APA Spotlight: Larry Lee, Executive Director, New York Asian Women’s Center (NYAWC)

APA Spotlight is a weekly interview of Asian Pacific Islander Americans (APIA) community leaders. It is a spotlight on individuals who have dedicated their careers to issues surrounding the APIA community with the goal of bringing much deserved recognition to their work and cause(s).

Larry has been the Executive Director of the New York Asian Women’s Center since 2007. NYAWC is the largest Asian American domestic violence and human trafficking agency in the country. NYAWC provides a 24/7 hotline, counseling, case management, advocacy and shelter to survivors and their children.

Previously, as Chief Program Officer of The Educational Alliance, Larry was responsible for 85 programs. Located in 25 sites in Downtown Manhattan the programs annually serve 40,000 people in innovative and integrated ways.

As a leader of the New York City Asian American community, Larry is the founder and former chair of the Board of Trustees of the Shuang Wen Academy, the first Mandarin and English dual language and dual culture public school in the Nation. Since its inception, the school, PS 184, has been ranked in the top ten of all NYC public schools. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families. This Coalition of 150 organizational and individual members educates the public and officials about inequities; advocates to increase accessibility and accountability; and, recommends policy and legislative changes to improve the quality of life for the Asian American community. Mr. Lee is the founder and former Board president of the now defunct Chinatown Voter Education Alliance. The alliance fostered civic responsibility and public education. CVEA registers voters and advocates for fair treatment of the community. He was a leader in the successful fight to obtain bilingual ballots and to increase probability of Asian American legislative representation. Mr. Lee founded the Chinese Community Social Service and Health Council and was its first president. This 25 year old organization now named the Asian Health and Social Service Council has 40 member agencies.

Mr. Lee co-authored two landmark monographs documenting the need for children’s services for Asian Americans. Published by the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, “Half-Full or Half-Empty” focused on the need for health care, Child Care and youth programs for Asian American Children in New York City. “Crossing the Divide” assessed involvement of Asian American families and the child welfare system.

Born in Brooklyn, Larry has been a Manhattan Lower East Side resident for many years. Larry is a widower and has a twenty-six year old son. Like his father, Greg is a product of the New York public school system and attended CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.”

What is the mission statement of your life?

I very strongly believe in social justice and in rectifying unfairness and inequality. This passion has led me to serving the underdogs in our society – abused women and children, the mentally ill, the substance abuser, and generally those who are poor, immigrants and people of color.

I have a special interest in fostering improvement in the fortune of Asian Americans. I have been lucky enough to have organized people and resources to found the Shuang Wen School (PS 184), the first public school that is dual language (Mandarin and English) and dual culture; and to have started an important advocacy organization, the Asian American Health and Social Service Council, which 30 years later is still thriving. And now I am very fortunate to lead the largest Asian American agency in the country focusing on providing services to survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking and soon, sexual assault.

How did you end up doing what you’re doing?

As a boy I traveled through the Southern States of America and both hated the “colored” and “white” drinking fountains and stayed thirsty because I didn’t know from which fountain to drink. I lived in public housing and went to public schools for most of my education.

But, I was lucky enough to have been touched by inspirational people – a missionary when I was a young boy; a pastor when I was a teen; Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1963 March on Washington; and a number of other influential teachers and role models.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life, whom would you like to see play the lead role as you?

The late Victor Wong.

How can people find out more about your organization or get involved?

Victims of domestic violence or human trafficking can call NYAWC’s 24/7 hotline at (888) 888-7702 and speak with a counselor. The general public and individuals wishing to volunteer can learn more about us at www.NYAWC.org and can contact us at Info[at]NYAWC[dot]org.

If you had a crystal ball, what do you see for the future of the Asian Pacific Islander American community?

The APIA community is growing in size and in stature. All things remaining equal the APIA community will become an increasingly important presence in America.

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Author: Koji Steven Sakai

Writer/Producer Koji Steven Sakai is the founder of Little Nalu Pictures LLC and the CEO of CHOPSO (www.CHOPSO.com), the first Asian English streaming video service. He has written five feature films that have been produced, including the indie hit, The People I’ve Slept With. He also produced three feature films, a one hour comedy special currently on Netflix, and Comedy InvAsian, a live and filmed series featuring the nation’s top Asian American comedians. Koji’s debut novel, Romeo & Juliet Vs. Zombies, was released in paperback in 2015 and in audiobook in 2016 and his graphic novel, 442, was released in 2017. In addition, he is currently an adjunct professor in screenwriting at International Technological University in San Jose.