Creating conversational communities that drive change

Elyssa Yuen

I am a Chinese American, born in New Jersey and raised in Hong Kong. My mother was born and raised in Abington Pennsylvania and my father was a Chinese immigrant to the United States at age 15 in 1972. Growing up, I have very few memories of hearing stories about my parents’ schooling experiences--I have since learned that their stories of schooling in the United States were ones filled with pain, fear and survival. My parents relocated to Hong Kong to provide me with an experience where I would be surrounded by mirrors of myself, in an environment where my identity as an Asian American child would be promoted and celebrated.

In 2007, I moved from Hong Kong to upstate New York to attend Syracuse University. I was living in a place where the majority of people did not look or sound like me--I quickly learned that regardless of who I thought myself to be, my presentation as an Asian woman was the first thing anyone saw when I walked through any door. I spent my four years there trying to figure out what it meant for me to be Asian American.

In 2011, I relocated to Philadelphia to both teach and build relationships with grandparents who I never got to know as a child growing up overseas. Living in Philadelphia, I was immersed among windows and mirrors in my Chinatown neighborhood, teaching children who were really teaching me. In 2014, I had the privilege of joining my first SEED group. This space changed my life as I felt truly seen and heard. I attended SEED New Leaders Week in the summer of 2015 and have both taken part in and facilitated SEED since then. Sharing stories has become an integral part of my work in schools, and is a constant reminder of the light and life that my students bring with them to school each day.

I am humbled to serve as a national SEED staff member, as I work alongside SEED staff and new leaders and continue on my journey of reflection, growth and change.

— Cheryl Robinson, Supervisor, Office of Minority Achievement, Arlington Public Schools, Virginia

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