Nonprofits Search for Asian-American Foster Parents to Fill Culture, Language Needs

Monica Luhar for NBC News Asian America, Published July 24, 2017 

LOS ANGELES — When he was a teenager, Wilson Sun bounced around about half a dozen foster homes in Los Angeles County, he told NBC News.

In many of the homes, he felt like he was an outcast and not treated as a member of the family, he said. A few times, he shoplifted from malls and grocery stores because his foster families didn’t provide him with a large enough allowance, he added.

Wilson Sun, sharing his experience as a former foster youth at the Asian Foster Family Initiative March 2017 info session. Courtesy of APCTC

It wasn’t until he was matched with Spencer Sun through Sun’s involvement with the nonprofit Chinatown Service Center that Wilson Sun felt he had found a parent that truly cared for him. Wilson Sun ended up living with his former foster parent through college and, after receiving a full scholarship to study accounting, changed his name to “Sun” when he got married.

“To be a parent or foster parent you have to have a lot of perseverance and patience because at the end of the day you’re going to see both the good and ugly of the foster kids too,” Sun, now 27, told NBC News. “[Spencer Sun] was the first parent that I felt was genuine that provided unconditional love and it was truly sincere. Spencer has done so much for me. He was the one who pushed me to want more in life.”

Nonprofits in Los Angeles are looking for more Asian-American foster parents like Spencer Sun to serve the county’s foster children with a particular focus on language ability and cultural understanding.

More than 18,000 children in LA County are in foster care, according to Neil Zanville, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. Of those children, approximately 1.8 percent is Asian American and Pacific Islander, Zanville noted.

But despite that, the number of Asian-American foster families is limited, according to LA-based nonprofit Korean American Family Services (KFAM), which recruits and trains foster families among providing other services.

“In our mind, it might not be a large percentage, but 600 to 800 [Asian-American and Pacific Islander] foster kids is a good number of kids who could really benefit from having a family that understands their cultural needs,” KFAM executive director Connie Chung Joe told NBC News.

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Three years ago, the organization struggled to find even one licensed foster care parent of Korean descent in Los Angeles and Orange Counties after meeting with community members who were concerned that kids were being put in households that struggled with language and cultural barriers.

“When we asked around, there were none in the Cambodian, Chinese, or other communities, either,” Chung Joe said.

Karen Lim, program director at Special Service for Groups’ Asian Pacific Counseling and Treatment Centers (APCTC), a nonprofit which partners with KFAM, noted that there are a significant number of Chinese kids who are removed from their homes due to alleged abuse and neglect , but very few Chinese-speaking families who can take them in.

“Many of these Chinese kids are new immigrants, so it’s even more traumatic that they are placed in non-Chinese speaking homes, or non-Asian foster homes,” Lim told NBC News.

The lack of licensed Asian-American foster care parents and common misconceptions about the process to become one prompted KFAM to begin recruiting efforts.

In January 2014, the organization launched the Korean Foster Family Initiative. In December 2015, KFAM expanded its recruiting efforts into the Chinese community, partnering with APCTC and Chinatown Service Center, and rebranded the program as the Asian American Foster Family Initiative.

In December 2016, KFAM became a licensed foster family agency, allowing the organization to train and directly approve and certify foster families, Chung Joe said.

Since 2014, KFAM has been able to recruit 39 foster parents of Korean descent, according to Chung Joe, and the organization’s first group of foster families of Chinese descent is approaching approval.

The initiative’s current focus is finding potential Filipino foster parents, as they comprise the largest population of Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) foster kids in LA County, Chung Joe said.

“We’ve also been in discussion with Cambodian and South Asian [community-based organizations] who are asking if they can partner with us to expand into their communities,” she added.

On July 30, the Asian American Foster Family Initiative is scheduled host an information session, “How to Become a Resource/Foster Parent,” which is expected to include testimonies from Spencer and Wilson Sun.

“There’s not that many Asian-Americans that will come out to speak, let alone have a story similar to mine’s where despite everything, you pulled through and have a happy ending which is not common in foster care families,” Wilson Sun said. “Despite losing parents, you will find someone that truly loves you.”

Spencer Sun told NBC News that his faith played a role in deciding to become a foster care parent and in the AAPI community, conversations about safety and security are heavily emphasized, which may serve as an impediment to fostering.

Sun received initial pushback from his own parents and family when taking on the role as a foster care parent, he noted.

“I think they thought it was too risky and didn’t know what’s going to happen when you bring a strange kid into your home and you don’t know their background,” Sun said.

Sun added that, while foster parents being the same racial or ethnic group as foster children may help the transition go a bit easier, the ultimate goal is to find foster children a loving home after being removed from a traumatic environment.

