Forty-five years ago, AAFE’s founders stood up for worker rights at Confucius Plaza, creating a powerful grassroots movement by daring to dream of equality for all. Each year, we honor exceptional individuals who are keeping the dream alive through their deeds and actions. The struggle for equality requires determination, imagination, passion and fearlessness. We celebrate today’s dreamers, who are showing us the way to a better tomorrow.
State Sen. Jessica Ramos has spent her life fighting for working families, advocating for labor, and organizing her local community. Born in Elmhurst to an undocumented seamstress and a printing pressman, Ramos was raised in Astoria, attended Queens public schools, and now lives in Jackson Heights with her two sons. As the first American-born in her family,
Ramos feels a deep sense of responsibility in bridging the gap between immigrant and non-immigrant communities. Ramos’s mother crossed the Mexican border by herself at 24, and her father was arrested in a workplace immigration raid in the early 1980s and spent days held in a detention center. She represents Astoria, Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Woodside.
She is a mother. She is a renter. She is a straphanger. She is a daughter of immigrants. She is a working woman. She is Queens.
Jin Park is a graduate of Harvard College (2018) where he studied biology and government. Park was recently elected as a Rhodes Scholar from District 3 (NY-South) and will be pursuing a doctorate in political theory at the University of Oxford. He is the first recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to win the prestigious award.
Park, 22, came to this country from South Korea at the age of 7. He grew up in Flushing, Queens. Park’s mother worked in a beauty salon and his father was a line cook in a Korean restaurant. In a moving editorial published earlier this year in The New York Times, Park called his scholarship bittersweet, writing, ”the Trump administration rescinded the option for overseas travel for those with DACA status, the Dreamers who were brought to this country illegally as children. This means that when I leave the country in October to study at Oxford with my fellow Rhodes scholars, I may not be able to come back.”
During college, Park led several direct service programs providing naturalization assistance and college access to immigrant communities. He also worked as a fellow at the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs to help implement “ActionHealthNYC,” the precursor demonstration program to Mayor de Blasio’s recently launched “NYC Care” program.
As Commissioner of the NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS), Gregg Bishop is charged with running a dynamic city agency focused on equity of opportunity, that leads to economic self-sufficiency and mobility for New York City’s diverse communities. SBS actively connects New Yorkers to good jobs, creates stronger businesses, and builds a thriving economy in neighborhoods across the five boroughs.
Born in Grenada and raised in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, Bishop began his career at the agency in 2008, and was responsible for a suite of programs designed to make it easier for businesses to start, operate, and grow, and to recover from emergencies. He was successively promoted into higher positions as Deputy Commissioner of the Business Development Division and Assistant Commissioner of the Division of Economic and Financial Opportunity at SBS, where he oversaw parts of the M/WBE program including certification and capacity building to support the business needs of City buyers and prime contractors.
Prior to his career in government, Bishop served as the Senior Manager of Workforce Development at NPower, and the Director of Web Operations at Oxygen Media. He was the Vice President of Technology Operations at TheStreet.com and began his career at VIBE Magazine during the pioneering days of the web. Bishop received a Master’s degree in Integrated Marketing and Management Communication from Florida State University, and a B.S. in Business Administration from Florida A&M University. He is a graduate of Harvard Kennedy School’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government program.
Yee Ling Poon
Lifetime Achievement Award Honoree
Born in Shenzhen, Yee Ling Poon grew up in Hong Kong. Her father left China for the U.S. when Poon was a toddler, but the family waited years for visas. Poon finally was able to immigrate in the summer of 1970, right after her secondary school graduation from Sacred Heart Canossian College. In New York, Poon pursued her interest in New York’s Chinese community as a student at Hunter College. She became concerned about the poor working and living conditions in Chinatown, especially that of the elderly men, separated from their families, who attended the Golden Age Club senior center. As her graduation thesis, she investigated what social services might be available to help.
In the early 70s, Poon involvement with the progressive Basement Workshop led her to start, with her husband KW Chin, the Chinese Historical Society, an organization devoted to preserving the physical, documentary and oral history of Chinatown’s immigrants. Graduating college in 1973, Poon then worked in bilingual education, and organized Chinese parents on the Lower East Side for community control of schools. She led Janice Wong’s successful campaign for election to the Community School Board, the first Chinese-American ever elected in NYC.
In 1974, Poon helped found AAFE (originally Asian Americans For Equal Employment). For the next decade, she nurtured AAFE’s growth and maturation as its President and as Editor-in-Chief of its Chinese language newspaper and leading various campaigns. In 1975, Peter Yew was brutalized and charged with resisting arrest and other crimes after he tried to stop the police beating of a teenager involved in a double-parking incident on Bayard Street. AAFE responded, with Poon writing and distributing what is believed to be the first ever leaflet against police brutality in Chinatown. She then helped organize and lead 5000 people for a May 12 demonstration at City Hall and cooperated with traditional community leaders to organize a 25,000 person march on City Hall the following week. The May 19, 1975 rally was the biggest Chinatown demonstration since the anti-Japanese parade in 1937. The charges against Yew were dropped.
In the 80s, Poon organized Asian American Caucus for Disarmament’s participation in the million-person peace rally on June 12, 1982 in NYC. She also led the campaign for government accountability after the FDIC’s abrupt closing of the Golden Pacific Bank in Chinatown. In 1986, with the youngest of her two children not yet two, Poon started law school at NYU. As a community-based attorney with her own firm Poon focuses on political asylum, deportation defense and family unification. Her 1997 case “Matter of C-Y-Z” enabled thousands of Chinese immigrants to gain political asylum for themselves and their families. Last year, working with the Legal Aid Society, Poon halted the imminent deportation of Xiu Qing You, a married father of two, from Queens. Poon is pro-bono counsel for several Asian American arts and community organizations.
When she is not lawyering, she takes time to enjoy her family, especially her grandchildren, and attends demonstrations for peace, the environment, women’s and immigrants’ rights, and against police brutality.
Poon’s goal is wide Asian-American visibility not just in politics, business and academics, but also in arts, culture and social justice movements. She urges everyone to get involved and be heard.