Washington, DC — On April 21–24, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) welcomed hundreds of activists, organizations, students, and community members from across the country to the 10-year anniversary of the National South Asian Summit in Washington, D.C., a four-day event where participants raised their voices on urgent issues for our communities.
“Our communities continue to live in various states of shock as a panorama of hate violence, civil rights violations, and anti-immigrant policies continue to impact South Asian Americans nationwide,” stated Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of SAALT. “At this challenging moment, the National South Asian Summit offered a platform for our communities to seek and find spaces for solidarity while also providing an opportunity for thought leaders, activists, students, and community members from across the country to collectively examine our diverse priorities. Under the theme United for Action, we ambitiously, disruptively, and compassionately engaged in a critical struggle for justice and full inclusion for all.”
This year’s participants were a diverse group, including students and seniors, thought leaders and social workers, techies and teachers, poets, filmmakers, lawyers, counselors, and organizers who reflected the rich diversity, experiences, religions, ethnicities, and national origins of our communities. The Summit provided an opportunity to connect through a sense of collective identity, commitment to strengthening our communities, and a deep belief in the power of uniting for action in the pursuit of justice.
The National South Asian Summit 2017 kicked off on Friday, April 21 at the National Press Club with the ChangeMakers Awards, an event that recognized individuals and organizations that have catalyzed social justice within the South Asian American community. This year’s ChangeMakers honorees included Vanita Gupta, former Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and future President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Equality Labs, the first South Asian women, gender non-conforming, queer, and trans-led technology project whose leadership is from South Asian cultural and religious minority communities; Jayesh Rathod, professor of law at American University Washington College of Law and founding Director of the law school’s Immigrant Justice Clinic who also served on SAALT’s Board of Directors for 10 years; Daya, Inc., a Houston non-profit that supports South Asian women who are trying to break the cycle of domestic and sexual violence and which in 2015 became a BIA-accredited agency providing immigration services to clients in need; Zahra Billoo, leading civil rights attorney and the Executive Director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR); Gurbani Kaur, a student activists, founder of the Sikh Student Association at Harvard, and alumnus of SAALT’s Young Leaders Institute; and Ravi Ragbir, fearless immigrant rights advocate and Executive Director of the New Sanctuary Coalition who is currently fighting against his own possible deportation. The evening also provided a opportunity for SAALT to express our deep appreciation to outgoing Board Chair Sunil Oommen, who served on SAALT’s Board of Directors with distinction for 10 years. A musical performance by award winning artists Kiran Ahluwalia and Rez Abassi closed out the ChangeMakers reception.
Over 300 attendees gathered for the four-day Summit, including two full days at Trinity Washington University where 40 dynamic sessions conceived and led by community members explored the diverse needs and priorities of our communities. “The National South Asian Summit is crucial because we are now coming together from across the country to discuss creating and changing the institutional racism that we face here in America,” stated Ravi Ragbir, Executive Director of the New Sanctuary Coalition. ASATA member Sabiha Basrai believes “The National South Asian Summit allows for a healthy controversy in the room and does not expect everyone to have political alignment on everything, which allows us to push each other with love and respect.” Fahd Ahmed, Executive Director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), noted, “The opportunity to bring people together and to learn about the issues that people are facing, how they are responding to those issues, how they are succeeding, and what continue to be their challenges is a very important learning ground. For DRUM, that’s always been the most important aspect of the Summit.”
On the evening of April 22 the Summit participants took to the streets for the South Asian Americans Marching For Justice event, a rally that began at Freedom Plaza and concluded with a march to the White House. From speeches to chants demanding civil rights, civil liberties, and immigration justice for all, we marched for all those fighting for a socially just country, and we demanded the support of policymakers towards that vision.
The National Summit garnered strong media coverage from numerous national and ethnic outlets. A feature in Scroll examined the Summit and the power of cross-racial organizing. NPR’s Arun Venugopal attended the National Summit and interviewed SAALT’s Executive Director and allies for this piece on the national realities of hate crimes.. SAALT was also honored by HuffPost as one of the five South Asian American organizations every woke person should know.
Thank you to our sponsors, The Four Freedoms Fund, Comcast, Savan Kotecha, Garcia Hernandez, Sawhney, LLP, South Asian Bar Association of North America, Sunil Oommen, and Mansi and Archit Shah for their generous support of the National South Asian Summit.
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