“I just think that the kids can discern whether the foster parents genuinely care for them or not and so that would trump ethnicity and race,” Sun said.

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Dr. Adam Kendall Renewed His Passion for Medicine With Music

Monica Luhar for NBC News Asian America, July 17, 2017 

MONROVIA, Calif. — Shortly after his wife died in 2011, Dr. Adam Kendall closed their joint private medical practice and found himself on a train to Canada — a trip arranged by his brother — to try and process his grief and find clarity.

“I was consumed by grief over the tremendous loss of my 15-year loving wife, her intense laughter, and fierce interest in being able to capably heal those who were suffering,” Kendall told NBC News.

 After Tragedy Struck, This Doctor Found Healing Through Music 2:24

An introvert, Kendall initially brought his violin on board the train, hoping to brush up on a few Bach sonatas in solitude, he said. But while on the trip, where he had been seated in a dining car, a group of performers on board asked if he would be interested in playing with them during their encore — a first for Kendall, who wasn’t used to playing for strangers.

When he lifted his violin, Kendall said his fellow passengers seemed to connect with the music in a special way, and some even began to share with him their own stories of loss and grief.

Kendall said the conversations he had during that trip reaffirmed his commitment to continue as a physician and also as a classical musician, he said. In addition to working as a board-certified physician in family medicine and palliative care with Davita Medical Group, Kendall now regularly performs live music in public in an effort to help people heal.

“I think that the change I went through in 2011 helped me understand that while we don’t have to necessarily take a medication or be in a sterile room to receive professional counseling, we need something serious to help us through the loss of a spouse or a child or the loss of physical function that a lot of my patients experience,” he said.

‘The Heavy Weight of Expectation’

From as early as the age of 5, Kendall was fascinated with classical music. He recalled an early memory of watching a violinist on TV and his mother, noticing her son’s fixation on the screen, enrolled him in violin and piano classes.

Born in Sanger, California, to a Japanese-American mother and a white father, and raised in Orange County, the music of Kendall’s childhood consisted of Tchaikovsky, Bach, and his dad’s Beatles and Beach Boys collections.

Image: A close-up of Dr. Adam Kendall playing the violin.
Dr. Adam Kendall playing the violin. Courtesy of Dr. Adam Kendall

When he began college at the University of California, San Diego, in 1997, Kendall studied molecular biology while minoring in violin performance. It was there that he met his wife, Normy Chiou, and the two eloped in 2000.

During his research years at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, Kendall said Chiou, who was studying at Oregon Health Sciences University, struggled with depression and contemplated leaving medical school during her first year.

“Being an Asian immigrant, she carried the heavy weight of expectation to first succeed that many young adults face,” Kendall said.

A week after learning about his wife’s mental health challenges, Kendall moved to Oregon to support her and helped her find the courage to seek professional treatment. While in Oregon, he spent a year as part of his USC curriculum doing research training, and also joined the Columbia Symphony Orchestra.

Chiou went on to complete her MD at OHSU in 2003, the same year he graduated from USC. They went on to complete their residency together in Modesto, California, before moving to Newport Beach, where they opened a palliative care private medical practice serving patients with serious illnesses at Hoag Hospital.

Kendall notes that there’s a tendency to be stoic and closed off when speaking about grief and suffering. The tolerance for emotional grief, he said, is something that may have helped them persevere through tough times.

“It was only until recently that I would hear some aspects of the suffering my grandmother went through,” Kendall said.

That suffering, he added, was an eye-opening tragedy for his entire family: when Kendall was 9, his aunt suffered facial trauma and respiratory failure following a car accident that ultimately took her life. As Kendall prepared for college, his grandmother told him she hoped he would one day be able to prevent suffering in the critical stages of someone’s life.

“She could see that the prolonging of life on a machine even for those 48 hours was very harrowing and stressful, and it was a place for me to start to think about how can I make a difference in the field of medicine with the relief of suffering overall,” Kendall said.

First Street Performances

After his 2011 trip to Canada, Kendall returned to medicine with a renewed sense of purpose. Working as a physician and helping others become a large part of his healing and identity, he said.

“After having been on that trip and experiencing the exchange amongst strangers that were willing to share and participate in a musical gathering, I had a sense of inspiration to try to provide a service to the community in that way,” he said.

Inspired by his trip, Kendall obtained a performer’s license and began regularly performing at Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California. His first performance was New Year’s Day 2012, a little over a month after his wife died.

