By Ryan MacDonald
From the tiny Island Kingdom of Tonga to the border of Cambodia and Thailand, the diverse cultures and stories that represent the Asian Pacific American (APA) community were on full display at this year’s Community Voice Awards hosted by the International Examiner (IE).
For its 25th year, the Community Voice Awards brought together local families, business owners and politicians, including former Mayor Mike McGinn and current Mayoral candidate Cary Moon, to honor and celebrate the leaders and advocates who inspire and serve this longstanding Seattle community.
Through leadership achievements, artistic contributions and social activism, “these awards remind us to do our best and to do better,” said emcee Maria Batayola, who greeted the crowd to the evening’s festivities that included a Polynesian dancer troupe and a 10-course family style dinner.
As the oldest and largest non-profit pan-Asian and Pacific Islander American media organization in the country, the IE was founded in 1974 when it began reporting on local issues that were happening in the Chinatown-International District (ID), a hub and neighborhood for many APA families.
Soon this community-based newspaper became an important platform for a demographic that may not have typically seen its stories reflected in the larger media landscape, which helped reshape the image of those who lived there.
In other words, by telling their stories, through their voices, the community empowered itself.
“Being at the helm of the Examiner, and finding that you are at the helm of a community institution, you are a spokesperson for the mission,” said Diem Ly, former Editor-in-chief of the newspaper, who worked there from 2007 – 2012.
“You have to know your subjects, almost on a personal level. You have to know their stories, you have to know what their struggles are, you need to stay engaged in the community.”
Every year, the paper selects a group of individuals who are providing exceptional service and leading the community.
This year’s recipients of the Community Voice Awards included Ly, who now works as the Director of Community Investment for Comcast NBCUniversal, along with Lynette Finau (for excellence in education), Sameth Mell (for excellence in social justice), Rita Meher (for excellence in arts), and Joan Yoshitomo, who received a standing ovation to go along with her lifetime achievement award for her ongoing work in the public sector.
“You can be a changemaker in a lot of different ways,” said Ly, who received the Tatsuo Nakata Leadership Award for the variety of work she does across corporate philanthropy, diversity, and public relations.
Ly noted that anyone from a journalist to an artist can contribute to shaping the narrative of his or her community.
“I’ve seen that from many of these different people, who are canvasing many different social issues from many different lenses.”
Identifying the need for the diversity of voices in creating social change is something Ly noted was an important piece of her leadership while guiding fellow writers and editors at the IE.
“We felt it was our responsibility to support budding journalists, journalists of color, and APA journalists,” she said. “We needed more APA journalists, ones that are being supported by the community, and knew that they had a place in which to tell their stories and to share their craft and their talent.”
In her current role at Comcast, Ly oversees local and national outreach campaigns and initiatives where she has earned a reputation for removing obstacles and barriers that may stand in her way.
“I actually make it harder for myself, but I like to enact change where we would like to see it, and it’s not easy,” she said about this quality that sets her apart as a leader.
“I don’t care about walls, barriers, moats, alligators, sharks … a tornado,” she said with a laugh. “Sometimes people have to reign me in a little bit, and be like, ‘Ok, so, Diem, there’s a way to do this. There’s a structure.’”
But this relentless drive is what has fueled some of her greatest accomplishments in the corporate landscape, even though at first she struggled to find her footing at the Fortune 50 Company.
“I wasn’t surrounded by people that looked like me or that were my age range or who knows what their individual political philosophies were,” she said. “It took a while for me to make that transition and now I feel very comfortable to be able to be my authentic self.”
Since arriving in 2012, Ly has helped launch and support six different employee resource groups that didn’t previously exist, and she’s partnered with 50 non-profits (a number she decreased from 175) that resulted in $3.5 million dollars worth of donations this year alone.
These partnerships fund programs that will directly create change in the community for which she represents. And if that’s not enough, she’s also in the process of launching a diversity and inclusion council for the state of Washington.
“I’m finding new ways to be an advocate and that’s honestly fulfilling for me,” she said.