19th Surgeon General of the United States and Wellness Advocate Dr. Vivek H. Murthy Teams Up With Actor and Activist Maulik Pancholy to Fight Bullying in the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community

Dr. Murthy Joins Advisory Council of Asian American and Pacific Islander Anti-Bullying Nonprofit Act To Change

Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA, 19th Surgeon General of the United States

During National Bullying Prevention Month, anti-bullying nonprofit Act To Change is pleased to announce that Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA, 19th Surgeon General of the United States, joins its inaugural Advisory Council. Act To Change, which became a nonprofit in 2018, aims to stop and prevent bullying in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. It is co-founded by actor, activist, and children’s book author (The Best At It) Maulik Pancholy.

“We are so thrilled to have Dr. Murthy join Act To Change’s Advisory Council. Since the very beginning, Dr. Murthy has been an avid supporter of our mission to end bullying in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community,” says Pancholy. “With a rise in bullying and hate crimes across the country, our work is more important now than ever. With Dr. Murthy’s exceptional background and passion for emotional wellness and public health, he will be an invaluable partner in our movement to ensure that all youth feel proud of who they are, supported in the development of their identity, and empowered to share their stories.”

Says Dr. Murthy, “I’ve seen firsthand how bullying can have harsh consequences for the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of children and adults. Bullying is a significant public health challenge facing our country. We need to advocate for and support the victims of bullying while also seeking to understand and address the perpetrators who are often struggling themselves.  I look forward to working with Act To Change to build more inclusive spaces for youth and communities.”

Act To Change initially launched in 2015 as a public awareness campaign under President Obama’s White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in which Dr. Murthy served as co-chair and Pancholy served as a Commissioner. “On a personal note, I am excited to partner with Dr. Murthy to continue the work we started during our time together in the Obama Administration,” says Pancholy.

Since its launch, the nonprofit has organized nationwide events — including a Los Angeles-based Strength in Solidarity Youth Conference this month; led the first-ever national AAPI Day Against Bullying and Hate with participation from major cities and organizations throughout the country; and collaborated with celebrities, research groups, and leaders across all sectors to grow awareness of the need for bullying prevention. 

During his tenure as Surgeon General, Dr. Murthy launched the TurnTheTide campaign, catalyzing a movement among health professionals to address the nation’s opioid crisis. He also issued the first Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, calling for expanded access to prevention and treatment and for recognizing addiction as a chronic illness, not a character flaw. Dr. Murthy continued his office’s legacy on preventing tobacco-related disease, releasing a historic Surgeon General’s Report on e-cigarettes and youth. In 2017, Dr. Murthy focused his attention on focused loneliness and chronic stress  as prevalent problems that have profound implications for health, productivity, and happiness. An internal medicine physician and entrepreneur, he has co-founded a number of organizations: VISIONS, an HIV/AIDS education program in India; Swasthya, a community health partnership in rural India training women as health providers and educators; software company TrialNetworks; and Doctors for America. 

Dr. Murthy received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard and his MD and MBA degrees from Yale. He completed his internal medicine residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and later joined Harvard Medical School as faculty in internal medicine. His research focused on vaccine development and later on the participation of women and minorities in clinical trials. Dr. Murthy’s book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, will be published by HarperCollins in April 2020. Dr. Murthy resides in Washington DC with his wife Dr. Alice Chen and their two young children.

The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy

Editor’s Note: This year, actor Maulik Pancholy will release his first book, The Best At It. The book is about the story of 12-year-old Rahul Kapoor who begins to realize he is gay. It explores the struggles he faces with peers, family, and identity and his own journey in finding himself.

This interview with Maulik was originally published on the blog “Watch. Connect. Read.” on February 14, 2019.

Hello, Maulik Pancholy! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read.! I am a huge fan of yours and The Best At It. I could not put it down. Rahul, Chelsea, Bhai, Arun, Sarita, Anish, and the Auntie Squad and Uncle Brigade will stay with me for a very long time. 

Maulik Pancholy: Thank you so much! I’m honored to be featured on your incredible blog, and to receive such a warm welcome for my debut novel. To hear that these characters will leave a lasting impact on you is a compliment that means a great deal to me.

