I started teaching at a seminary in the summer of 1992, a few months after the verdict in the Rodney King trial exploded into what is now commonly known as the L.A. Riots. I watched as African-American anger – triggered by an unjust verdict rendered by an all-white jury – directed its wrath at Korean-owned mom-and-pop shops. I watched powerlessly as my city burned even as signs of the cross hung high in every street corner.
In the aftermath of the riot, when the buzz word was multiculturalism, I began my teaching career with a deep commitment to promoting multicultural representation in academic institutions. At the time, I was the only woman of color at the institution where I taught. I was a pioneer by default and tread unmarked paths. I had no sign posts or mentors or even peers who looked like me. With three strikes (race, class and gender) against me, I needed more than academic knowledge to survive and thrive in such an environment, but received no instruction on its politics. I later learned of allegations, misperceptions and gossip that developed while I naively devoted my time and energy to teaching. I felt marginalized and vulnerable.
It was during this time that I yearned for and dreamed of a community of Asian American women in similar positions of leadership, a community where I could share my experience as I gleaned wisdom from the experience of others. It was during this time that I vowed to work to protect other Asian American women in similar situations and to ensure that they receive guidance and support in the face of professional challenges. I reached out to other Asian American women who experienced similar isolation and marginalization in their roles as teachers and leaders in their professions, ministries and churches. AAWOL grew out of our conversations and shared commitment to be for each other the community that we all seek.
Marshall Ganz, a renowned Civil Rights activist and community organizer, once said that leadership “is not so much about exercising your own leadership as it is developing the leadership capacity of others.” By equipping and developing the ability and confidence of its members, AAWOL seeks to make its slogan – “Never Alone Again” – a reality for Asian American women leaders. Because of AAWOL, that is already a reality for me.
Young Lee Hertig, PhD, is an ordained pastor and serves as a professor at seminaries and Christian colleges. She lives with her husband and daughter in Southern California. To contact Young, please send your inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.