By Meg Dunn, CNN
(CNN) — Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, attacks on Asian Americans have surged across the country. In the first half of 2021, New York City alone saw a 395% increase over the previous year in reported anti-Asian hate crimes.
Michelle Tran, a Chinese and Vietnamese American medical student living in the city, was horrified by this spike in violence and wanted to do something to help her community.
“As an Asian American female, I’ve seen that we can be targeted for what we look like,” Tran said. “My friends started getting spit on and yelled slurs and being called, ‘Chinese Virus.'”
Tran co-founded Soar Over Hate, a nonprofit that works to support and protect the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities in New York and San Francisco.
“I started to realize that many people don’t know where to get resources or don’t have the money to purchase a personal alarm,” she said.
Since March 2021, Tran says the organization has handed out more than 25,000 personal protective devices. They prioritized the most vulnerable, such as essential workers, the elderly, women and low-income Asian Americans.
Often at the nonprofit’s distribution events, hundreds of AAPI community members line up to receive a personal safety device. At its recent event at Yu and Me Books in NYC’s Chinatown, about 1,000 women waited over an hour in the cold to get a handheld device for protection.
“It was simultaneously heartbreaking, but also motivating to see so many people come out,” Tran said. “I think it highlighted the need and the fears that many folks, like me, are experiencing right now.”
Soar Over Hate also hosts self-defense classes for Asian women and femmes. The group held a recent self-defense class just a few weeks after the killing of Christina Yuna Lee in Manhattan.
“After this intense media coverage of Asian American women being attacked and humiliated and beaten up, we really wanted to recover our sense of power and strength,” Tran said.
The self-defense classes teach women about situational awareness and how to deescalate or escape an attack.
To help address the trauma individuals are experiencing, the nonprofit offers culturally competent therapy for victims of anti-Asian hate and their family members, as well as need-based scholarships for AAPI youth.
With the ongoing need, Soar Over Hate hopes to expand to more cities around the US.
Tran says she has one hope for her work moving forward: to help save lives.
“I hope that people that receive our personal safety devices or attend our self-defense classes leave feeling more empowered to fight back,” she said. “And if ever there was a scenario to arise, they would know how to protect themselves and leave unscathed.”
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