A group of Ohio-based Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) change-makers just finished an incredible training program and are now armed with extensive knowledge of anti-oppressive approaches to raising consciousness in their communities to help others fight against oppression.
OPAWL: Building AAPI Feminist Leadership is a grassroots, member-led community organization dedicated to social justice. OPAWL works to build a strong intersectional feminist community with the purpose of building power and progressive leadership in Ohio. There are three regional OPAWL hubs in Ohio (Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland) as well as an online community of members. From the organization’s bio:
“We are a multi-ethnic, multigenerational, intersectional feminist community centered around immigrants, refugees and adoptees; women; and queer and trans individuals. Our members represent the diverse diaspora of Asia and the Pacific Islands, including those of South Asian, Southeast Asian, East Asian, Central Asian, Southwest/West Asian, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian descent.”
One way OPAWL fulfills their mission is through their Facilitation for Liberation (F4L) Fellowship, a political education training series rooted in principles of political education and popular education, which are anti-oppressive approaches to raising consciousness in our communities. Participants work in a cohort of other AAPI organizers and activists in Ohio and learn how to facilitate groups in a way that encourages participants to connect their own knowledge and experiences to larger structural problems.
The F4L Fellowship—which was funded by a grant from The George Gund Foundation—covers topics including: understanding the theory and history behind popular and political education, deconstructing difficult topics and dealing with difficult situations in group settings and other facilitation do’s and don’ts.
A goal of the F4L Fellowship is to cultivate these facilitation skills that are crucial to community organizing so OPAWL members will be equipped to build political consciousness within their communities. Following the training, fellows will have the support needed to run at least one workshop, training, teach-in or community conversation in 2022.
To get a sense of how these OPAWL F4L Fellows will soon change the world, we chatted with Aarti Raghavachari (she/they/he), a recent Fellow graduate, to chat about what they’ve learned from the fellowship and their plans for the future.
Name: Aarti Raghavachari
Current Homebase: I’m currently living in Cleveland after graduating from the University of Cincinnati.
Making Change in Ohio: Growing up in Ohio, I never had a space where I can wholly exist with all of the intersectional identities that make up myself. I never found a safe space to exist as a queer Tamil/Indian nonbinary person. Instead, I had to go searching for spaces that would be inclusive of me and those identities.
In 2019, I helped found an organization at the University of Cincinnati called United Asian Advocates (UAA), to address the needs of AAPI students on campus and create an intentional space for us to build community, learn about issues that are meaningful to us and our community, broaden AAPI voicing in social justice spaces and empower our community and peers. I don’t have a perfect answer on how to change Ohio, but what I do know is that there’s a lot of people like me, a lot of kids as well, who long for a space where they can belong that is actually accessible. I would love to see more organizations like UAA and OPAWL who are doing this work and uplifting members of our community receive the support and recognition they deserve.
I want Ohioan LGBTQ+-identifying kids to feel safe and secure, to have access to education and resources, to see themselves supported. In a time when other states are currently attacking the lives of LGBTQ+ youth and their futures, it is completely necessary for Ohio leaders to understand this and protect queer youth and to commit to supporting AAPI and LGBTQ+ programming.
Insights From F4L: During the F4L program, I expanded upon my facilitation skills by learning the roles and expectations of what healthy facilitation can look like — how to foster a safe space and dialogue with others, as well as how to trust others around you to guide you and have answers you may not have.
I learned about the facets of popular and political education and the importance of centering marginalized people in our social justice dialogues. I learned how to transform our reflection on ourselves into action for our communities, how to commit to radical change and how to challenge any preexisting roles and perspectives to fully liberate ourselves and the members of our communities from the roots of our oppression.
Future Plans and Projects: Right now, I am still thinking of future projects that I would like to commit to. I know I would love to host caucuses specifically for and centered around LGBTQ+-identifying college students of color, where we can have a safe, intentional and sustainable space for ourselves and create collective action based on each other’s needs and intersectional identities.
I would additionally love to connect everything that I’ve learned from this wonderful program with my knowledge of Feminist International Relations — which is what I studied in undergrad — as I move on to graduate school and continue creating dialogue and building community for AAPI people wherever I land.
Overall F4L Experience: Overall, I want to say that my experience with F4L was life-changing, inspiring and liberating! I got the opportunity to meet and connect with so many capable AAPI leaders and activists and I have gained so much knowledge and perspective from each and every one of them. I think this is exactly what I needed to step into the next phase of my social justice journey and I cannot wait to use the tools from this program in the future.
- Women and non-binary members of the AAPI community are welcome to join OPAWL’s membership and can follow this link for details.
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