Rebuild By Centering Equity

For our #MWPQuaranzine series, we asked Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL) director Bo Thao-Urabe to offer her perspective on what she would like to see transformed as we move through the COVID-19 crisis. As part of the Minnesota Women’s Press mission and vision, our media coverage is especially focused on inequities and the ecosystem.

Action Steps


As I check in on friends, family, colleagues, and community members, it seems like everyone’s lives have been turned upside down amidst this pandemic. People have lost jobs, housing, health – the list goes on. They are grieving and mourning, and feeling a growing discomfort with uncertainty. They are worried about the future. 

I often hear: When will things return to normal? I’m so over this virus. I can’t wait until things are normal again.

While it is understandable to want a return to what we have known and to feel a sense of control over our lives again, I would be lying if I said I want to see things return to what they were before COVID-19. 

I don’t want things to return to what we call normal – a normal where immigrants and refugees are blamed for America’s problems, where systems perpetually exclude the needs and assets of Asian, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities (anyone under the BIPOC umbrella), where we pretend racism is history even as it breathes every day in our systems. 

If there is a glimmer of hope in all of this chaos, it is that the humanitarian actions those in power had deemed impossible for years suddenly became possible. Evictions were suspended in Minnesota, and we stopped jailing individuals who are not harmful to the community. 

I am ready to take this opportunity to reimagine and reconstruct so we can repair all that has been unfair, unjust, and inequitable. 

Inclusion Isn’t

In the last decade, the field of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) has boomed, and it seems that every sector – whether public, private, or nonprofit – wants to embrace diversity. Millions were spent attempting to address disparities (nicely named “opportunity gaps”). But what did that get us?

I want our rebirth to move beyond DEI as frameworks. Let’s work to rebuild our systems so that they invest in all of us. We should not be unprepared for the next crisis. 

Communities who were systematically excluded and invisible before have become even more so during this crisis. 

Death rates in Indigenous and Black communities are far higher than those in other communities and Southeast Asian communities are experiencing job losses at higher rates. Distance learning is challenging families without access to the internet or technology literacy. There is rampant hate violence towards Asians, and undocumented and mixed status families are being excluded from receiving relief aid

I am concerned that those who hold power are moving forward without centering those who are suffering the most, and planning a rebuild without a commitment to justice and equity. I urge government, philanthropic, and private sector leaders to listen to our concerns.

We are still in the response stage of this crisis, and recovery and rebuilding are yet to come. We have the opportunity to change how we do things, and I hope we will change our course so that history doesn’t repeat itself. Let’s do this together.

Bo Thao-Urabe (she/her) is Executive and Network Director for the Coalition of Asian American Leaders and a Bush Fellow. 


On May 1, CAAL hosted a Facebook Live Broadcast in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and the 2020 #MinneAsianStories celebration. Guests included Governor Walz, Lt. Governor Flanagan, Representative Kaohly Her, Commissioner Irene Fernando, and Asian Minnesotan storytellers and performance artists. Find the video here.

Details: @CAALmn, subscribe to #MinneAsianStories

This is part of an ongoing #MWPQuaranzine series by Minnesota Women’s Press that features voices of women who have a vision for how to rebuild a more sustainable, equitable society by working collectively to the future beyond this pandemic. Add your voice to the Comments field below if you want to share your perspective.

Action Steps

Bystander Training

Asian American Advancing Justice is providing bystander trainings for those interested in learning how to be an effective bystander without compromising safety.


Read Annie Moua’s recent article about e-learning during COVID-19.

“I want you to really take a moment and imagine how it feels to walk in my shoes for a day: I’m a Queer, Hmong, Asian- American Woman. I come from a low-income family. I’m currently a senior at Patrick Henry High School. My parents divorced as soon as I finished kindergarten. And my single mother, all eight of my siblings, and I live under the same roof. I want you to consider what this moment is like from my perspective. As I go into detail about my life, financial security, and safety, I urge you to take seriously the needs of families like mine in this crisis. And for those who will relate to my experiences, understand that you are not alone.”

Many students around the state have immediate unmet needs — such as lack of access to the internet and technology, and lack of support for special education students and English Learners.

Multiple education advocacy organizations urged Governor Walz and Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker to use approximately $14 million in education funding from the CARES Act to achieve short-term and long-term equitable outcomes for students.

This letter outlines six recommendations, including guidance to guarantee equitable spending in each of Minnesota’s 327 school districts and 169 charter schools, and suggests how MDE could support districts to address learning loss. Because standard testing has been postponed, the letter urges MDE to work to ensure diagnostic assessments are in place to determine where students are academically.

Minneapolis Public Schools staff has addressed COVID-19 related racism against Asian Minnesotans, and Saint Paul Public Schools passed a resolution that commits to addressing anti-Asian racism and xenophobia.


The Coalition of Asian American Leaders is concerned about how federal and state funding decisions are reaching Asian Minnesotan businesses and communities. They are acting quickly and working with organizations and government leaders to access these funding opportunities, as well as informing the state about the challenges facing Asian Minnesotan small businesses.

Survey – How are minority-owned businesses faring?

Due to the fast-moving impact of COVID-19, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis is administering a survey to gauge the economic effects on Minnesota minority-owned businesses. Find the 5-minute survey here. All responses are anonymous.

Spark Leadership Fund

Since the State of Emergency was declared in Minnesota, The Coalition of Asian American Leaders has provided funding to 22 projects through its Spark Leadership Fund. If you have an idea that addresses an urgent need apply for funding here.

Here are a few examples of leaders and projects that have been supported:

Naida Medicine Crow is making sure that the Indigenous homeless population is not left behind. She is using her time to engage community members and advocating for a mobile healthcare unit for the homeless population.

Tene Wells is providing 10 free coaching sessions to leaders of color to help them remain creative, consider enterprising initiatives, restructure their business model, launch new initiatives, and consider how to grow their bottom line.

Alexis Chum-Phan is in 8th grade at Rosemount Middle School and has been making masks for elderly care homes and nurses. She is using funds to make more masks for communities who cannot afford them.

Pang Yang hosted a virtual music concert to address mental health and prevent suicide. The concert reached over 100,000 people on Youtube and over 24,000 people on Facebook.

Ini Agustine will help close the distance learning gap by making sure that students and families have access to needed technology equipment and are supported in their online learning. 

Nausheena Hussain will ensure that families can still participate fully in Ramadan. She’s providing Iftar Boxes so families won’t need to worry about where their meal is coming from when breaking the fast.

Marie Michael is hosting intimate community spaces for BIPOC front line workers to connect, grieve and build resilience together. The space will help heal, grow, and build for what’s yet to come.

Xay Yang is using the funds to build power with a group of women who have been impacted by deportation by offering them resources, tools and skills building.



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