Today, the physician-musician performs every Friday night outside of his apartment complex at the Monrovia Street Fair in Monrovia, California — dressed in a full tuxedo and performing everything from Scott Joplin to film scores to classical concertos. Before each performance, Kendall also introduces his friend’s dog, Barney, who sits next to him on the piano bench as he plays.

“I found that he listened to me just as attentively as some of my well-seasoned classical listeners,” Kendall said. “The beauty of his locked-in gaze on my instruments as I played music for him was I think more powerful than the music itself.”

Kendall has met people from all walks of life through his street performances. Many have come up to him after his performances and have shared their most intimate stories.

“I’ve had a gentleman recently imprisoned share that he had just gotten out of prison that week and being able to walk as a free man in his free country and listen to free music was just a beautiful experience — I thought that was brave of him to share that,” Kendall said.

Any of the money Kendall receives while playing, he gives back to charity. Along with his street performances, Kendall plays at charity concerts to benefit local organizations, including Bloom Where Planted and the Foothill Unity Center, and offers piano and violin lessons to children (the fees from those lessons are also directed to a local charity of their choice).

Kendall says there’s a tremendous amount of healing that is occurring through the act of performing or listening to music — and that, to him, is worth playing another note.

“To be able to play the violin or piano for individuals that lack the capacity to speak openly and to have that life with you is an area of healing that we are just beginning to appreciate — how to provide non-verbal healing,” Kendall said. “I feel like in that regards, there is some neurologic feeling that is occurring that we just can’t put a number on or put a measurement on.”

Mixed Martial Artist Keta Meggett Helps Kids Fight Back Against Bullies

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As published in LA Weekly, June 19, 2017. By: MONICA LUHAR 

At 5 foot 3 inches tall, Keta Rush is a compact force of nature in the wrestling ring.

When she steps onto the mat, she throws on her signature gold cape and instantly becomes a badass, real-life superhero on a mission to empower kids and eradicate youth bullying.

“I feel so damn powerful and so strong and confident and so sure of who I am in this world,” says Rush (born Keta Meggett), MMA fighter, actress and founder of the nonprofit, Team Bully Buster. “I am strong as fuck and anyone who wrestles me, they’re like, ‘Damn girl, you are so strong.’”

She often goes by nicknames like “the Pretty Flower” and “gangster ballerina,” and she is known for her bubbly personality, her graceful acrobatic moves and unforgiving double dropkicks

Meggett says she “accidentally” got her start as pro-wrestler Keta Rush “The Bully Buster” on WOW Women of Wrestling in 2012.

“I thought it was the sci-fi show Heroes, and when I walked in, they called my name, and there was a fucking wrestling ring in there.”The audition turned out to be nothing short of a blessing in disguise, says Meggett. But at the time, she didn’t want anything to do with combat sports. Just watching and sitting through the audition brought back painful memories of being bullied and harassed in high school, when she was unable to defend herself.

The audition turned out to be nothing short of a blessing in disguise, says Meggett. But at the time, she didn’t want anything to do with combat sports. Just watching and sitting through the audition brought back painful memories of being bullied and harassed in high school, when she was unable to defend herself.“I still have PTSD like a mother and can’t stand in Ralph’s with my back to someone, let alone [have] someone in a ring slam me,” she recalls. “I was totally scared of this type of stuff.”

“I still have PTSD like a mother and can’t stand in Ralph’s with my back to someone, let alone [have] someone in a ring slam me,” she recalls. “I was totally scared of this type of stuff.”

But something told her to stay and watch the fight. “Not until the last girl entered the ring and picked up a girl twice my size and threw her was I like, ‘Wow. I want to be badass. I’m tired of being afraid of everything.’”

Meggett agreed to audition for the role as a pro-wrestler and trained six hours a day, six days a week, for three months.

Keta Rush during a Women of Wrestling fight at the Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles

 

Keta Rush during a Women of Wrestling fight at the Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles
Courtesy Women of Wrestling

When she came up with her wrestling name, Keta Rush, she meant it as an answer to the identity questions she’s faced all her life, like “what are you?” or “are you mixed?” The question she once feared became an empowering opportunity to share her story and speak out against youth bullying. She began to embrace her “ethnically ambiguous” identity and chose to be recognized as Keta Rush, The Bully Buster. “I said to myself, ‘I want to be the voice for the people.”

Meggett proudly wears her gold cape, which symbolizes her strength and resilience as a survivor of bullying and intimate partner abuse.

“I essentially became ‘The Bully Buster’ in every aspect of my life,” she says.

High school was the first time Meggett got a taste of being bullied by haters who spewed verbal insults. At one point, she says, she was physically assaulted by a group of eight girls at a school in North Hills; they targeted her because of her biracial identity, says Meggett, who is half Guatemalan and half African-American.

