IE Fellows Phoenix Leapai, Annie Kuo, Nick Turner and Bunthay Cheam pose with Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos who led a session on Communicating and Fear • Photo by Bif Brigman

The inaugural year of the Advocacy Journalism Fellowship Program (AJFP) has been a whirlwind of brainstorming, challenges, dreams, hopes and hard work.

The program began in 2017 as a joint partnership of the International Examiner and Asian Pacific Islander Community Leadership Foundation (ACLF) as one of the Vibrant Democracy initiatives funded by the Seattle Foundation. The program is a three-year pilot program that will focus annually on four underrepresented communities within the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) diaspora, with the ultimate goal of having 12 unique communities involved with the program at the end of the three years.

The overarching goal of the program is to train community members in developing new leadership and journalism skills to better assist in amplifying community voices and issues often missing or misrepresented in mainstream, and even community-based media.

Fellows learn about the communities’ histories, relationships and evolving struggles with the purpose of empowering those communities to mobilize, and providing them with an appropriate platform to make their voices heard. Each of these underrepresented communities will have pages in the print edition of the IE and web pages dedicated to their voices, issues, news coverage, and culture.

In this first year, we studied the various communities that are under the AAPI umbrella to determine which communities face marginalization, misrepresentation and a lack of a dedicated community communications vehicles. What voices are missing in common AAPI representation? We also weighed length of time of communities in the U.S., overall community populations in the Puget Sound area, and in Washington State in general, and whether the individual community had an established leadership program for developing future leaders.

After much discussion the communities selected for this first year were: Thai, Khmer (Cambodian), Pakistani, and Samoan.

Our program reached out to the focus communities, and their leaders, to identify potential candidates for the kick-off of the program. Ideally we hoped for candidates from each of the four communities. Our goal was to have each of the selected fellows be assigned to a community that they didn’t identify with and gain the knowledge of working with a new community and act as a resource to their cohort. But things don’t always work out as planned.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have anyone apply for the Fellowship from the Pakistani community. And additionally, our AJFP Steering Committee raised concerns about language hurdles that our Fellows would face working intergenerationally with community members where English is a second language.

We received 15 submissions for our first cohort and had positions for four. We were impressed with all of the candidates and their interest and passion to work with the focus communities. Each candidate brought an amazing and inspiring array of skills, talents and experiences. The final selection process was highly competitive due to the outstanding prospective applicants and the special skills required to be successful in the goals of the program.

We tried to be thoughtful and balanced on issues of gender, age, experience and community connections and the myriad of intersections of all of these factors.

The final 2017-2018 Cohort Fellows selected were Annie Kuo who would work with the Thai community, Bunthay Buadalupe Cheam who would work with the Khmer community, John Phoenix Leapai working with the Samoan community, and Nick Turner who would work with the Pakistani community.

The fellows came on with gusto and immense interest in both developing their personal and professional skills, as well as building meaningful and authentic bonds with the focus communities.

AJFP offered training sessions on an incredible array of topics and subjects including: The History of the API community in Washington; The Model Minority Myth; Disaggregated data and diversity under the API umbrella; Journalism ethics; Understanding identity, diversity and bias; Working between generations; Understanding key elements related to engaging an underrepresented community; The importance of paying attention to the histories of a community including marginalization and mistrust; Oppression: The impact and its manifestation; Building trust vs. being trustworthy; and Community engagement: Past, present and future — among others!

While we didn’t always hit all of our targets, we are excited by the successes we have achieved, and we look forward to the next cohort of fellows to build upon on what we have learned and what we have accomplished.

We give great thanks to the communities and community leaders who opened their hearts, minds, homes and businesses to our fellows and the many resulting gifts bestowed on all who have worked on this project and the many readers of the International Examiner who have begun to learn about your important communities and issues they are facing.

The incredible talents of trainers made an enormous impact over the course of the program. The dedication and commitment from community leaders, activists, historians, teachers and artists has been profoundly humbling and inspiring. The time, attention and thoughtfulness of these volunteers to pass on institutional knowledge, best practices and new and different ways of thinking propelled the program forward in remarkable ways.

Special thanks and deep gratitude to facilitators, trainers and panelists: Sharon Tomiko Santos, Venice Buhain, Nina Wallace, Doan Nguyen, Lori Matsukawa, Cynthia Yongvang, Jamie Stroble, Florence Sum, Sameth Mell, Matt Chan, Cynthia Brothers, John Eklof, Sili Savusa, Marissa Vichayapai, Rev Shalom Agtarap, Rev. Jirote (J.R.) Bongkotmart, Tagoipah Mathno, Travis Quezon, Mitsue Cook, Randon Aea, Chetanya Robinson, Lexi Potter and Jill Wasberg.

Thanks for their guidance and knowledge go to:

2017-2018 AJFP Advisory Committee members – Maria Batayola, Dr. and Reverand J.R. Bongkotmart, Matt Chan, Sameth Mell, Rita Meyer, Betty Patu and Lexi Potter.

2017-2018 AJFP Steering Committee members – Travis Quezon, Randon Aea, Jill Wasberg, Alex Johnson, Mitsue Cook and Bif Brigman.

It is not just the successes and fruits of this first year that we celebrate but also the knowledge that the nurturing of seeds we have planted offers all of us a brighter and more inclusive future.

Bif Brigman / Advocacy Journalism Fellowship Program Manager

Editor’s note: It goes without saying the success of this fellowship program in its first year is the direct result of it being led by Bif Brigman, but it really should not go without saying. So the editor is saying it.

To read more work from the fellows click here Bunthay Cheam, Annie Kuo, Nick Turner and John Phoenix Leapai.

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