In early 2020, amidst a rising tide of anti-Asian violence following the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz along with her colleague, TC alumna Judy W. Yu (Ed.D. ’09), saw a need to foster racial solidarity and further racial literacy. The wedges emerging between Black and Asian American communities drove the Professor of English Education’s and her collaborators, including TC doctoral students David Beauzil and Diana Liu, to come together and to teach historical solidarity, which dates back to the 1800s.  

In the years since 2020, Sealey-Ruiz says the Black and Asian Solidarity Collective — comprised of educators, community leaders, school administrators, and scholars from across the U.S. — has transformed TC into “a ​​home base of racial literacy through this Black and Asian and solidarity work” through its programming. The virtual and in-person events range from town halls and movie screenings to roundtable discussions and archive tours. 

“The academy is a beautifully ripe place” for building community through racial literacy, says Sealey-Ruiz. In 2023, the group expanded scope even further by joining forces with the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF), a group that is dedicated to building equity for AAPI families. Among them is TC alum Vanessa Leung (M.A. ’13), co-executive director of the organization who saw the effort as an important moment for Black and Asian communities. 

“It's powerful to have those spaces,” explains Leung, “where community meets academia in a way that doesn't feel like academia just coming in and coming out, but actually building those relationships.”

(Photo: Black and Asian Solidarity Collective)

The group, which is open to community members of all backgrounds, functions as a place of scholarship and more. “We want more and more people because…we need each other. It can't just be a Black issue and Asian issue…it's all of our issue,” says Sealey-Ruiz.

Schools need to cultivate these conversations of racial identity and racial justice in K-20 education, explains Yu, who felt it was especially important for youths to have challenging conversations in the classroom with their teachers and peers. 

As a result, Yu spearheaded the application for the competitive Spencer Foundation Research Conference grant in 2023 as the Principal Investigator. After continuing to host community events for three years, the Black and Asian Solidarity Collective won the Spencer Research Conference Grant in March 2023. The grant allowed the collective to create a conference that educates the public about the historical connections and intersectional scholarship between Black and Asian American histories and communities. 

(Photo: Black and Asian Solidarity Collective)

The conference “Building Racial Solidarity Across Black & Asian American History in K-20 Education” brought together notable scholars and artists like John Kuo Wei Tchen (Director of the Clement A. Price Institute at Rutgers University) and Akemi Kochiyama for an interdisciplinary weekend of scholarship, art, and community building.

Scholars representing a wide range of viewpoints engaged the audience through lectures on navigating school politics, curriculum development, and more as well as through musical performances.

(Photo: Black and Asian Solidarity Collective)

Presentations also encouraged attendees to think deeply about identity and how it’s formed through interactive exercises led by experts such as Patricia Park, professor of Creative Writing at American University and author of Imposter Syndrome

(Photo: Black and Asian Solidarity Collective)

Attendees were given the space to discuss their reactions and feelings about the presentations in group discussions. “People saw possibilities and that we could do more, that this is just the beginning,” says Yu. “[the conference] inspired a lot of people that we could learn [racial literacy] through art, poetry, literature and history.” 

Reflecting upon the experience, attendee Aqida Rama says “understanding the rich history of solidarity isn't just about recognizing shared struggles; it's about dismantling the notion of inherent ‘sides’ or enemies. Without this knowledge, there's a risk of thinking unity was never present, as it might seem we're fighting for different causes.”

Since its inception in 2020, the collective makes sure to acknowledge the longstanding connections between Black and Asian American communities, noting that centering historical solidarity provides much needed context and hopefully reminds us “that we are forever connected,” as said by Sealey-Ruiz. During the conference this manifested in walking tours of significant NYC neighborhoods like historical Five Points and Harlem as well as a trip to the Kochiyama/Malcom X mural near TC’s campus.

From left to right: Vanessa Leung, Judy Yu, David Beauzil, Diana Liu, Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz and Akemi Kochiyami (Photo: Black and Asian Solidarity Collective)

Reflecting on the conference, “my hope is that people walked away seeing the connections… the possibilities and the historical significance of we are forever connected,” says Sealey-Ruiz. “It was powerful for me and I just hope folks just saw the potential of what we can do together.” The group has more events upcoming, with leaders focusing on planning for the second year of their Spencer Grant.