Now, more than ever, we need both national and local efforts to fight hate, discrimination, and bullying. We must work to empower our youth, and to embrace and celebrate differences in race, ethnicity, culture, religion, and background.
In October 2015, President Obama’s White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), in partnership with the Sikh Coalition and the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment, launched Act To Change, a national public awareness campaign on bullying prevention among youth — including Asian American, Pacific Islander, Sikh, Muslim, LGBTQI, and immigrant youth.
Since the election, Act To Change has transitioned outside of the White House to a grassroots movement, led by actor and former White House AAPI Commissioner Maulik Pancholy. The campaign is now a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. It is working to address the challenges that the AAPI community — which includes Muslim, Sikh, immigrant, limited English proficient, and LBGTQI youth — face in the midst of an increasingly anti-immigrant and xenophobic political climate. Kids and teens are being increasingly bullied in schools all across the country. Unfortunately, many AAPI youth who are bullied face unique cultural, religious, and language barriers that can keep them from getting help.
Act To Change is building on its history of success over the past two years and aims to continue empowering students, families, and educators with the knowledge and tools they need to help stop and prevent bullying in their communities. Bullying is a problem that affects us all and we must act together to put an end to it.
To date, Act To Change activities include the following:
- In November 2015, an #ActToChange Live Event was held in Los Angeles at the Japanese American National Museum, convening artists, community leaders, and more than 200 youth to commit to fighting bullying and celebrating diversity. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and Congresswoman Judy Chu were keynote speakers at the event.
- In October 2016, Act To Change commemorated its one-year anniversary. Influencers such as Hudson Yang, Forrest Wheeler, and Megan Lee join the movement and take the pledge against bullying.
- In December 2016, Act To Change partnered with Ruckus Avenue Music Group to produce a professional music album. It features 25 tracks of music and spoken word pieces from a compilation of artists and personalities, including Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, singer-songwriter Nadia Ali, folk band Run River North, actor George Takei, and Dia Frampton, among others.
- In May 2017, the California Endowment promoted Act To Change at Identity LA, an Asian American and Pacific Islander concert sponsored by AAPI YouTube channel ISAtv and the City of Los Angeles. Identity LA had more than 6,000 attendees.
- In 2017, Act To Change moved out of the White House and partnered with California-based YOMYOMF Foundation to continue a grassroots movement.
- In October 2017, during National Bullying Prevention Month, Pancholy published a piece in the Huffington Post to encourage others to stand up to bullying in the AAPI community. More than a dozen AAPI influencers contributed to the piece, sharing their own stories and words of hope. This has successfully reached over 15,000 people with more 50 shares on Facebook and 115 retweets on Twitter.
- In May 2018, Act To Change teamed up with Google and youth organization Asian American LEAD on an Asian Pacific American Heritage Month panel discussion featuring Pancholy and Olympic speedskater Thomas Hong.
- In October 2018, Act To Change announced its relaunch as a nonprofit with an inaugural Board of Directors.
- In May 2019, Act To Change celebrated Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM):
- May 13, 2019 – APAHM Week Kickoff in Washington DC.
- May 18, 2019 – Led the first-ever AAPI Day Against Bullying and Hate in collaboration with national and local organizations, elected officials, cities across the country, and celebrities.
- May 22, 2019 – Chairman Maulik Pancholy did a Twitter Takeover for the Human Rights Campaign. He shared his own experiences as a gay Asian Pacific Islander American and the critical need to create welcoming spaces for LGBTQ youth.
- On June 4, 2019, in honor of both APAHM and Pride Month, Act To Change hosted a sneak preview of photographer Daniel Seung Lee’s “For Boys Like Me” exhibit at Prime Produce in New York City.
- In summer 2019, Act To Change partnered with the New Jersey Leadership Program to develop the first ever report of bullying recommendations, “Creating Safe and Inclusive Bullying Policies,” authored by high school youth ages 15-18 participating in the the New Jersey Leadership Program.
- In October 2019, during National Bullying Prevention Month, Act To Change hosted its first youth conference, Strength in Solidarity: Building Communities of Kindness, in Los Angeles. It was keynoted by actor Punam Patel and featured a panel including actor Hudson Yang. The event was sponsored by Teach for America.
- In October 2019, Pancholy released his debut middle grade novel The Best At It. Published by HarperCollins Publishers/Balzer + Bray, the book recounts the story of Rahul Kapoor, a gay Indian American middle school boy coming into his own in a small town in the Midwest and includes lessons on dealing with bullying.
- In October 2019, Act To Change announced that Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA, 19th Surgeon General of the United States, has joined its inaugural Advisory Council.
- In response to the rising anti-Asian racism with the Covid-19 pandemic, Act To Change launched a Covid-19 resources webpage for youth, parents, and educators. Act To Change also hosted a biweekly Covid-19 Convos series that has featured guests including basketball player Jeremy Lin, 19th U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, actors Randall Park and Hudson Yang, and Congresswoman Grace Meng.
- On May 18, 2020, Act To Change rallied the nation, including more than a dozen cities and nearly 200 organizations, around the second annual AAPI Day Against Bullying+Hate. The virtual program UNITED WE STAND featured special guests including Daniel Dae Kim, Lisa Ling, Tan France, Padma Lakshmi, John Cho, Kal Penn, and more, garnering more than 1300 live views.
Act To Change aims to activate mass audiences, and expand its scope, representation, and outreach to include vulnerable communities including Muslim, Sikh, LGBT, immigrant, refugee, and undocumented youth. The following will be key pillars of the campaign going forward:
- Influencer and digital engagement: The initiative will continue to involve AAPI influencers to speak out against bullying through various media (livestreams, events, blogs, social media) and build a larger digital movement.
- Coalition building: The initiative will work with community members and organizations to build partnerships with multiple sectors and industries — arts, culture, research, education, public health, government, and nonprofits.
- Youth empowerment: The initiative will focus on youth outreach through digital tools, live events, and trainings. The initiative also aims to create a youth leadership program to increase regional outreach.
- School climate: The initiative aims to expand partnerships directly with school systems throughout the country to educate youth about bullying in all forms.
- Mental health: The initiative prioritizes student health, expanding resources to include mental and community health.
- Local outreach: The initiative will expand partnerships with states, cities, school districts, and local community-based organizations to help improve systems and provide support and awareness of direct services.
- Know your rights: The initiative will continue to work to increase awareness and streamline guidance of local and federal resources to report incidents.
- Intersectionality and solidarity: The initiative aims to foster support and understanding among diverse communities and engage youth on a variety of progressive issues.
- Technological advancements: The initiative aims to invest in new technologies to help youth and families seek resources and report bullying.
We are all sadly too aware of the uptick in bullying and hate crimes that our nation is experiencing, and how AAPI communities have been particularly affected by an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and xenophobic political climate. With increased support of Act To Change, we will have the capacity to help fight hate, discrimination, and bullying, and to empower our youth to embrace and celebrate differences in race, ethnicity, culture, religion, and background.