Little Leaders: Group provides after-school safe space for youth of color

Tucked away in the back corner of Richmond’s Community Health for Asian Americans (CHAA) center sits a hand-painted poster that reads “SEAYL IS IN.”

Walking through the door, it’s immediately evident that this room isn’t like any other – walls are lined with motivational posters, iMacs are available for student use, cupboards are stacked with board games and snacks, and a brand new Nintendo Wii accompanies a wall-mounted flat-screen TV. This place is cool.

SEAYL, which stands for South East Asian Youth Leaders, meets every Wednesday and Thursday.

Participants, ages 12-20, include students from Lovonya DeJean Middle School and Richmond High School, as well as SEAYL alumni who return as mentors. Every week, SEAYL members use this small room for social hours and leadership workshops.

Eleven years ago this month, SEAYL was formed after the tragic death of a 15-year-old high school student.

Chan Bounkeut was in her family’s home when members of a gang were hoping to shoot her older brother. Instead, they hit Chan, who was killed.

West Contra Costa community leaders and Chan’s family members, including her father, founded SEAYL in order to address the violence among the county’s South East Asian community.

Following Chan’s death, the primary focus of SEAYL was to prevent gang-related activity.

For several years, the organization held annual leadership summits that encouraged and trained young leaders in the Asian community to speak up against neighborhood violence. SEAYL’s efforts worked.

According to Sean Kirkpatrick, Co-Director of CHAA, “there have been zero gang shootings between SEA gangs in West Contra Costa County, and zero deaths since 2003.”

As intra-ethnic gang activity diminished in the South East Asian community, SEAYL widened its efforts and began working on ending violence in all West Contra Costa communities.

Once a sizable minority, Richmond’s South East Asian population, many of whom are Laotian and Filipino families, has steadily decreased as families migrate eastward to places like San Pablo.

In the past ten years Richmond High School’s Asian population has decreased from 10.2 to 4 percent. Given the changing demographics, SEAYL has shifted its focus to include all youth of color.

Today, active SEAYL members include South East Asian, Latino, and African American students.

Over the last three years, SEAYL has been working on a Tobacco Prevention program, funded by the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program and the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation’s Prevention Research Center in Oakland.

Nga Le, Co-Coordinator of SEAYL’s Richmond Tobacco Prevention project, oversees a group of five Richmond High School research interns who together workshop strategies on how to combat tobacco use among their high school peers.

On Saturday, Nov. 1 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., putting two years of research into action, the student-led SEAYL team will hold a Campus Cleanup Day at Richmond High School.

Little Leaders is a Richmond Confidential series highlighting the students, community members, and organizations that are developing Richmond’s youth into tomorrow’s leaders. Send story ideas to our reporter Zainab Khan at z.zkhan91@gmail.com.

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