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Allyship: It All Starts with the People

Illustrated collage of diverse profile portraits.

I asked myself not too long ago, what is one way to better leverage Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month to deliver real results? When I think about it, this month celebrates the stories of AAPIs, and each May, these stories start to take on life and surface through mainstream media – in fact, my LinkedIn feed is already trending with #AAPIHeritageMonth! As June arrives, we’ll probably move on quickly, yet AAPIs will continue to share conversations around the topics of unconscious bias, microaggressions, the bamboo ceiling, minority myth, and workplace inequalities.

I remind myself that to truly affect change, we can start by being allies to one another – working together and recognizing that diversity, equity, and inclusion is not as simple as it looks on the surface (like all industries). The work may seem straightforward, but when applied, it’s usually more complicated. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is just one of the several agencies and offices under the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), and with over 80,000 employees, it can be tricky to find the professionals and leaders who are focused on supporting the recruitment, retention, and advancement of AAPIs in the federal government. There’s a lot to address, and I do not have all the answers. So, what is one way to deliver real results? Let’s find the people and professionals and get them together so we can at least try to tackle the systems thinking, coalition-building, and tactical organizing needed to move beyond inspiration to real change.

Across the HHS sister agencies, we have been connecting, sharing ideas, and discussing the priorities and challenges of our respective offices. At the Seattle District Office, U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), Maggie Fu, Health Communications Specialist, is looking at ways to improve recruitment efforts of AAPIs into the FDA. She leverages the networking power of social media to promote job vacancies and identify diverse talent. Over a recent Zoom call, Perry Chan, Public Health Advisor, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), shared that in his new role at SAMHSA’s Office of Behavioral Health Equity (OBHE), he will continue to bring his same passion for community-driven change and to look for ways to reduce the impact of substance use and mental illness in the underserved populations, including AAPIs. Mary Tom, Special Emphasis Program Manager and Employee Resource Group (ERG) Program Liaison at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has had experience in facilitating conversations related to diversity and inclusion issues. Also, Mary and I talked about how we could create a space where AAPI Strategists, ERG leaders, and those passionate about the AAPI community could dialogue with one another to share ideas.

In a continued effort to foster allyship across HHS and within the AAPI community, we took another small step forward and got on a call to begin putting ideas to paper. It wasn’t perfect, but I am inspired by the kindness, openness, and unwavering dedication of my colleagues to serving the AAPI community that will carry me way beyond May.

Included is a screenshot of our working session where the group dived in and talked about ways we can support and work together on future initiatives. The ERGs across HHS are the backbone supporting our work and crucial players to achieving our goals. AAPI Heritage Month is just the beginning of our collective work and path to delivering real change. We cannot do this alone, and together, we can make sure that our stories trend throughout the year.

Screenshot of a video conference with four attendees.
Caption (left to right): Maggie Fu; Caroline Goon; Mary Tom; and Perry Chan. Screenshot of working session on a Zoom call.

To learn more about how to foster allyship across marginalized groups, check out the EDI Blog.

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