ACLF empowers next generation of APA leaders — 2013 Visionary Award Recipient

This October, the Northwest Asian Weekly presents the Visionary Awards Gala, an event honoring visionaries in the APA community.

By Travis Quezon
Northwest Asian Weekly

ACLF Community Leaders Program alumni reunite for the program’s 10th anniversary in 2009. (Photo from ACLF)

There are over 470,000 Asian and Pacific Americans (APAs) currently living in Washington. Overall, Chinese make up the largest group of APAs in the United States, with Filipinos and Asian Indians the next two largest in size, according to Washington’s Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs (CAPAA). While Japanese, Korean, Native Hawaiian and Samoan populations have been in the country for generations, more recent arrivals such as the Hmong, Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian populations don’t have as established voices in the community.

One of the biggest challenges for API leaders lies in pinpointing important issues among such diverse populations and bringing to light those voices that are underserved in the community. For the last 15 years, it’s been the goal of the Asian Pacific Islander Community Leadership Foundation (ACLF) to train and nurture emerging leaders to meet that challenge.

The 2012 graduates of the ACLF Community Leaders Program (Photo from ACLF)

“Within the API community there are a multitude of different experiences,” said Nicole Keenan, vice president of ACLF’s board of directors. “Pacific Islanders, for example, are really underserved.”

A study released in June by the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development found that, from 2007 to 2011, the number of APAs living below the federal poverty level increased by more than half a million, or 38 percent, at a faster rate than other ethnic groups. This 38 percent increase can be broken down into a 37 percent increase for Asian Americans in poverty compared with a 60 percent increase for Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders in poverty.

ACLF is a community-based, nonprofit organization that trains and supports APA leadership with a commitment to social justice, community empowerment, and public service. The organization was founded in 1998 when a group of API community leaders from different organizations and government offices — Jeffrey Hattori, Michael Latimer, Doris Lock, Akemi Matsumoto, Jill Nishi, Diana Sheythe, Sue Taoka, Kip Tokuda, Trang Tu, and Joan Yoshitomi — met to discuss the need for an organization that could train and nurture emerging leaders.

Community Leaders Program participants volunteering with WAPI. (Photo from ACLF)

Its flagship program is the Community Leadership Program, an intensive curriculum held every year since 1999 that provides training and mentorship to adults and prepares them for leadership positions and advocate for social justice in all communities.

“One of the most important lessons learned (by participants in the leadership program) is to believe in themselves that they can be leaders in the API community,” said Craig Kanaya, president of the board of directors and an alumnus of the 2004 program. “For emerging leaders, it’s important to continue to build and maintain a pipeline of leaders in the community.”

“All the workshops they put us through really helped me grow, not just as a leader, but as a person,” said Chris Batalon. a  graduate of the 2011 program. He said he developed speaking skills and marketing and media knowledge and has stayed in touch with his classmates. “I’ve built some of the best relationships through ACLF’s leadership program.”

Participants in the Community Leadership Program connect with multiple generations of API leaders who are making a positive impact in the community. Participants are also matched with organizations where they volunteer their time, learn the history of the community and practice the skills they learned in training sessions.

The goal of the Community Leadership Program is to teach leaders to listen and understand the very diverse needs of the APA community, Keenan explained. Participants take the networks and connections they’ve made with other organizations and leaders and apply them in their work within the community. The aim is to achieve feasible results.

“We help people empower themselves to be leaders,” Keenan said.

Keenan, herself, is also a 2010 graduate of the Community Leadership Program. She currently works as a policy analyst and researcher with Puget Sound Sage — a labor, faith and community organization that fights against discrimination in the workplace.

“For the first time I thought it was a leadership training that incorporated my cultural values,” Keenan said of her experience in the Community Leadership Program.

The Community Leadership Program is set to kick off again in October. ACLF is hosting a family breakfast on Saturday, Sept. 28 to introduce the program’s 2013–2014 class. The breakfast is an opportunity for community members to connect with the program’s alumni, supporters and past board members.

The connections that participants make in the program with organizations and individuals is a key part of forming a foundation for real change, Keenan explained. And it’s just the beginning.

“There is no blanket API experience,” Keenan said. “We need to work and recognize the different needs in the community.”

Cofounder Kip Tokuda will be honored with a moment of silence during the Northwest Asian Weekly’s Visionary Awards Gala this October. (end)

For more information about ACLF, visit

The Visionary Awards Gala is Oct. 18 at China Harbor Restaurant from 6–9 p.m. Tickets are available for $70 before Oct. 15 and $80 afterwards. For more information, email

Travis Quezon can be reached at

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