Like every other kid of my generation, I was obsessed with Eyewitness Books.
Aside from the "Dinosaur" edition, which was pretty much a rite of passage for boys in the 90's, I spent hours thumbing through images and stories of faraway cultures and ancient civilizations.
Growing up in a low-income, dominantly Vietnamese and Mexican enclave in Eastside San Jose, it was not only my way of "traveling," as I ever saw possible, it allowed me to see the world through the eyes of people I might never encounter.
I saddled the backs of dromedaries visiting ancient Mesopotamia and cured the ill by grinding elixirs in molcajetes in Aztec rainforests, all in the corner of my school library.
But in high school, history quickly became my least favorite topic.
My parents had saved to send me off to a Catholic private school where I was one of four Vietnamese people in my graduating class. I didn’t have the vocabulary then, but something about being in this institution made me feel uneasy, different, otherized.
And history class was the epitome of “the danger of a single story.”
I felt talked at.
I felt talked at about stories with which I didn't identify. And talked at from the narrow perspective of a dominant, prevailing culture.
On December 8, 2016, our first story hour since the election that deeply impacted marginalized communities all over the U.S., I wanted to connect “Old San Francisco” to “New San Francisco” and shout, “These are the stories we’re not hearing! And this is how we got here!”
In its first year, Listen for a Change featured 20 stories on 15 topics of social justice including: Islamophobia, Sexual Assault, and Refugees. We hosted over 1,000 attendees in 6 six different venues in San Francisco, Oakland, and New York City. We raised nearly $10,000 for 17 nonprofit organizations. But none of these numbers shows what our team heard. Listening led to conversations on hard topics in ways that felt liberating for all of us.
The greatest thing I've learned is that this space needs to exist.
The potential for change is astounding.
This country has always been very good at speaking out on behalf of others.
But it is all of our responsibility to give rise to the voices unheard. And sit. And listen.
Founder of Listen for a Change