I am honored you’re here. What ran through your head (or your heart) the first time you saw Parvati Pillai’s cover illustration and Cara Llewellyn’s design for The Best At It.

Maulik: I remember that as soon as I opened the pdf, my heart leapt. I kept nodding and saying, “Yes, yes, yes!” After staring at it for what seemed like an eternity, I forced myself to put it away. Only to immediately open it back up again. 

Parvati really captured the spirit of the book. To me, the movement in it reflects the flurry of activity in Rahul’s world, the bold colors are a nod to both his cultural background and his identity, and I love how determined he looks flying into the air. It’s a very optimistic cover, which feels exactly right. I’m beyond grateful for what she so thoughtfully illustrated.

Scenario: You’re in an elevator at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference when a teacher-librarian spots you holding a copy ofThe Best At It. He asks you what it is about. You have approximately 30 seconds (the elevator stops at almost every floor) to book talk it. What do you say? 

Maulik: Well, first I thank him for asking. Then I hover my finger over the “close door” button…just in case. 

The Best at It is about Rahul Kapoor, a twelve-year-old Indian-American boy who’s beginning to realize that he might be gay. Struggling to come to terms with his identity, he believes that all of his anxieties will disappear if he can just prove to the world that he’s the best at something. But he’s got two major problems…what is he going to be the best at, and what happens if he falls short? It’s a story about friendship, family, and the courage it takes to own your truth.” 

I love your booktalk. What would The Best at It have meant to 11-year-old Maulik? 

Maulik: I loved reading books as a kid. I still do. But growing up, I never saw characters who looked like me in the books I read. Let alone kids who were dealing with the things I was dealing with. I think seeing a kid of color grappling with his sexual identity and the anxieties of feeling “different” — on multiple levels — would have made me feel a little less alone in the world. 

It’s vital for young people to see their stories reflected back in the books they read and in the television shows and movies they watch. As an actor, it’s something I’m very conscious of. Because I know firsthand that when you don’t see yourself, you can start to question how you fit into the world. Or think you need to be someone you’re not. Because you’re effectively being told that your story doesn’t exist, that it isn’t valid, that it doesn’t matter. 

So, I certainly could have used a book like The Best at It in middle school. But I also hope Rahul’s story will have universal appeal, just like so many of the books I loved as a kid. Because I think every child can relate to feeling different and needing to prove their worth. Sometimes, even to themselves.

Please finish these sentences starters: 

I hope The Best at It
 finds a home in the heart of any kid who’s ever thought they needed to be ‘better’ than they are just to exist. I hope that Rahul’s journey inspires, offers understanding, and provides some good laughs along the way. 

School libraries are magical places. I remember disappearing in the stacks for whole afternoons going on adventure after adventure, one book at a time. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if I was a Mathlete! Which I’m proud to say, I was.

Maulik Pancholy is an award-winning actor whose television work includes30 RockWhitney, Web TherapyElementaryFriends from CollegeThe Good WifeThe ComebackThe SopranosLaw & Order: Criminal Intent, and more. He is also the voice of Baljeet on the Emmy Award–winning animated series Phineas and Ferb and of Sanjay on Sanjay and Craig. Maulik is the recipient of an Asian American Arts Alliance Award and the Human Rights Campaign’s Visibility Award. In 2014, he was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. While at the White House, he helped launch an anti-bullying campaign called Act To Change, which he continues to lead today. Maulik lives with his husband in Brooklyn, NY. This is his debut novel.

The Best At It is available for pre-order.

#ActToChange Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Celebration

#ActToChange is hosting its Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Celebration to talk about how we can fight bullying in our community! The event will be held on Friday, May 25 from 2 – 4PM at the Google DC Office. We especially encourage K-12 youth to attend.

During the event, #ActTochange will announce exciting project launches including opportunities to engage in bullying prevention efforts through new programs and initiatives.

