Jackson Lam is a San Gabriel Mountains Forever Leadership Academy graduate who now works for SGMF member organization Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council (A3PCON).
How did you hear about the Leadership Academy and what inspired you to apply for the program?
I heard about the Leadership Academy through BikeSGV, a bike advocacy nonprofit that I was (and am still) volunteering for [editor’s note: BikeSGV is an SGMF member organization]. After researching the program, I felt it would be a good extension of what I had already been doing in my personal life: advocating for the environment, promoting the outdoors, and fostering community and inclusivity. It was also in my city (Los Angeles), my neighborhood (El Monte), and my backyard (the San Gabriel Mountains). Also, the stipend encouraged me because I was unemployed at the time.
What was your project?
My project, after many ideas and iterations, was outreach to Asian communities in LA County, and especially in the San Gabriel Valley, where cities like Monterey Park, Rowland Heights, and other areas have large Asian populations. We never came up with a title, and I technically never “finished” my project as a Leadership Academy participant. The reason is, soon after discussing the idea, I was asked to work part-time for the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council (A3PCON), an SGMF member that does grassroots organizing for Asian communities for the campaign. The project continues today.
What’s the best thing you learned?
In the Leadership Academy, I learned that there were other people who really cared about and had a passion for our mountains and forests; that there was a concerted effort to protect it and make it more accessible to everybody, including low-income families and communities of color. It is really good to know that there are other people who care as much as I do, sometimes even more than I do!
What surprised you about the program or your work on the project?
I was surprised about how much work actually goes into the process of land management, protection, working with government agencies and elected officials. There are so many details and facets to the work that I never understood before, even though I had counted myself amongst the environmentally aware. I now understand better the nuances, the politics, and the patience one must have to work for environmental advocacy groups.
Describe what being in the great outdoors means to you.
Being in the great outdoors is about letting go, detaching, and re-framing priorities. In the outdoors, one learns to let go of one’s self and our own desires, ambitions, and selfishness—to see nature as not something to control, but to consult with. We detach from deadlines, chores, electronics, and distractions—and connect to something deeper. And it ultimately allows us to filter through all the noise and clutter to see what’s really important. For me, that’s what being outdoors is all about.
What’s your favorite way to spend your day in the San Gabriel Mountains?
My favorite way to spend a day in the San Gabriel Mountains is with good friends, good food, and existential conversations with no real answers and endless interpretations. This could take place hiking, camping, backpacking, or just sitting underneath an oak tree, fiddling with leaves and leftover acorns.