Every year since our founding five years ago, we have recognized Wisconsin’s most influential Black and Latino leaders. It’s become the most anticipated thing we do. Every year, I’ve intended these lists to highlight the beauty of the diversity across our state. I want kids here in Wisconsin to see role models of people who are succeeding, to know that it’s possible for African Americans and Latinos to achieve great things here.
Each year, after we publish every list, we hear from the community. We hear genuine excitement and gratitude for the recognition. We hear new names to include in future lists.
And, invariably, we hear, “When will you honor leaders from other communities of color?”
The truth is that we have wanted to. For several years, we have wanted and intended to honor our Native American and Asian American brothers and sisters. But the fact is we can only do so with the help, trust and engagement of those communities. We have spent the last few years building that trust, building those relationships, learning about those communities.
And now, finally, I am confident — we are ready.
In March, we published our first-ever list of the most influential Native Americans in Wisconsin, and today, we’re proud to present our first-ever list of the most influential Asian American leaders in our state.
This list represents something that’s never been done. This week we shine a statewide spotlight on the dedicated leaders of Wisconsin’s Hmong, Chinese-American, Japanese-American, Pacific Islander, South Asian, and other communities. These are richly diverse communities with roots that represent a massive geographic area. The people we highlight this week are elected leaders, business leaders and community leaders, doing difficult, important work, often in the face of discrimination and literally generations of oppression.
We are also aware that this list, like every other, is not comprehensive. There are, without a doubt, more than 48 influential Asian American leaders doing good work in Wisconsin. We hope you will let us know about people in your community who we can include on future lists. For now, though, we just want to introduce you to a few of the people doing the work, often behind the scenes and without the accolades, across Wisconsin.
You might know a few of these names, but there’s a good chance that most of them will be new to you. I commend you to get to know them. Reach out to those living and working in your communities. Learn from them, network, create partnerships. And spread the word — let others in your network know that we have people of all ethnicities living and working across Wisconsin to make this state a good and prosperous place for all.
Henry Sanders, Jr
CEO, 365 Media Foundation
Publisher, Madison365 and FoxValley365
Mai J Lo Lee is director of the Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs (MESA) at UW–Green Bay. She’s a proud product of the UW system — she earned her bachelor’s degree in English and mass communications from UW-Eau Claire and master’s degree in education at UW-La Crosse. Her research interests include leadership, cultural competency, women’s studies and student development. Mai was awarded the 2018 University Award for Excellence in Collaborative Achievement for her work in the Brown County MLK Jr. Day Celebration, the 2016 Institution Staff Member of the Year, the 2009 UW System Woman of Color in Education award and was recently nominated for the 2017 Future 15 Young Professional of the Year award. She has also been a panelist and moderator on topics in higher education at the Wisconsin Leadership Summit.
Shary Tran serves as the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Health Systems. In her role, she prioritizes initiatives that ensure quality healthcare for Froedtert clients. Outside of that, Tran is also an active member of her Milwaukee community. She co-founded ELEVAsian, an organization launched in 2017 to highlight and elevate Asian Americans in the Milwaukee area. She was the President of the Young Professionals of Milwaukee, now known as FUEL Milwaukee. In 2015, Tran was recognized as a “40 under 40” leader by the Milwaukee Business Journal. She also holds other leadership positions, including being a board member of Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee. Tran graduated from the University of Whitewater and went on to earn her MBA from Cardinal Stritch University.
Kabzuag Vaj, the founder and co-executive director of Freedom Inc., has dedicated the majority of her life to ending gender-based violence, starting from the young age of 16. Vaj was born in Laos and came to the U.S. as a refugee child with her mother and siblings and has spent her career building collective power in the Southeast Asian and Black communities. Along with co-founding Freedom Inc, Vaj also co-founded Building Our Future, a global campaign that targets traditional practices and beliefs that contribute to gender-based violence in Hmong communities. She was recognized as a Champion of Change at the White House during Domestic Violence Awareness month in 2011 and was recently named one of the 20 Women of Color in Politics to Watch in 2020 by She the People.
Charles Huang is the Pastor of Blackhawk Chinese Ministry at Blackhawk Church, the largest church in Madison. Born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan, he attended college in Tokyo, grad school in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Regent College in Vancouver, Canada for his Master of Divinity. Before his theological education, Charles worked in IT for five years and a fast-food chain for nine years. Charles joined the Blackhawk staff in 2017. Charles and his wife Anita have a daughter and a son. They enjoy playing board games and traveling to Taiwan to visit family and friends.
Mike Moh is owner of Moh’s Martial Arts in Madison. He grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota and was inspired by one of his heroes, Jackie Chan, while working as a stuntman in Hong Kong on the film “Robin-B-Hood,” to pursue a career in acting. Mike relocated to Los Angeles and landed roles in numerous commercials, TV shows, and films like “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist,” widely considered the best film adaptation of a video game. After nearly a decade in Los Angeles, Moh relocated his family back to the Midwest in 2013 to open Moh’s Martial Arts. While juggling a growing family and one of the most successful martial arts schools in the midwest, he has been able to book roles on primetime shows like FOX’s “Empire,” ABC’s “Marvel’s Inhumans,” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” in which he played Bruce Lee. Mike continues his martial arts training daily and holds the rank of 5th-degree black belt in Taekwondo.
Dr. Ashok Rai has served as Prevea Health’s President and CEO since 2009 and currently sits on UW-Green Bay’s Council of Trustees. While Prevea has been a partner with Green Bay Athletics since 1985, Dr. Rai led the charge starting in 2012 what was then a unique model with an exclusive healthcare provider with a Division I program but is now quickly becoming the recommended NCAA best practice public-private relationship. Dr. Rai and his team of physicians, athletic trainers and other specialists provide full medical coverage for UW-Green Bay student-athletes both at the Kress Center and on the road. The public-private partnership allows for a separation of medical decisions from the University and places the student-athlete first in all decisions and care.
Bekki Yang is the Vice President of Sales at iHeartMedia-Milwaukee and co-president of the Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce. She currently manages a staff of over 20 marketing professionals, who develop integrated advertising solutions for both local and national brands. With over 20 years of experience, Yang specializes in engaging audiences using traditional and new-media with relevant marketing strategies to grow business. Her campaigns have landed nominations and awards such as the Radio Mercury Awards, and her PR experience has garnered coverage in multiple news and media outlets throughout her career. In addition, Bekki is passionate about giving back to her community. Bekki has held seats on many planning committees in Detroit (Council of Asian Pacific Americans) and Milwaukee (Milwaukee Public Schools, American Cancer Society and Hmong American Friendship). Bekki holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Bryan Chan founded SupraNet in 1994 to provide the Madison business community with Internet access. Chan has since co-founded and organized a number of other events, including the annual Forward Festival. Chan serves on multiple boards such as the United Way of Dane County, Overture Center for the Arts and Madison Museum of Contemporary Arts. Additionally, Chan was the “Small Business Executive of the Year” award winner by InBusiness Magazine in 2015 and the “Brian D Howell Excellence in Innovation” and “Isthmus Independent Business” awards in 2014. Chan earned his bachelor of arts degree in English language and literature from the UW-Madison.
Ka Lo currently serves on the Marathon County Board as District 5 Supervisor. She is the oldest of six children born to refugee parents who escaped war-torn Southeast Asia decades ago. She received an Associate of Arts and Sciences in Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies and Humanities from the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County (recently renamed University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point at Wausau) in 2011. Then, she earned a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)in American History from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2014. She intends to make things fair for everyone with each policy put forward. Ka also serves on the County’s Extension, Education, and Economic Development Committee.
Part 2 is coming tomorrow!