Featured speakers include:
Maulik Pancholy, Actor
Thomas Hong, U.S. Olympian, Speedskating
Moderated by Jill Yu, #ActToChange Board of Directors

RSVP at bit.ly/ActToChangeAPAHMLive

Watch the livestream starting at 3PM: bit.ly/ActToChangeAPAHM2018

Standing Up to Bullying in the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community

Cross posted from the Huffington Post

By Maulik Pancholy, actor and activist

In 2014, I was appointed by President Obama to serve on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). As a Commissioner, I was horrified to hear statistics like:

  • Half of Asian American students report being bullied
  • 2/3 of Sikh American students report being bullied
  • Half of Muslim American students report being bullied because of their religion

The verbal, physical and emotional violence that students endure is distressing. To know that AAPI youth who are bullied also face unique cultural, religious, and language barriers that can keep them from getting help was a call to action.

So, in 2015, I helped launch #ActToChange (ActToChange.org), a public awareness campaign to address bullying among youth — including Asian American, Pacific Islander, Sikh, Muslim, LGBTQI, and immigrant youth — and to empower students, parents, teachers, and communities to report, stop, and prevent bullying.

Sadly, this work is more important now than ever. AAPI communities have been severely affected by an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and xenophobic political climate. We’re seeing Muslim, Sikh, immigrant, limited English proficient, and LGBTQI kids, among others, being targeted by their peers and adults for how they look, how they speak, their perceived citizenship status, their sexuality, and their religion. For example, there was a 91% increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes during the first half of 2017 as compared to the same period in 2016. In the first three months following Trump’s election, the Southern Poverty Law Center recorded 1,372 bias incidents, and more than a quarter of them were motivated by anti-immigrant sentiments.

Where are people learning to be so hateful? What is motivating them to hurt others? We may all have different views, but we’re at a moment where bullying and prejudice from the top down is setting a tone that gives permission for hatred and bigotry. Our country and our kids deserve better.

So, for National Bullying Prevention Month, I wanted to take a moment to let young people hear a different message – to let them know that they’re not alone, and that there is help.

As an Indian-American, LGBTQI man who is the proud son of immigrants, and who happened to be a total nerd with braces, glasses, and the works, I know how it feels to be “different” or “weird.” I’m here to tell all those kids out there struggling, that it is okay to be “weird” but it’s not okay to be “bullied.”

I’ve asked some of my friends to offer young people some hope as well. Here are a few words from folks you may recognize:

    • “People who bully are insecure. It doesn’t seem like it at first, but then you realize that they’re doing it because they enjoy getting a rise out of someone, they enjoy making someone else’s life harder. That’s so sad. I feel bad for people like this, whether they’re a kid at school or the President of the United States. Try not to take their bait. Instead of believing them, focus all that energy on something positive, something you’re passionate about. Don’t let a bully’s insecurity make you insecure about your amazing, beautiful self.“ – Kal Penn, actor

