buildOn Oakland Student Anh Vong – Why We Can’t Wait

On May 6th, 2021, buildOn hosted a virtual event featuring buildOn Oakland students, corporate leaders, artists, and supporters. At this special event, Oakland High School senior Anh shared how community service has shaped her as a leader, and she delivered a powerful message on unity, community, and taking action.


“My name is Anh Vong and I am a Senior at Oakland High. The Oakland High community is extremely diverse where the students are mostly Asian, Latino, and Black. 

Even though Oakland High is diverse, there is a lot of racism and division. For example, students have split themselves up into cliques based on race. But this division doesn’t make sense to me since we should be reaching for the same goal — to create a more racially just community for future generations. 

When I think about the feeling of community, I think of my Malawi trek experience. I remember feeling welcomed by the Malawi community despite our group being from different ethnic backgrounds. I saw how the Malawi community came together for one goal — to build a school and to provide an education for their kids. I thought that was beautiful. For me, this was the most exciting and heartwarming thing to see because we don’t come together in America. But in Malawi, they came together and agreed that they have to fix this right now! 

They understood that change starts with unity.

When I got back from Malawi, my definition of community changed. I used to see my community as my friends and family but community is everyone — everyone surrounding you. Doing service with buildOn made me realize that there are many different communities that need help. buildOn gives me hope that more kids and the community will come together in the future.

And because of buildOn, I saw how other community members were living. For example, at the soup kitchen called St. Vincent de Paul, I was able to see some people who weren’t in the best shape. Even though you don’t have the best homes, you still have something someone else doesn’t. By working in the soup kitchen, it showed me how we should be grateful for what we have. I believe we should try to give back as best as we can and to lend a helping hand to those in need. No matter where you’re from, everyone should be equipped with the proper tools to succeed.

To me, it doesn’t matter how much you have. As cheesy as it may sound, it’s about how much you can offer, like your friendship, a smile, or small acts of kindness.

Community service has helped shape me as a leader and has given me many opportunities to become a leader for the students at my school. Growing up,  I only saw White people on screens, and didn’t have an Asian role model to look up to. Being able to meet the previous mayor of Oakland, Jean Quan was inspiring because she was pushing the limits on the stereotypes surrounding women and Asians. I’ve had people tell me, “Oh, you’re not fit to be a leader,” and I learned that stereotypes can be a barrier for Asians who are trying to become leaders. That’s why my passion for the possible is becoming a leader for my community. 

I’m passionate about bringing awareness to the Asian hate crimes. This is important to me because I am Chinese American and most of the crimes happen in Oakland Chinatown. I want people to know that this is an issue because my parents go there every weekend and there are still people who are being ignorant and pretend that Asians don’t experience racism — but we do.

With buildOn, I did a service project where I created posters that brought awareness to this issue and to promote unity. We’ve seen racism that’s rooted in white supremacy go on for far too long. We can’t keep fighting one another. We can’t keep living in a divided community, and through buildOn, I am speaking up and raising awareness. 

To me, a community is a place where you can lean back, feel accepted, and not feel judged for who you are, what you do, and what you wear. It is where we can come together and agree to building a better future.  

And to have a better future, I believe we have to be anti-racist, cuturally welcoming, and embrace each other’s experiences. Even though we come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, every one of us has the power to create change. We have to unite to overcome challenges together. This is why I’m asking you, the audience, to evaluate the power you hold and if you’ve been putting in the effort to make change. 

If you haven’t, start now. Thank you.”