Jessica Phan is originally from Wisconsin where she attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and graduated with a degree in Journalism/Strategic Communications. She is currently a Special Education English teacher at Digital Harbor High School in Baltimore City and a graduate student getting her Master's in Educational Leadership and Administration to pursue her long-term goal of becoming a principal. She was also the former President of the Union of Vietnamese Student Associations of the Midwest and was involved for several years with the Union of North American Vietnamese Student Associations (UNAVSA). Currently, Jessica is the Co-Chair of PIVOT's Young Vietnamese American (YVA) Committee where she works with an incredible team towards increasing civic engagement in the Vietnamese community. Outside of this work, she is also a dancer and volunteers with the Baltimore Dance Crews Project, a local non-profit organization, that mentors youth through dance and the arts and helps support students from school to career. As an advocate for social justice in our communities, Jessica grapples with the struggles that young Vietnamese Americans face in our society. Through working with youth and community-based organizations, she was able to find her passion and calling in public service.
What makes you a progressive?
I believe in social change and a better society. I believe that the institutions with power should follow the same laws that we all do. I believe in rights of women, LGBTQ communities, and communities of color. I believe in equity and I am aware that we are lacking a lot of love right now. Even with the madness that is happening daily in our nation, I know that with these values and beliefs, we as an AAPI community can make an impact on social change.
Why did you join PIVOT?
I attended the first meeting after the November Presidential Election with Anh Tung and some other prominent figures of the Vietnamese community from across the country. This was before PIVOT was formed, but I remember that conversation vividly, even now. Anh Tung, facilitating the conversation, asked participants to write down where they wish to see this group in 5-10 years; he asked for our goals. This conversation led to the formation of PIVOT. I decided to join because that one meeting gave me hope after too many minutes and hours thinking about the set backs our nation had taken when we elected Trump. I decided to co-lead the Young Vietnamese American (YVA) committee specifically because I truly believe that my peers, millennials, can make a difference if only we were more aware and engaged.
What do you wish to accomplish with PIVOT?
My personal goal is to get more young people to care about politics, be more aware and engaged and understand their impact on society.
What is the most significant problem young Vietnamese Americans face today?
Apathy. Personally, I think there is a big feeling of apathy in young Vietnamese Americans, and some feeling of misunderstanding. There is also an unspoken fear of being involved in politics not just with friends but also with family.
What led you down your career path?
I'm currently a high school teacher in Baltimore City. I never thought I would become a teacher, but I had always wanted to work with young people. What led me down this path was my desire to take part in the education system and make some sort of small change. What keeps me here, continuing to dedicate my life to this, is the change I see when kids learn. It's an emotional roller coaster. I feel like I'm numb to things I shouldn't be numb to, like seeing a violent fight break out in the hallways or when we've lost a student unexpectedly. This is not normal. We need to do better as people in this society, I need to do better in my role. I think people should try to make a difference where ever they can, even if it's in a classroom of 10-15 kids.
To what other organizations do you belong?
Can we name the dance organization? Outside of work and PIVOT, I'm a part of the Baltimore Dance Crews Project, a local, non-profit organization that focuses on youth mentorship through dance and the arts. Dance brings us together, but there is so much more to it. We have four teams total, three youth teams ranging from 3rd-12th grade, and an adult team, who are the mentors. It's incredible to be able to bond with young people over dance; dance is a whole community in itself and there is so much love there. The kids who commit their time and energy to dance, it's not just for dance but it's the love that dance brings, the community it brings together. For some students, this family is all they truly have.
Who inspires you?
I would have to say my mom inspires me most. As much as I hate admitting that. We have a love-hate relationship, probably because we're so close, but I'm sure people can relate to that kind of relationship with your parents. She's a single mom, and although my dad was very much in my life, she was there day in and day out to deal with the teenage antics. That woman has tried incredibly hard to raise me, and I know I gave her hell all these years.
What is your favorite quotation?
My favorite quotation is by Rita Pierson that's also in my signature line in my email: Every child deserves a champion-- an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be. Sometimes, when I feel like losing hope, I think about this quote, I read it, and it reminds me that there are brighter days ahead, I just have to keep moving along.
What is the most interesting thing you've read or seen this week?
I'm in grad school to get my Master's in Educational Leadership and Administration and had to read an article on school funding and budget. I hate reading articles for school because it can be very dry, but this one was actually very interesting. It was very eye opening for me to really look into the details of how funding is dispersed, the disparity in funding from district to district, etc. I've always known that in my mind as an idea, but to read that solidifies the inequalities I know exist.
I have a dog named Jack and he is my entire life. You should follow him on Instagram @bigjackaroo