  • “As women of color, we endure endless amounts of micro-aggressions and outright aggressive behaviors from all areas of our lives. Sadly, the majority of us are always told to just “shake it off” or “keep your head up.” But how can you shake off thousands of tiny cuts when they draw blood again and again? How can you keep your head up under all those negative assertions? Here’s the trick: you don’t do it alone. You ask for help. You ask your friends. You ask adults you trust. You ask your teachers. You ask your school counselor. You reach out to mental health hotlines. You reach out to therapists. Ask anyone whom you trust or is a professional. There is power in community and in knowing that you are not carrying this burden alone. You might feel all alone but there are people in your life who want to help you. There are even people who don’t know you who want to help you. You are incredible. You are beautiful. You are not alone.“ – Elizabeth Ho, actor, Netflix’s Disjointed
  • “There are those who seem to go out of their way to make you feel, sometimes in the most painful ways, that you don’t fit in or you don’t belong. One day, you’ll realize the things that make you an “outsider” are the very things that give you a sense of identity and community.Find strength, hope and purpose in identity and community.” – Phil Yu, blogger, Angry Asian Man
  • “I guarantee that if you are being bullied it is because you are doing something right. You are some combination of incredibly talented, unique, smart and sensitive. You may look different, sound different and act differently than your peers but that is what will one day make you amazing. You probably can see how you’re “supposed” to act, look and believe – but you just can’t bring yourself to be like everyone else – and even when you DO try to fit in, you only seem to stand out MORE. You might think you’re alone, but I’d bet that there is probably a select group of people who feel like you – and they will become your lifelong friends – and you will be able to live as your genuine, true self in their company. Protect each other, love each other, and celebrate how incredibly beautiful it is that you all are so “weird”. If you are being bullied – it’s because you are doing something right. You are special. You are strong. And one day you will be able to write a note like this to someone else and let them know it.” – Utkarsh Ambudkar, actor, Pitch Perfect and White Famous
  • “I exist in this hyphen. I’m an Indian-American-Muslim kid, but am I more Indian or am I more American? What part of my identity am I? I struggled with that as a kid. I wanted to be accepted. I experienced bullying in high school – a kid peed on my shoes, I was called the ‘color of poop.’ A lot of immigrants feel like if you come to this country you pay the American dream tax: you’re gonna endure some racism, and if it doesn’t cost you your life, hey, you lucked out. But I actually have the audacity of equality. I want to tell kids that no matter what anyone tells them, they’re not alone. There is help. Despite whatever is going on in the White House, I believe there is possibility for change, which I think is awesome.” – Hasan Minhaj, comedian
  • “I went through high school not feeling safe. I was the butt of most jokes, teased, and mocked often. And all I did was push it down. I pushed my feelings down for years: laughing with the jokes, pretending everything was ok when my parents saw me sad and just pushing through. Please don’t do what I did. If you are feeling bullied or made to feel unsafe, talk to someone – that could be a guidance counselor, a teacher, or family. When I finally took the chance to be vulnerable with my family and tell them how I felt, the support I got was stunning! When we are bullied we believe that it is our fault and no one loves us. That’s NOT true. You are loved by more places than you know!” – Arjun Gupta, actor (Showtime’s Nurse Jackie and Syfy’s The Magicians) and producer
  • “As a child, it’s awful to feel less than because of who you are. Differences are what make our communities so rich. And I’ve often found that, the thing you’ve been made fun of for the most, is generally what will make you stand out, when you are older. Stay brave. Stay bold.” – Sheetal Sheth, actor, producer, author, activist
  • “I was a little immigrant girl from Taiwan and remember feeling so lonely and confused because I felt so different. Before I could fully understand English I remember I was six years old and playing freeze tag with the neighborhood kids. It was fun until a boy from the other street came by and started to taunt me in English words that sounded mean. My face felt hot with tears at the anger that was coming from him. Lucky for me, I had a friendly, freckle-faced girl defend me and yell at him to stop. I won’t ever forget how awesome she was for standing up for me. We all grow up feeling different and weird. Some people like taking advantage of our insecurities. But we can make the choice to not make others feel bad and to stand up for others when you see them get hurt. Growing up and finding our way is hard enough, be a leader in your school and community and encourage each other to practice kindness and support.” – Jenny Yang, comedian
  • “I was the only Indian kid in my class and I remember being nervous every time the teacher would read my name out loud. I was worried it would be mispronounced, the students would laugh and then I’d have to explain it’s more like “Pootie and the blowfish” not like “Silly Putty”. Writing and performing gave me a chance to explore my feelings, gain confidence and meet lots of cool people from multicultural backgrounds. That helped. And I was already running from my feelings metaphorically speaking so when I started to physically run that also helped. I wish I would have talked about my feelings more and I wish I would have asked more questions, but over time I learned I am not alone. And you aren’t either.” – Danny Pudi, actor
  • What you are being bullied for might actually be your superpower. Speak up. Protect it. It will make you fly, later.” – Janina Gavankar, actor, True Blood and Star Wars Battlefront II

If you or someone you know is being bullied, please check out #ActToChange. The campaign website, ActToChange.org, includes video and music empowerment playlists, and encourages you to “Take a Pledge” to join the #ActToChange movement and stand up against bullying. As one out of three AAPIs does not speak English fluently, resources are available in ChineseHindiKoreanPunjabiUrdu, and Vietnamese. The campaign encourages AAPI youth and adults to share their stories, engage in community dialogues, and take action against bullying.

Now, more than ever, we need to fight hate, discrimination, and bullying, and to empower our youth to embrace and celebrate differences in race, ethnicity, culture, religion, and background.

Let’s #ActToChange our schools and communities, so that all youth feel safe and proud of who they are.

Stand up against bullying. Join me and take the #ActToChange pledge today.