As a biracial victim of bullying, she is not alone.

Data compiled by children’s wellness advocacy group KidsData.org show that from 2011 to 2013, 48.3 percent of African-American students (grades 7,9 and 11) in L.A. County reported being bullied or harassed. African-American students were more likely to be bullied than other ethnic groups, according to the data. Additionally, 40.7 percent of multiracial students reported being bullied or harassed at school.

According to an internal audit on anti-bullying initiatives released by LAUSD, 23 schools were visited during April to May 2016, and researchers “noted that 19 out of 20 schools (95 percent) did not provide comprehensive/dedicated anti-bullying training to school staff.” A total of 65,310 students responded to the survey, and complete data were obtained from 48,206 students. Nineteen percent of all students surveyed in the audit stated they had been “bullied by a student or other students this school year.”

According to an emailed statement provided by LAUSD to L.A. Weekly, bullying is often underreported and over-identified. “When examining data, care must be taken to differentiate between alleged and actual/verified incidents of bullying. Research substantiates that the most effective and recommended response to bullying is building prosocial environments, where all members of the school community are honored.”

At the time she was physically assaulted, Meggett had been grappling with her parents’ divorce; a few months before that, her mother had been hit by a car and was fighting for her life. There was a lot going on at home, so she kept the bullying a secret, she says — until things turned sour. She says the bullying worsened to the point where she landed in the hospital for about a week with broken bones, shoulder blades, rib cage and injuries sustained to her pancreas and liver.

Meggett says she struggled with self-esteem, lost her faith and lived in fear at school.

“I tried to kill myself. I hated school. I struggled with my grades, I was depressed and was in therapy and counseling to work on my PTSD,” she says. “I thought, if this is the world where people beat you up because of your skin, what is the point of living?”

After moving to another school district, Meggett focused on becoming an actress and began booking auditions and commercials. She went on to become a Muay Thai practitioner and a champion in jiu-jitsu.

Through her adult years, she didn’t openly discussed her story until she sat down with a director of a play during a character-building session, who urged her to share a time when she felt particularly vulnerable. Meggett shared the story of being bullied in high school and felt she needed to create a safe space for kids.

“He said, ‘It’s insane that you’re this happy-go-lucky and doing the damn thing. You should tell your story, and I’m sure you’ll inspire people.’ And he was like, ‘There’s power in it; if there’s power in being vulnerable, you should share it.’”

In 2012, Meggett did just that. She went on to found her nonprofit, Team Bully Buster, and invited life coaches, martial artists and mentors to instill self-defense, confidence and leadership skills in youth. “I’m not teaching people to fight. Theoretically what I’m doing is showing you that you have the power and right to get away from anyone and any situation you don’t want to be in.”

Keta Meggett (aka Keta Rush) founded Team Bully Buster, a program that provides self-defense and leadership skills to women and kids.

Keta Meggett (aka Keta Rush) founded Team Bully Buster, a program that provides self-defense and leadership skills to women and kids.
Courtesy Keta Meggett

Meggett says that these days, bullying has morphed into a “monster and a pandemic,” like the recent case of the viral video of a teenage boy who was punched by a classmate and suffered from brain injury, or the incident where classmates used anti-semitic and anti-gay taunts to harass a 14-year-old student.

According to national studies on bullying, there’s been an overall national decrease in the number of reported bullying in schools, says Dr. Brendesha Tynes, associate professor of Education and Psychology at the USC Rossier School of Education. Tynes, who focuses on race-related experiences in the digital space and cyberbullying experiences, also points out that in regional studies, the numbers associated with bullying tend to be much higher, depending on the type of victimization. For instance, in L.A. County, student reports of bullying are higher than what the national studies are finding, she says.

In her latest study, UCLA professor Jaana Juvonen and her team found that youths attending ethnically more diverse schools felt safer in school and dealt with less bullies, and felt less lonely than those who attended less diverse schools, she explain to L.A. Weekly. While anti-bullying policies are now in place in most schools, one of the questions is whether these policies are practiced in ways that make a difference, Juvonen says.

The doors for Team Bully Buster’s first physical location will open this August in Studio City. Meggett, who is now in her 30s, continues to live with PTSD but believes her work with Team Bully Buster and her involvement in MMA have greatly taken the fear out of her life so she can serve others and continue to empower youth.

“I love when people ask me what I am now,” she says. “I’m proud to stay I’m Guatemalan and black. I want other youth to see me and be like, ‘I like her. I like that she’s little and does the damn thing.’”

