In a rousing speech extolling the power of young people, activist Saru Jayaraman accepted a Caring for Children Award from the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families on Wednesday, Nov. 12.
“We have to support the young people,” said Jayaraman. “Let’s talk about the economy. Let’s talk about an increase in the minimum wage. Let’s talk about health care. That’s economic stimulus and it starts with young people.”
Jayaraman began Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) of New York in 2001 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in order to provide employment to the former employees of Windows on the World, the restaurant formerly on the top floor of the World Trade Center.
ROC recently celebrated a major legal victory, when they won a $4 million dollar lawsuit on behalf of restaurant workers working in the neighborhood surrounding Carnegie Hall in Manhattan.
Because the vast majority of restaurant workers are under the age of 24, ROC and the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families often collaborate on projects and initiatives.
According to CACF’s Executive Director Wayne Ho, the selection committee tries to select unconventional choices for the award. “We know that other galas get CEOs or celebrities,” said Ho. “We want to honor people who are under-recognized.”
Jayaraman was honored alongside Julian Liau, the executive director for J.P. Morgan Securities and Tara Tran Nguyen, whose work helped start the New York Vietnamese School.
This year also marks the fifth anniversary of the Asian American Student Advocacy Project, CACF's youth leadership project for public high school students. Known as ASAP, the program encourages participants to advocate for Asian American students in their schools and provides them with the opportunity to attend workshops and field trips.
"I wanted to make a change in the Asian American society because there is that Asian American face that people don't see," explained ASAP member Sally Lu, a student at the New York City Lab School. The students elected to focus on raising awareness about mental health issues in the community for their year-long project.
"Asian American students feel more stress and are pressured to do well," said Lu as she explained why the group chose to devote their project to mental health.
ASAP member Susanna Wu agreed that focusing on mental heallth was important. She took particular issue with the stereotype that Asian Americans do not have trouble in school. "Sometimes we struggle in school too. Not all of us come from the perfect family. Some people live with grandparents. What they don't know is that they fail out, too."
The awards gala was emceed, as it has been for several years now, by two prominent Asian Americans in the media, former TV anchor Ernabel Demillo and Alan Muraoka, who plays "Alan" the manager of Hooper's store on "Sesame Street."
- 2005 NYT "Public Lives" profile
- Restaurant Opportunities Center United
- Coalition for Asian American Children and Families
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