Organizers raise over $80,000 to help vulnerable AAPI members in New York City

With mounting hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) making headlines, young changemakers are using their voices and platforms to call for real change and aid for the AAPI community. Two of those activists are 23-year-old Kenji Jones and 24-year-old Michelle Tran.

“Kenji and I were both disturbed by the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and were tired of feeling helpless watching news clips of elderly Asians and Asian women being violently attacked on the streets,” Tran told In The Know.

Before ever meeting, Jones and Tran each made their own waves on social media. Jones went viral for an Instagram post advertising free pepper spray for New York City-based Asians. Tran, meanwhile, started a project with her Apex for Youth mentee, Tiffany Yuen, called Soar Over Hate. The group’s aim is to raise money for self-defense devices for AAPI individuals.

The duo connected over social media to help come up with a more long-term solution to help mainly low-income, non-English speaking elderly folks in Chinatown — some of the most vulnerable members of the AAPI community.

Both wanted to raise money and offer important resources, so they came up with the AAPI Care Fair, which had its inaugural event on May 15.

Michelle Tran and Kenji Jones. Credit: David Cirillo

“We decided to join together to put on this event and this past month [we] have thrown our hearts and souls into bringing the community together,” Tran said. “We decided to place our event in the middle of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPIHM) in hopes that it will be an uplifting and joyful event for all in a frightening time.”

The event’s accomplishments are astounding. Jones and Tran managed to secure teachers for self-defense courses, healthcare and mental health screenings, puppy therapy, reserved same-day vaccine appointments and free COVID testing. They also offered voter registration help and resources for housing rights, immigration rights, senior services and government benefits.

Credit: Sheng Lin

“The most rewarding moments of the AAPI Care Fair were seeing pure joy,” Jones said. “We saw the community come together to lift up the most underserved folks in our community. We felt such a strong community love in the air. We are excited that so many, especially young people came out to volunteer and give back.”

“The fair has left me rejuvenated and hopeful that we will continue to protect and uplift all of our community members, including the most underserved and vulnerable, out of these frightening times,” Tran said.

In total, Jones and Tran raised $80,000 and gave out 3,000 alarms, 1,500 pepper sprays, 1,000 whistles and 350 kubotans — a small self-defense weapon that can fit in the palm of your hand.

Credit: Sheng Lin

Hundreds were screened for hypertension and hepatitis B, 20 registered to vote, 50 participated in a self-defense class. They also gave out over 10,000 masks.

“I was moved to tears,” Tran recalled. “Walking around Columbus Park in Manhattan’s Chinatown this sunny morning and seeing elderly laugh and cuddle with puppies, families listening to live music from local Asian artists, individuals getting screened for hepatitis B and blood pressure and folks equipping themselves to be better protected with new self-defense devices and moves was incredible beyond belief.”

You can donate to Soar Over Hate’s GoFundMe for protecting Asian American seniors and women in New York City here.

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