This 14-Year-Old Persuaded Her School to Provide Free Tampons and Pads in Bathrooms

Monica Luhar for NBC Asian America, June 23, 2017 

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Earlier this year, 14-year-old Cordelia Longo went from one building to another at her middle school, trying to find a restroom with a working sanitary napkin and tampon dispenser that wouldn’t take all her change.

But after spending her last dime at an empty machine, Longo felt embarrassed, discouraged and angry, she told NBC News. Before realizing she had one sanitary napkin remaining in her backpack, she didn’t know what to do.

After the experience, Longo felt determined to channel her frustration into action.

“I just didn’t want any other girls to experience this. I just wanted to make people’s lives better — girls’ lives easier,” Longo, an eighth grader at Islander Middle School in Mercer Island, Washington, said. “They already have to deal with so much and this seemed like something I should fix.”

While the school provides feminine hygiene products at the nurse’s office and locker rooms, Longo said that their availability is not well-known.

Inspired to address the situation, Longo drafted a petition informing students of the lack of feminine hygiene products in the girls’ restroom and obtained 100 signatures from her classmates.

Along with the petition, Longo drafted a letter addressed to the administration: “Why are tissues and toilet paper provided free at school, but not sanitary pads and tampons?” it read. “As toilet paper and tissue are used for normal bodily functions, sanitary pads and tampons are also necessary to address normal bodily functions that happen naturally. The only difference is that only girls need pads. Girls do not choose to have periods. So girls are being penalized and made to pay for a bodily function they cannot control.”

Cordelia Longo sitting on the steps, holding one of the baskets she made with the tag "Women's Rights are Human Rights. Human Rights are Women's Rights." Cordelia Longo says she sees Hillary Clinton as a role model.
Cordelia Longo holding one of the baskets she made with the tag “Women’s Rights are Human Rights. Human Rights are Women’s Rights.” Courtesy of Jennifer Longo

“I absolutely think pads and tampons should be treated like any other product because they are just a product, like toilet paper,” Longo said, noting her frustration about the “pink tax,” which she said is discrimination against women.

While the petition and letter were being reviewed by the administration, Longo decided to use some of her allowance money to create baskets and stock them with pads and tampons and place them in the girls’ restrooms at school.

Each of the baskets also contained hand-written positive notes and a message inspired by her role model, Hillary Clinton: “Women’s rights are human rights. Human rights are women’s rights.”

Longo says her inspiration for launching the petition also came as a result of the skills she gained in her social justice class, where she learned about oppression, race and gender identity, among other topics.

Longo credits a big part of her interest in social justice issues and politics after closely watching the election.

“Hillary Clinton inspired me because she kept being strong and she didn’t take any of the insults people threw at her and didn’t let it affect her,” she said.

“It inspired me in a way that I can’t really describe,” she added. “I realized even if I didn’t succeed in getting equal rights for men and women, that I had tried and all that mattered was that I tried my hardest to get equal access to education.”

A Mien-American adoptee, Longo was born in Sacramento, California, and adopted at age 1 and raised in San Francisco before moving to Seattle.

Mother Jennifer Longo said that since moving to Seattle, the family has helped connect their daughter with the Mien community, noting that her daughter is very proud of her Mien heritage.

“I actually didn’t know a lot about my culture until recently because my parents got me interested in the Mien culture,” said Cordelia Longo.

The 14-year-old says she is deeply passionate about social justice issues, linguistics, journalism, and writing. She credits the character of Rory from her favorite TV series, “Gilmore Girls,” as one of the reasons why she wants to be a journalist someday.

“Rory Gilmore was a role model for me because the show is such a feminist show, and I really just like to watch a show about women and their struggles,” she said.

Longo is glad she created this petition and is grateful for all the support she’s received.

“I feel like if we all get together, all of the people who are in favor of social justice and equal access to education, I feel hopeful. I feel satisfied that I created this petition and wrote this letter and made a difference in our school,” she said.

Jennifer Longo is proud of her daughter for standing up for what is right, noting that even as early as elementary school, her daughter has always spoken out about injustices.

She added that middle school is often a time when girls may get their first period, which can be an equally scary and confusing moment. Longo commended the administration for their quick response in addressing the issue. “I think it’s incredible — it took three weeks from start to finish and they were on it,” she said.

Due to Cordelia’s petition and efforts, the district has also agreed to disable the machines at the local high school as well, according to her mother.

“We appreciate Cordelia bringing this issue to our attention, we are very proud of her for doing that, and for putting into practice the skills she gained in the social justice class,” a spokesperson for the district told NBC News in an emailed statement. “We have repaired any broken or empty machines and they [no] longer require any coins for feminine hygiene supplies. Ample supplies are also available in the health room and locker rooms.”