Carolyn on the Impact of Seeding Change, Transformative Justice, and Mental Health, an Alum Feature

  • by

“I learned what it meant to organize in a way that still allows you to preserve yourself and be true to who you are authentically. Organizing as a Vietnamese person is really important to me so I was able to tap into that with Seeding Change.”

In Seeding Change, Carolyn was able to sharpen her analysis on capitalism and the working class. She helped coordinate a youth program and witnessed a model that centers what youth need, their feedback and decisions. Carolyn also organized a press event where the fellows had to call the media, which she never had to do before. She took these learnings back to her student organizing in the fall.

When I came back from SC I had this level of understanding of how the university prioritizes profit over students and was able to bring that to organizing a campaign. Thinking about strategy, engaging with decision makers, direct and indirect action. We ended up winning that campaign. 

One of Carolyn’s favorite memories was during orientation retreat when we had lunch with two movement elders, Pam Tau Lee and Pennie Opal Plant. 

“I barely knew what social justice was. I didn’t think I would get accepted into the fellowship. So when we were having that conversation with Pam and Pennie it felt reassuring to know this was my journey. Pam was talking about seven generations and I really resonated with that.” 

Carolyn also shares about how goofy and fun it was to work with fellows that were also at her host site, as well as receiving advice and talking through shared experiences with Seeding Change community members. Underlying Carolyn’s experience with Seeding Change was the relationships she built. 

Carolyn shares this with young people, future fellows, and other Asian Americans:  

“I needed to be okay with where I was at. I was so insecure at the time. At retreat, I didn’t let myself open up in the way I wanted to because I was really overthinking whether or not I would fuck up and be called out. I would just tell myself: really thrive unapologetically with others around you and know that other people resonate with where I’m at and to expect more from others and not assume that they would shun or shame me.” 

“Something I was grappling with a lot was that people our age really resented their parents and people who didn’t understand the movement. I can’t count all the times I’ve been cancelled in college. There needs to be an unlearning of that because hurt people hurt people. And I definitely saw that. It’s so important to do healing work and understand the ways in which you can cause harm as someone in the movement. It’s important to understand what it means to organize older immigrants and our parents and the nuances that come with that and the privileges of being college educated. I don’t think we think a lot about that when we’re busy yelling at our parents.”

Carolyn’s Vision and Leadership 

“I want to work with young people for the rest of my life. There’s nothing like it. Anything revolutionary that you see in organizing was done by young people.”

What are the pressing issues you care about? 

I’ve always cared about mental health. It’s such a big issue for me, especially being raised in a refugee family, like that’s the thing that needs to be addressed the most. Addressing my mental health has made such a difference in my life. I want to understand the clinical side of mental health. 

A lot of young people don’t have access to a therapist that really actually cares and understands who they are and can support them. I want to have the tools to support those young people. I know it would have made a difference for me when I was in high school. 

My ideal job would be a resident therapist at a grassroots org. Then I could be in organizing and bring the skills that I can learn in social work.

As a youth organizer, what are the youth teaching you? 

Young people help challenge me to be a better person. They help me think about issues in different ways and bring myself back and ground me. They have a perspective that older adults don’t have of understanding how things are shifting for their generation and how their own future is being impacted. A high schooler’s future versus mine look different, and how we want to shift it. They will name things that I haven’t thought about because it affects their future or present and not necessarily mine. 

Young people have taught me that I need to have fun no matter what I do. That adults and youth need to be in a meaningful partnership. It shouldn’t just be about youth leadership but meaningful intergenerational work that allows adults to transform in the way that young people are able to. Young people help teach us that adults can also transform and change. 

What are some struggles that you’re having to figure out that you weren’t anticipating when you were younger?

I really don’t like working from home. I’m a Leo and thrive off of connection. Before the pandemic, I was in a depressive episode because in isolation I didn’t allow myself to connect with other people. I need human connection literally as a chemical brain boost. Working from home affects the joy that I find when I am able to connect with people in the way we were able to before the pandemic. 

It’s also like I am re-learning how to do my job as a youth organizer. You have to experiment, and try new things and fail and that whole process of relearning online tools. It’s challenging and the emotional challenge of preparing yourself is not easy. 

A big chunk of my day is making sure I’m taking care of myself. I’ve had to learn how to have a routine again and make new habits entering the fall around diet, work boundaries. Work is a big chunk of my day, but the other stuff is watching Top Chef and bad reality tv. The Bachelorette. It’s important to smooth your brain out after a workday. I work out 5 days a week to make sure I am feeling healthy and energized. And I go on a picnic every week. 

What’s been on your mind or heart these days that you want to share about? 

In this election work, I’ve had to engage a lot with my family. My mom is the only one on her side that is not a Trump supporter. My mom and I were in a lot of conversations to really navigate that. What’s on my mind is that I’m really grateful for my mom. She put a lot of expectations on me as her only daughter. Over time she has really grown to practice listening to her kids. We were engaging in a lot of tough conversations, and ultimately she wanted to support her kids. 

I am fighting for a world where people value each other, where everyone has a chance to thrive and have the resources to do what they want to do. I appreciate that she really understands that so I am holding her really close now that the elections have ended. I love my relatives, and I have to hold that contradiction when they support Trump. But I am not in a place where I want to cut people out of my life if I really care about them. It’s my aunt and uncle, I can’t cut people like that out of my life. So I’m thinking about that. Which really relates to what I shared about resenting parents. We need to apply transformative justice with our Trump supporting family. That’s the framework I am trying to think of when I am not wanting to cut people out of my life. It’s not that I am engaging with people who don’t care about human rights.