gained 25+ little siblings!
Who in your city inspires you the most?
I always have a hard time answering “who inspires you” questions because the truth is, no one and everybody. I find inspiration in the mundane, and the magical. Some days, I find inspiration in the woman who sings loudly on the subway platform, but doesn’t care. Other times, I find inspiration in non-profit leaders who do the most difficult, but critical work. I love buskers who bring great music to commuters. Family members, and friends are constant sources of inspiration. And as mentioned above, my youth. Everyone has the potential to be inspirational, because inspiration is about the rest of the world just being aware enough to notice.
What is your favorite thing to do in your city?
Wander! Boston is known as the “walking city”, and especially during the late spring or early fall, there’s nothing like just walking about aimlessly. I’d never survive in a city where I needed a car.
What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?
Myles Horton, founder of the Highlander Center in Tennessee. Paulo Freire for his writings and theories about critical pedagogy. W. E. B. DuBois for the courage in his writing. All the folks who receive Echoing Green Fellowships, because there is always so much innovation in their work! Really, I’m stumped with this question because there are so many admirable people out there!
What is the biggest challenge of your work?
It’s a pretty cliche answer, but probably funding. Keeping operations in a non-profit going is always tough, and even as new models of non-profit finance develop, the challenge of sustaining non-profits is persistent. There are resources out there, but the competition is fierce. That said, even the thought that there has to be competition is a little hard for me to stomach.
What would you like to have achieved in ten years?
Asian-American issues continue to compel me. In research, our demographic is seldom an explicit focus, and I think that’s ultimately harmful because it means that knowledge about the challenges and needs of the group aren’t being captured, or understood. Immigration from Asia to the United States is increasing every year, and I’d like to help others understand Asian communities better, including researchers, politicians, and educators. So, in the near future, I’d like to pursue a doctorate, and contribute to research literature on Asian-American issues, especially with regards to education and urban issues.
What would be your advice to young people who want to make a difference in their cities?
Get involved! Cities are really rich with opportunities for young people— take notice of your surroundings, ask yourself why things look the way they do (and if they have to), question the way things work, and don’t be afraid to voice your suggestions about ways to improve the community. I would say definitely seek out leadership development opportunities, and participate in youth groups that will challenge your thinking. If your nervous, join groups with a friend. And find an adult mentor who will be your advocate.
How would you define the “Next American City”?
Sustainable, inclusive, vibrant, diverse, multicultural. Bike lanes, subways, local food, small businesses. Friendliness, courtesy, watching out for one another. Imbued with a respect for history, but also innovative. Public and open spaces for lingering and communion. Pedestrian life, and a storefront, street-level culture.