Asian Minnesotan Leaders Receive Spark Leadership Fund

By Bo Thao-Urabe






15 Asian American Leaders Within Minnesota Receive Funding For Their Leadership

The Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL) announced 15 Asian Minnesota leaders as the recipients of the Spark Leadership Fund and will present selected leaders with awards of $1,000 each. The Spark Leadership fund aims to support each leader’s project-related expenses and activities that would strengthen and grow an individual’s skills/experiences to achieve a leadership goal.

Montha Chum, one of the selected leaders, stated that she would use the funds support the development the newly-founded organization ReleaseMN8 to fight against unjust family separations and deportation in Minnesota and across the country. Asma Mohammed will use the funds to help pay for travel costs to attend culturally-relevant training regarding sexual assault and healing.

Mohammed stated, “My goal is to use these funds to invest in my own understanding of trauma around sexual violence and learn how to support survivors in my community better while taking care of myself. I know that connecting with others who are doing this work is crucial to me feeling less alone.”

Other supported projects and activities include creating a 26-episode podcast series to help elevate Asian Minnesotan stories, publishing a memoir manuscript written for 1.5 and 2nd generation refugees, and paying for training and educational programs. A full list of award recipients and a brief description of each leader’s activity is listed below.

Sydney Chang
Chang is a licensed school counselor, education consultant, and marriage coach experienced with cross-cultural counseling. She will use this opportunity to get coaching to strengthen her services, which can be offered in multiple languages (English, Hmong, Lao, and Thai), for parents to ensure they can more effectively advocate for their children.

Montha Chum
Chum co-founded the ReleaseMN8 organization to fight against unjust family separations in Minnesota and across the country against deportation. She will use the funds to support her leadership development and to attend trainings so that she can be better equipped to run the newly-founded organization.

Julie Jong Koch
Koch is a licensed independent clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and the co-chair of Network of Politicized Adoptees (NPA). NPA is a grassroots organization that works to strengthen, cultivate and improve the lives of adoptees by building community power. Funds will be used to host NPA’s Mental Health Forum in late summer or early fall of 2019.

Jerry Lee
Lee is the chair of the Hmong Parents Advisory Council of Minneapolis Public School. He will use the funds to create 4 workshops that address the concerns and needs of Hmong parents in the Minneapolis Public Schools district, improve the relationship between parents and the district, and embrace and support Hmong students’ cultural values, backgrounds, and academic achievements.

Shiva Sagar Mittal
Mittal is a former production engineer who has recently undertaken a career change. He will use the funds to support this pivot in his career so that he can help others be the best they can be.

Asma Mohammed
Mohammed is the Advocacy Director at Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment (RISE). She will use the funds to cover travel costs to attend culturally-responsive and relevant training to become a counseling therapist for survivors of trauma and abuse, specifically for Muslim women survivors of sexual assault.

Hoang Murphy
Murphy is the Founder/Executive Director of Foster Advocates, a social venture that aims to improve the child welfare system in Minnesota. He’ll use the funds to time ground his work and identity through visiting and learning about his family’s history in Vietnam.

Angelina Nguyen
Nguyen is a 1.5-generation Vietnamese refugee who has used writing and naming trauma and feelings to cope with and heal from intergenerational trauma and to make sense of the refugee experience. She will be used this support to work on a memoir written for 1.5th and 2nd generation refugees.

Ched Nin
Nin is a refugee, father, carpenter, and most recently, activist that works on immigration and deportation issues, having been faced with the risk of being deported himself before. Funds will be used to host a retreat for those impacted deportation and to create space for storytelling, bonding, and healing.

Saengmany Ratsabout
Ratsabout is a public historian that utilizes multiple methods of storytelling and history-making, including oral history, ethnography, and digital storytelling. With this support, he’ll pilot a 26-episode podcast to focus on stories of local Asian American thinkers, innovators, makers, and entrepreneurs from all walks of life.

Chong Thao
Thao is a high school English teacher in St. Paul and has taught classes at the college level as well. She’ll  use the funds to complete her dissertation for a Doctorate in Education Leadership so that she can be a stronger agent for equity and change in public education.

Katie Ka Vang
Vang is a Hmong American Woman Theatre Artist who practices playwriting, performance, and installation art. This support will be used towards a personal writing retreat to complete the script for a theatre piece called Fast FWD Motions aka The Volleyball Play. This piece would be adding an authentic, heartfelt Southeast Asian experience to the wide array of the Asian American narrative.

Thaomee Xiong
Xiong is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and has been deeply impacted by her experiences with structural racism and finding belonging and acceptance as a Hmong woman in highly-competitive spaces. She’ll take a spiritual journey with her family to explore and document the story of their arrival to the United States and resettlement in Appleton, WI.

Kabo Yang
Yang is the Executive Director of the Minnesota Women’s Consortium, a statewide nonprofit organization working to close gender-based disparities. She’ll use the funds to support travel expenses to learn and meet with leading immigration policy and research organizations and to attend the Immigrant Integration Conference in Detroit.

Hsakushee Zan
Zan is pursuing her Master of Advocacy and Political Leadership from Metro State. She is also an Educational Assistant at Saint Paul Public Schools, as well as the student advisor to the Karen Student Club at Harding Senior High School. Funds will be used to support community inclusiveness and civic participation activities for Karen youth.

About Coalition of Asian American Leaders

The Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL) is a nonprofit network of more than 2,400 Asian Minnesotan leaders who are harnessing our collective power to improve the lives of community by connecting, learning, and acting together. To learn more please visit

About SPARK Leadership Fund

The SPARK Leadership Fund offers financial support to Asian Minnesotan Leaders within the Coalition of Asian American Leader’s network. Individual leaders can apply for funds of $500, $750 or $1,000 to support their own growth or to fund a project idea. To learn more please visit