I like how SLI… lets you see other sides of the Asian community. You don’t always have the obedient child, you don’t always have a child who knows perfect Chinese, you don’t always have a child that’s good at math, or a the child that listens to Jay Chou. You might have someone that reads CosmoGirl or someone that’s interested in reading the Economist, or someone that is able to respect their parents but also in the bounds of letting their own voices being heard.
-2008 SLI Participant
One thing that I think CYI really does for kids is it gives them confidence. A lot more confidence than before probably… I found myself a lot more confident in showing who I am.
– 2008 SLI Participant
To improve things, people in general should not just be like, my voice does not count. One voice wouldn’t count, but if you have a lot, it would definitely make a difference… I think [that mentality] really contributes to my life and what I tell other people.
– 2008 SLI Participant
The Summer Leadership Institute (SLI) is a two-month program that typically runs during the months of July and August. SLI consists of a series of weekly workshops tailored to New York City youth to discuss certain issues centered around Asian-American history as well as contemporary Asian-American issues and concerns. Past workshop topics have included: history of Asians in America, history of Chinatown, discussion on privilege, and discussions on gender and sexuality. The goal of SLI is to create a safe space for discussion about unconventional topics not typically explored in high school curricula and to build a welcoming community for youths with similar interests and curiosities.
The Summer Leadership Institute was CYI’s pioneer program when CYI was first founded in 1999. Since then, SLI has continued to work with New York City youth and engaged them in workshops. SLI has been able to evolve workshop topics and select special guest speakers to maintain relevance with Chinatown’s rapid changes. Past guests have included John Liu, Elijah Kuan Wong, Kelly Tsai, and PJ Kim.
The Summer Leadership Institute strives to build a safe, welcoming community for youths to discuss issues that may be of sensitive nature and to explore the intersections between Asian-American history and contemporary issues. In doing so, we hope to create an environment where everyone feels welcome and compelled to state their opinions as well as receive commentary response from their peers. One of SLI’s main ideologies is the concept of growth through our program’s workshops, which relies heavily on its participants’ enthusiasm in learning and exploring community and individual issues. We want everyone’s experience to be unforgettable and rewarding, as well as inspirational for future community involvement and student leadership. We welcome and consider every applicant as a participant, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, ability, gender, sex, and sexuality.
When asked about their experiences, SLI alum typically enjoy the friends and connections they’ve made as well as the inspiring guest speakers they’ve met. Lots of participants continue to participate in other CYI programs, like the Chinatown Literacy Project and Chinatown Beautification Day. A high number each year also apply for positions as staff members in future SLI programs. That being said, SLI is a great community of passionate, committed, and strong-willed thinkers and actors for progressive change.