Kevin Yang opened the second annual Hmong student mentorship event “Success That Looks Like Me” on February 23, by singing from a popular song I Believe I Can Fly.
Principal Yusuf Abdullah then emphasized that believing the words to that song are critical in the continuing mission of the school, and introduced students to successful community members that look like them and must face and overcome obstacles that stand in their way. Abdullah noted, as did nearly every other speaker, that the biggest obstacle to a student’s success might be the very face that stares back at them in a mirror. In order to defy the odds that seemed stacked against them, students must first believe in themselves and then ‘not believe those who tell you what you cannot do.’ “In the struggle for your success,” he said, “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You can stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before you.”
Xang Vang, Henry Hmong Family Liaison for the 326 Hmong students (29 percent of total enrollment), urged the students to ask questions of the 37 volunteer professionals who were available for small group discussions after presentations from guest speakers.
Speakers included: Superintendent Ed Graff; Principal Yusuf Abdullah; Minneapolis City Council Member Blong Yang; Wa Houa Khang, President of the Hmong American Mutual Assistance Association; Lee Pao Xiong, founding Director of the Center for Hmong Studies at Concordia University; and Mai Feng Moua, founder of Hmong literary arts journal the , editor of anthology Bamboo Among the Oaks, and author of The Bride Price: A Hmong Wedding Story.
City Council Member Blong Yang noted that the Hmong have evolved in their understanding of leadership since their migration to America. “We believed that General Vang Pao was an irreplaceable leader. Our elders believed that leaders arise from a privileged class that grooms leaders and ensures their necessary education.” He stressed that any student in the audience could take a leadership role by focusing on three areas of personal growth: writing well, thinking critically and speaking well in public.
Mai Neng Moua named each obstacle that she had to overcome on route to her success as a writer and editor: being a woman in the Hmong culture, not having a father, experiencing kidney disease in college, and not listening to naysayers who were often friends and family. Her advice? “Start with the end in mind: where you want to live, what you want to do and with who, what you need to do to get there, and what school is required. Dream in color and with specifics.” This focus allowed no possibility of failure as an option. “Nothing would keep me from graduating!” Each person at the Success That Looks Like Me event received a copy of her memoir The Bride Price: A Hmong Wedding Story.
Vang Lo, a school counselor and one of five Hmong staff at Henry, hoped that the four-hour seminar would inspire students to think bigger and see themselves succeeding in the future.
At least one student, Sinbad Xiong, an aspiring filmmaker, declared the day a success. “It was helpful for me to see such a wide variety of job opportunities, including computer science which is so important in making films today.”
Written by Tom Murray