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Conversations with the Inspiring Jacqulyn Whang

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jacqulyn Whang.

Jacqulyn, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Growing up as a first generation Korean-immigrant family, I have always felt like an imposter to this country. To make matters worse, the public education institutions were not a welcoming center of diversity, but rather, I fell out of the system. My passion for education began in my trial. In high school, I was deeply depressed, tangled in ripple effects of trauma I experienced as a child and trying to find my way into girlhood adolescence. My self-expression was found in the underground rap culture, obsessively listening to Wu-Tang, Rass Kass, Dead Prez, and the playlist goes on. Rap and hip-hop awakened me to the power of my voice, and since then, I’ve been committed to sharing this love for the arts with youth. I have a special heart for young folks who consider themselves outcasts in culture, mainstream euro-centric communities, and weirdos.

My relationship with music and the arts not only provided me a space of refuge and inclusion but empowered me to create room for my in mainstream American culture. As I became awakened to my new citizenship, I also began my journey as an advocate for youth, arts education, and community development.

The personal passion for creative education and compassionate classrooms and schools was put into action my first few years of teaching. I started in North East Los Angeles and the journey brings me to here now in Compton. Throughout my years as a teacher, I learned to balance my stress and anxieties through yoga. As I begin to transition more into an advocate and community organizer, I begin to see the importance of doing the work on yourself before anything else.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has not been a smooth road and still is not, but I like to think of myself as built for this. My advice would is that the greatest lesson for me in any situation has been to learn to listen to myself. The problem at hand may be a personal or systematic issue, but in either case, I still turn inward first and as myself what I can personally learn about myself first. Then, after assessing my own disposition and feelings, I begin to analyze the external circumstances, which inevitably are the factors that may not be easily changed and mostly cannot be changed alone.

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
When strangers ask me what I do, I tell them I am a high school teacher… and I do yoga… and poetry… and I am also an elected union rep for my school. It is a challenge to explain to people what I do because I have a lot of facets. One day, I can dress in dress pants and coat for school and the next day, I’ll wear cozy gear for yoga; and the next some A1 to a friend’s art event. I play a lot of roles just as a teacher; many of us do—hence, the strikes. I am on the Instructional Leadership Team, Union Representative, and School Site Council. However, my specialty is teaching and instruction, programming, and coalition building. My most recent project has been with a team to start up a film club at Centennial High in Compton, which is the school I teach in. The program aims to mentor and teach students the technical skills of film making and theoretical development and language building on representation and identity through the arts. We raised over 14K and was able to provide students with high-end equipment, such as cameras, voice recorders, and editing software!

My goal is in life is to work in leadership positions that create more ACCESS to our disenfranchised communities—access to quality education, quality health care, quality housing, and overall quality living. I am not a brand and don’t represent an organization, I am myself with a voice that speaks on concerns shared by a collective of communities.

What do you feel are the biggest barriers today to female leadership, in your industry or generally?
I don’t say I face many immediate barriers, but I small hurdles that aggravate my growth. I face is as a Korean-American woman. Many first assume that I am soft spoken, possibly because of my small frame, but I feel it deals with my identification as an Asian woman. I have been in talking and planning circles where I say something and it gets ignored, but when another person states the same comment, he or she is acknowledged. There are little come ups like that that don’t act much as an impediment but irritation. I think the biggest barriers is the data gap. The percentage of women in CEO positions and head of leadership is often rare. I see many women playing leadership roles, but rarely claiming the top seat executive. I would like to see more of that and represent that myself. We are clearly running the small pods of teams that run the organization/industry. Thus, we are fully capable of taking on the whole company, organization, cities, state, and nation.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Carmen Chan @carmenchan

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