President's Perspective Blog

Breaking the Silence: Mental Health Awareness and Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month

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You have an impact sign with Jennifer and her daughter

“Mom, you need to see a therapist.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do and it actually feels good to talk with someone about your stress. I feel better when I talk to my therapist.”

So, thanks to my wise-beyond-her-age 14 year-old daughter, I went to my first therapy session. My tech-savvy child actually helped me navigate free online resources that I didn’t know existed. I also didn’t know what to expect during my virtual consultation, but my teenager was right. It felt good. It was helpful. The heavy weight of past trauma I carried around was lighter on my shoulders because I didn’t have to suffer in silence. 

Coincidence this is Mental Health Awareness Month?

I’ll be the first to admit that growing up in my first-generation Chinese-Vietnamese-Japanese household, the topic of mental health was taboo in our family. Discussions about emotional struggles were often brushed aside, viewed as a sign of weakness. I struggled through school overcompensating for my neurodiversity and developing my own coping mechanisms for dyslexia because avoiding 丢脸 (“losing face”) prevailed over seeking help. As a non-native English speaker, the language barrier also presented challenges as a young person accessing services. I was isolated and alone for a very long time.

Until now…

Jennifer with Mike
Photo: Jennifer and Mike at AFP ICON in New Orleans

May is also Asian Pacific Islander (API) Heritage Month and it holds special significance for me. Over the course of four years, president Mike Geiger invited me to take over his blog on multiple occasions to commemorate API representation in philanthropy. Each time is a wonderful opportunity to share my voice with fundraisers around the world. Again and again. I’m going to miss collaborating with you, Mike!

This is in stark contrast to the experience I had with my former employer. As a passing thought after the horrific Atlanta spa shootings, I was instructed by my supervisor to write about the #stopasianhate movement in my own words, but he would sign his name on the message and send it out to our donors.

“You know what to say, but supporters would rather hear from me,” said my boss.

Needless to say, I felt very uncomfortable with this arrangement and turned to HR for help.

“You should just do it. This falls under the category of duties as assigned,” was the answer from our HR department.

I was told to suffer in silence.

Until now…

After hearing about my situation, AFP encouraged me to start an API affinity group to meet other like-minded fundraisers that might be a helpful sounding board. This is how I originally met my co-facilitator Melody Song who I continue to regularly partner with on fundraising projects while also comparing notes on our parenting journey even though we live 5,065 miles apart on two separate continents.

My original sense of despair from a crappy work situation is replaced by hope. We have since expanded our API affinity group to include many fun fundraising friends like Kevin Chi that have joined our monthly conversations and are willing to speak to other people about our interactions and how much they appreciate having an environment to feel wholeheartedly authentic.

I encourage API fundraisers, BIPOC fundraisers, and fundraisers of color to step out of the silent zone and join us online or in-person. We are building a safe space where we uplift each other, share resources, and wrestle with very difficult conversations. Our API fundraising community has taught me that I’m not alone in my journey. Let’s support each other through the highs and lows, finding strength in our lived experiences.

Photo: API affinity group with Muhi Khwaja, Joyce Ng, Chrissey Nguyen Klockner and Ray Li at AFP ICON in Las Vegas
Photo: API affinity group with Muhi Khwaja, Joyce Ng, Chrissey Nguyen Klockner and Ray Li at AFP ICON in Las Vegas

Honestly, there is still much more work to accomplish to increase representation and diversity in our sector. In The Chronicle of Philanthropy survey of nearly 700 fundraisers, three-quarters identified as white, 4 percent as Black/African American, 3 percent as Hispanic/Latino, 2 percent as Asian/Pacific Islander.

So, as we round out this year’s API Heritage Month, now is the time to raise our voices and break the silence. On May 29 we will have a special Asian Pacific Islander Fundraisers’ Affinity Group Conversation about Community Centric Fundraising (CCF). Will you be there? If you sign up for the discussion, I look forward to connecting together!

谢谢. Mahalo. 

Photo: Asian Pacific Islander (API) Fundraisers’ Affinity Group Conversation about Community Centric Fundraising (CCF)
Photo: Asian Pacific Islander (API) Fundraisers’ Affinity Group Conversation about Community Centric Fundraising (CCF)

Author Information

Jennifer Li Dotson, MSc (she/her)

Jennifer Li Dotson provides community access to AI powered fundraising technology that supports the success of fundraising efforts of over 3000 nonprofit organizations across the globe at Fundraise Up. She previously worked at the National Bureau of...
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