NextShark: Please give our readers some background on you.
Michelle K. Hanabusa, being bred in the city of dreams was dedicated to the sport of competitive figure skating since she was 6. The work ethic instilled in her from competitive sports, hardworking Japanese parents and the dream of making it to the Olympics was the inspiration to her ethos, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” After a career-ending injury, Michelle dived into a design background where she worked for companies such as BCBGMAXAZRIA & AEG. After her time in corporate life and some venture-backed trial and errors, Michelle bootstrapped a new brand called WEAREUPRISERS. It’s described as a community-driven streetwear brand focused on storytelling for activists, trendsetters, and warriors of change. Their goal is to inspire change by working with like-minded partners to give voice to the underrepresented.
Bryan Pham is the founder of Asian Hustle Network (AHN) and Crushing it in Real Estate (CIIRE). He is passionate about bringing together communities of like-minded individuals through growing AHN to over 45,000 members in a little over five months and managing an active CIIRE group of over 2,000 investors. Currently, Bryan is the Director of Strategic Partnerships at StartUpGrind Berkeley that brings together an ecosystem of VCs, angel investors, and aspiring entrepreneurs. He is also an active angel investor and real estate investor with 16 rental units and 25+ rehab projects. Outside of investing, Bryan is the podcast host of the CIIRE Podcast where he interviews real estate professionals across the industry and the co-host of the Asian Hustle Network podcast along with AHN co-founder Maggie Chui.
Tammy Cho is a tech startup founder who transitioned into the world of social justice and nonprofits. Tired of the rampant harassment and discrimination in workplaces across the tech industry, Tammy felt compelled to take action and founded and launched BetterBrave, a nonprofit organization dedicated to tackling toxic workplaces in 2017, just before the #MeToo wave began. Since launching, BetterBrave has expanded beyond the tech industry and has equipped thousands of workers across America with knowledge of their rights in the workplace and access to pro bono legal and counseling services. Prior to BetterBrave, Tammy co-founded Encore Alert, an AI platform that helps brands like IDEO, Denver Broncos, and the University of Michigan identify and act on emerging trends, crises, and influencers in their industry. She started the company as a college freshman at Georgetown University and sold it in 2016 at age 21.
NS: What is your involvement with #HateIsAVirus? How are you connected to it personally? What has your reaction been to the news about hateful actions and rhetoric against Asians and Asian Americans?
Tammy: When I hear these stories of racism against members of our community, especially small businesses, fueled by coronavirus and our president’s xenophobic rhetoric, I can’t help but think about my parents and what it would have been like for them had they still been running their business today.
My dad ran small businesses in America all of his life. One of his first businesses was a small liquor store in Hawaiian Gardens. He then switched to operating a dry cleaning business in La Mirada for over 10 years before retiring and relocating to Korea just last year. During his time running these businesses, I’ve seen him take the hate and racism from customers both offline and online — calling his business a “Chinese sweatshop” and yelling at him for not being able to speak English fluently. It made me even more upset to hear those comments given that he was also a U.S. Army veteran.
I know what it’s like to experience these hateful actions and rhetoric and I didn’t want more of our community members to experience the same. I understand how terrifying and heartbreaking these experiences can be and want to do my part by continuing to raise awareness of this issue and pushing the #HATEISAVIRUS movement forward with Michelle and Bryan so that our community no longer has to accept these behaviors as the norm.
NS: What have you done so far to reach the $1 million goal?
Bryan:UPRISERS, BetterBrave and Asian Hustle Network all have incredible networks that can create a huge impact. Through the collaboration of all three organizations, we have a goal to raise $1 million in a number of ways. Aside from collecting donations from our GoFundMe page, we are reaching out to social media influencers and community leaders to join our movement, share their stories, and help us amplify the voices of Asians across the country. By leveraging the power of social media, we are able to engage with online communities, connect ecosystems of AAPI, and globalize the mission of #HATEISAVIRUS.
We are also selling campaign tees and masks and encouraging supporters to post selfies of their #HATEISAVIRUS merchandise to raise awareness of the campaign as well as the situation at hand. We are reaching out to news outlets to help us share our story to the world and shed light on the issues our communities are facing today. Lastly, we have partnered with Racism is Contagious which provides publicly accessible resources using real data associated with attacks to tell our story. We hope that through this collaboration our voices will be able to create a global impact.
NS: Recently, photographer Reinhardt Kenneth did a four chapter photo series for your campaign. Can you talk about what was involved in the process? What impact/importance does creatives such as Reinhardt have on your goals?
Michelle:Reinhardt and I have worked together for some years now. He is a pure creative genius in the making and we often bounce ideas with each other. He called me one day, with an idea to speak up through a fashion photo series; and funny enough, my team and I were thinking along the same lines with the #HATEISAVIRUS campaign: a movement that combats xenophobia towards Asian Americans due to the hate crimes happening in this pandemic. Our messages aligned perfectly and so we decided to join forces.
The word “HATE” is radical, strong, and has many nuances. My goals were to bring awareness and speak up for our community through love and compassion. As a designer myself, I see the importance of art and how it can bring people together that words sometimes cannot achieve. Art is a form of healing. Once COVID-19 is over, and people begin to live their normal lives again, will the effects on our Asian American community disappear as well? No, we will be dealing with this for much longer — and our efforts will need to go towards rebuilding and healing.
NS: What is the future of #HateIsAVirus?
Tammy: Unfortunately, we foresee that the racism and hate against Asian Americans will continue to be prevalent for a while, even in the aftermath of COVID-19. For as long as these issues persist, #HATEISAVIRUS will be here to raise awareness and reinforce our message that our community will not stand back and tolerate these injustices. And we hope to spread this message by not only mobilizing our own Asian American community but also encouraging communities beyond to stand in solidarity with us.
Raising awareness is just the first step in addressing issues — there is still so much more work to be done. One of the immediate next steps we are taking is to equip our communities with practical ways to respond to racism and hate that they witness and/or experience. However, we need more people to get involved with this movement and think of more creative, actionable strategies for combating racism and hate among our communities. This needs to be a collaborative effort among all of us.
NS: What else would you like to say to our NextShark community?
Bryan: Don’t be afraid to go after your dreams and goals.
If there is something you want to do in your life, do it now rather than waiting for the right moment because the right moment will never come. Start now. The best time to plant a seed was yesterday — the next best time is today.
Many of us were raised by our parents to keep our heads down and to stick with what/who you know. It’s a generational limiting belief that was handed to us. However, we are living in a different generation with different ideals now. We should come together and demand that our voices be heard.
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