I identify as Hmong, as a woman, queer, and as someone who values and practices reflection. In my adult life, I now identify as upwardly economically mobile.
I didn’t grow up with a lot of money. My family had ups and downs with our income. I never knew when it was up or when it was down. I only knew that there would be times where my parents would say “no” to something I would ask for, but other times they would say yes. There were other times where my mom would have to choose between groceries and gas. But no matter what, we always made ends meet.
Growing up, I was a part of the Minnesota Alliance with Youth as a member of the Minnesota Youth Council. I did work related to philanthropy that was trying to define what it means to have young people involved in philanthropy.
Throughout this experience I often asked myself, “Why am I the only young person at the table? Why aren't we changing the process so that more young people can learn how to apply for grants and be the deciders of what happens in their community?”
After that, I took a course my first semester in college that deeply impacted how I think about money and philanthropy. We had 3 months to give away $20,000 to an issue area – we were like a mini foundation. My group’s issue area was health, and we suddenly had access to doctors and important healthcare community stakeholders.
That access opened my eyes and raised questions for me like, “Why is it that I have so much power to get the time of executive directors, head doctors, and other big power players when I have a $20,000 check in my pocket but I’m not someone who's from the community?”
That experience still pushes me to reflect and ask questions like, “What does it mean to be from the community? What does it mean to distribute funds in a community that I am not from?”
I now understand that if I’m part of decision-making about where funding goes, I need to be connected to that work in some way - either through the community or through values. Otherwise, I don't want to be part of it.
Having been involved in philanthropy as a young person, I was excited to join the 2021 Giving Project.
In the Giving Project, it was valuable to have spaces to hear from others that shared my identity or background - like the BIPOC caucus and the class caucuses. That helped me to develop a whole new vernacular to better understand my experiences.
Thanks to the BIPOC caucus, I was able to identify examples of giving that my family does that are part of my culture and distinct from the white, patriarchal, “normal” ways of philanthropic giving.
That realization was powerful. Because of Headwaters, I have so much more language and context to talk about money, identity, race, and class.
I bring that knowledge back into my career working with young people who are learning about philanthropy. I work at a youth-centered nonprofit where I run the youth philanthropy initiatives. We work with youth groups to imagine how they would build a youth-centered grantmaking process.
In my role, I work with a lot of young people – especially BIPOC young people - who say things like, “I can't be a philanthropist. I don't know how to do that. I don't have the money to do that.” And I get to help them begin to see things differently.
By having those conversations with young people, I’ve seen how important it is to be able to redefine what philanthropy is with the lens that anyone can participate in philanthropy.
Doing fundraising and distribution in community with young people has changed how I understand my work and how I understand who I am in the world.
Now, I see my role in movement work as twofold. First, making sure young people know that they belong in philanthropy. Second, convincing adults that it's okay to give funding to young people and let go of the reins to allow young people to grow in their own understanding of the world.
I want to make sure that we allow young people to reimagine what their worlds can look like. I want to make sure that they can be change makers. The bottom line is that we can reimagine what philanthropy can look like.