The annual Nonprofit Symposium’s theme this year focused on achieving social justice through nonprofit work. The event’s keynote speaker, Tae Chong, a business counselor for a local economic development organization, narrowed the theme even more to considering the power of small acts. He spoke about how relatively little actions, such as a Pakistani girl defying her elders to go to school, can add up to bring about greater social justice.
Each winter, Meg Springer, assistant director of Bowdoin’s Career Center, organizes the popular Nonprofit Symposium at Bowdoin. She invites faculty, staff, alumni and local nonprofit leaders to the afternoon event to provide a forum for students to reflect with professionals on different aspects of the nonprofit sector. The symposium is also a chance for students interested in nonprofit careers to network with people working on humanitarian and environmental issues in Brunswick and in Maine.
The event kicked off with lunch, followed by Chong’s talk. He began by speaking about growing up in Portland, Maine, in the 1970s after his family immigrated from South Korea. He was one of the only students of color then in the Portland school system. Today, the city’s demographics are very different — 42 percent of the city’s public school system is multicultural and 15 percent of Portland’s population is foreign born.
Chong said he briefly left Maine after high school but returned in his early twenties to take a job working with immigrant and refugee children at one of Portland’s housing authorities. It was at this point that his life’s work to end racial and social injustice took on clarity and urgency.
The students he had been mentoring told him that all the ESL kids (those who don’t speak English as a first language) were housed in the basement of the high school with special-education students. They were not integrated into the mainstream school population, and they were not encouraged to join extracurricular activities. Chong began a campaign to change the perception that immigrant and refugee students were not worth investing in.
Maine’s public radio station ran a critical story about the school’s seeming segregation, Chong said. The local chapter of the NAACP sued the city’s public school system. Chong ran for the school board and became the first Asian American elected to the board. “We changed the ESL policy for kids and also changed the perspective and perception of immigrant and refugee kids that they couldn’t learn,” he said. “They are studious and high achievers.”
The story reinforced Chong’s argument that a lot of good can come about when you are active in your own community. “That is what social justice is, it’s all local. It starts with recognizing a problem in your backyard,” he said.
After Chong’s talk, symposium participants broke into small groups to discuss how they achieve social justice in their lives and work. Following a coffee break, a panel of four alumni and one nonprofit executive in Portland spoke about how they’ve initiated action to address social justice.
The event is underwritten by the support of the Preston Public Interest Career Fund.
The 2016 Nonprofit Symposium participants
Keynote Speaker: Social Justice Begins Locally
- Tae Chong, Business Counselor, StartSmart CEI Business Development Services
Panelists: Action Leads to Opportunity
- Tho Ngo ’10, Program Coordinator — Neuroscience Services at Maine Medical Center
- Olivia Orr ’12 — Office and Development Associate at Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project; Former Americorps Group Leader, NAACP
- Claude Rwaganje — Executive Director, Community Financial Literacy
- Shana Natelson ’10 — Executive Director, Speak About It
- Sam Eley ’15 — Reducing Sexism and Violence Coordinator, Boys to Men
- Rob Orton- Regional Recruiter (New England), Peace Corps
- Andrew Griswold, Communications Director, Telling Room
- Hannah Chatalbash, Program & Development Associate, Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program
- Andrew Bove ’07, Supervisor, Preble Street
- Bethany Edmunds, Refugee and Immigrations Services, Catholic Charities
- Gretchen Williams ’14, Program and Project Coordinator, Lift 360
- Ben Martens ’06, Executive Director, Maine Coast Fisherman’s Association
- Marty Szydlowski, Director of Finance & Housing Development, Brunswick Housing Authority
- Dan Johnson, Recruitment Manager, Teach for America
- Torin Peterson, Founder, Maine Tutor Corps
Bowdoin Faculty and Staff Participants
- Yao Tang, Assistant Professor, Economics
- Crystal Hall, Associate Professor of Digital Humanities
- Jayanthi Selinger, Associate Professor, Asian Studies
- Seth Ramus- Director, Health Professions Advising
- Brandon Royce Diop, Assistant Dean Student Affairs
- Nhi Nguyen, Assistant Director, McKeen Center for the Common Good
- Cynthia Kingsford ’80- Assistant Director, Career Planning
- Aileen Tschiderer ’12- Employer Relations Coordinator
- Meg Springer, Assistant Director, Career Planning