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National Asian Pacific Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), St. Cloud Chapter

"One Organization Probes: Where is My Space?"

When isolation, racism and discrimination continue to be overwhelming barriers that many AAPIs face, particularly in smaller communities, how can groups even begin to combat these systemic problems? For the Saint Cloud, Minnesota chapter of the national organization National Asian Pacific Women's Forum (NAPAWF), the inspiring first step is to engage young women and girls and help them be part of the solution.

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As a national women of color organization, NAPAWF has relied on the strength and vitality of its membership and chapters across the country to meet its mission since 1996. NAPAWF's chapter structure allows opportunities for members to become active on local and state APA women's issues, as well as to participate in forum events, local projects, trainings, and conferences. One of its nine current chapters, located in Saint Cloud, Minnesota (city of 70,000), is a strong and exciting link in the growing chain of the APA women's movement.

As one of the NGEC-MN's community engagement grantees, the St. Cloud Chapter of NAPAWF organized a series of dialogues within its core group of ten members (including youth) and with prospective members and other youth. The chapter has recognized various incidences of institutional racism that have happened repeatedly in St. Cloud (such as hate crimes, job discrimination, and hateful graffiti), and group leaders wanted to explore how to respond to and address such issues.

At first, people at the gatherings craved just the social interaction and interpersonal connections, rather than exploring deep issues in mutual dialogue. Still, the early get-togethers were very powerful because of the diverse array of perspectives among the strong women who are involved. Among other things, the NAPAWF chapter discussed how to more effectively do leadership development with teens and how to address identity issues (such as adoptee issues, mental health, etc). Gradually, over food and fellowship, the conversations became more and more rich and insightful, especially since nearly all members have personal experience and passion around social justice issues.

"Find strength and support within ourselves; a safe space." -Hedy Tripp, member and leader of NAPAWF-St. Cloud

As the teen/youth focus continued to emerge, the chapter decided to organize an innovative teen conference/ retreat called "Where's My-Space?" Free and open to AAPI teen girls ages 15-19, this two-day conference was an opportunity for teens and young women from the area to connect and learn together. As an outcome, girls and young women who are involved in NAPAWF can feel supported to know that when they speak out, they have a strong circle of support from the other NAPAWF members. The group has realized that racism is not a comfortable conversation, but is absolutely necessary in order to move the community forward as a whole.

All in all, the community engagement process allowed NAPAWF-St. Cloud to focus on the issues that are most important and relevant to their community, and at the end, they gained new perspectives and new methods for dealing with those issues in the future. The chapter's process of dialogue has helped to further NAPAWF's profound goal of being "a home for the young woman of color who yearns for dignity and justice in her life to find power through mutual support, shelter and sisterhood".