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Building Community within Ohio's Asian American and Pacific Islander Community

As the one-year anniversary of the Atlanta spa shootings approaches, host Dan Skinner talks with Sharon Kim and Rebecca Nelson of OPAWL, a grassroots member-led community that organizes for social justice and elevates the voices, visibility, and progressive leadership of Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women and nonbinary people in Ohio. Among other things, Dan, Sharon, and Rebecca discuss alarming increases in anti-Asian bias, discrimination, and violence and policies and initiatives to reduce such incidents.

In this episode, listeners will learn about instances of anti-Asian violence and intimidation and the lack of attention to crimes against AAPI women. Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have lived in Ohio for many years, but often feel invisible. “Who are we in relation to other ethnic groups?,” Rebecca Nelson asks on the episode. For example, COVID-19 exposed and exacerbated health disparities among Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) Ohioans, including AAPI Ohioans. In 2020, a number of Ohio communities declared racism to be a public health crisis. But, as Rebecca and Sharon explain, AAPI Ohioans are not always included in these conversations. To address this failure to address issues specifically impacting AAPI Ohioans, OPAWL, along with nearly 150 co-signing organizations, sent an action letter to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine in early 2021. They never heard back.

Among other things, OPAWL advocates for change to Ohio public education to include the history of AAPIs and other underrepresented populations; Previous Prognosis Ohio guest Ohio State Senator Tina Maharath (listen here to her last visit), is sponsoring SB214, which requires instruction in Asian American history in Ohio’s K-12 school.

OPAWL also seeks to fund accessible, culturally competent, and in-language programs and services that support and protect AAPI communities. Translation services are key--but not the only key. The disaggregation of data in health settings underscores that better data are needed to tailor outreach and services.

The discussion also touches on demographic change: Columbus’ growth is attributed to increases in Black, Asian, Latino, and other community groups. Statewide, from 2012 to 2018, the number of eligible AAPI voters in Ohio grew 39% according to

About OPAWL – Building AAPI Feminist Leadership

OPAWL seeks to invest in AAPI community infrastructure and build authentic relationships with their communities, primarily by creating an Ohio AAPI Affairs Commission and an Office of AAPI affairs; and to fund bystander intervention training and anti-bullying interventions.

OPAWL’s priorities are relief, protection, and support of the members of the AAPI community. One of OPAWL’s points of pride is creating a welcoming community where progressive AAPI women and femmes of all ages and their families can build transformational relationships.

The group’s advocacy focuses are here, including current advocacy efforts for SB 214, the Asian American history curriculum bill introduced by Ohio State Senator Tina Maharath.

The Love Has No Borders storytelling campaign can be found here.

OPAWL member interviews and media features can be found here.

About this week’s guests:

Rebecca Nelson is a founding member of OPAWL and a community advocate with a history of service within public health, higher education, and board/civic engagement work. She has served on a variety of councils and commissions, including the Governor’s Ohio Asian American and Pacific Islander Advisory Council, the Columbus Community Relations Commission, the Ohio State President’s Council on Women, the Ohio State Faculty Senate Diversity Committee, the Infant Mortality Task Force, and United Way of Central Ohio’s Race Relations and Diversity Vision Council. Her board service has included Asian American Community Services, Bhutanese Community of Central Ohio, Mount Carmel Foundation, and many other local organizations.

Sharon Kim is a proud member and leader at OPAWL, a progressive feminist grassroots organization building power for AAPI women and nonbinary people in Ohio. For her day job, she works in clinical research administration with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She got her start in clinical research at her alma mater, The Ohio State University. Sharon is a second generation Korean-American, born in Boston and raised in a suburb outside of Cleveland. After a stint on the east coast, she returned to Columbus in 2019 with her husband and two young children.

Some specific items mentioned on the show:

· If you, like Dan, were embarrassed to admit that you did not know about Grace Lee Boggs, start here.

· Read about Professor Moon Chens’s important work on AAPI health here, and read an article of his, “Cancer Health Disparities among Asian Americans What We Know and What We Need to Do,” here.

· Read some of the Ohio History Connection’s work on AAPI in Ohio here.

This episode hosted and produced Dan Skinner. Editorial and production support by Trish Mayhorn. Music produced by Kyle Rosenberger. Special thanks to Angela Lin at Ohio Voice for helping to make this interview possible.