SGMF Leadership Academy Spotlight: Jackson Lam

SGMF jackson LA Bio Pic

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.

Leadership Academy Spotlight: Andrew Fung Yip

sgmf andrew monument signAndrew Fung Yip is a graduate of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Leadership Academy and now works as a program coordinator for Bike San Gabriel Valley.

How did you hear about the Leadership Academy and what inspired you to apply for the program?
I volunteered for Bike San Gabriel Valley and my supervisor thought I would be a good fit for the program. I remember being interviewed for the academy while sitting in my car at school at Azusa Pacific University and watching the Colby Fire burn many acres of the San Gabriel Mountains.

What was your project?
My project is called Queer Hike and is an ongoing project to outreach to individuals that identify as LGBTQ. It is a series of hikes and discussions centered on the intersections of race, sexuality, and gender. The project started in June 2015.

What’s the best thing you learned?
We are the masters of our fates. We are the enablers of both justice and injustice. We are the change makers for the change that we wish to see. The leadership academy empowered me through raising social consciousness and education so that I can do the same with my community. We want to see positive outcomes so we must work for it but it is achievable. I joined the leadership academy and participated in all the coalition outreach events. A few months later, I went to Washington D.C. to lobby and to provide my narrative in advocating for federal protections of the San Gabriel Mountains. A few months after that, I was invited and attended the President’s signing of the proclamation designating the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument. I saw our vision of federal protections achieved through the hard work of many leadership academy students and graduates.

What surprised you about the program or your work on the project?
I was surprised at the diversity of the leadership academy program. My opinion was that mainstream conservation organizations were homogeneous in race and income. I was actually hesitant to participate in the academy but was reassured when I attended the first leadership academy class.

Finish this sentence: Being in the great outdoors….
Being in the great outdoors engages all of your senses to a point where your endorphins shoot through your veins and you understand that you’ve fallen in love again with nature.

What’s your favorite way to spend your day in the San Gabriel Mountains? 
I always enjoy a great hike. My favorite, however, is to bring people that have never been to the mountains before and watch them light up.

Leadership Academy Spotlight: Brenda Kyle

brenda tree 401x401Brenda Kyle is a 2013 graduate of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Leadership Academy and now works on social media and public outreach for Amigos de los Rios, one of the nonprofits in San Gabriel Mountains Forever. Here, the Duarte native answers questions about her Leadership Academy experience and love of the San Gabriel Mountains.

How did you hear about the Leadership Academy and what inspired you to apply for the program?
I heard about the Leadership Academy from a friend who saw an ad for it in an online version of the Alhambra Source. She thought it was right up my alley, so she forwarded me the link. I read through the information and thought it was a great way to earn money to buy my own computer. The idea of learning about power-mapping, grant writing, and connecting people to the mountains and rivers was also very appealing. I struggled to get my application in on time. The computers in the library were not the fastest, and the computers at work had many sites blocked. I turned in the application at the last minute.

What was your project? 
My project was to take youth into the San Garbriels and along the rivers to collect plant, leaf, and flower samples and have them be exhibited at the Los Angeles County Fair under the “Collections” label. It’s still in progress and I look forward to completing it. The group I have participating will be from Pamela Park and the Sheriff’s Youth Activities League. I’m looking forward to showing them the biodiversity of the area and hopefully opening their eyes to green causes.

What’s the best thing you learned?
Art as activism. I never really thought about the power of art. I’m thankful for the art component of the academy. Posters, pictures, memory books, signs—they’re all art!  Poetry, music…the list goes on. The art component was where I learned the most, because it reminded me that some people can’t express themselves verbally, but they can express themselves in other ways. They can learn in other ways. Art as communication really struck a chord with me.

What surprised you about the program or your work on the project? 
I surprised myself.  I never considered myself an environmentalist. When I started, I wanted money for a computer so I could look for jobs and do homework. I ended up being part of a cause, making friends, making connections, and making a positive difference. The VIDA program from the Sheriff’s department has worked with me on greening an area and they loved it! I’ve led a group of English learners & special education students from Durfee School in El Monte on a citizen science project and they were excited.

What’s your favorite way to spend a day in the San Gabriel Mountains?
Eaton Canyon is a personal favorite. I like to keep it close. I like to visit alone, or with friends and family. Just walking around feels like freedom.

How do you describe the value of your work on the San Gabriel Mountains?
My work on the San Gabriel Mountains means I’m leaving something for the future. It means I’m being a good ancestor.

Being in the great outdoors—what is that like for you?

Words to describe the San Gabriel Mountains. Go!
Diverse, rugged, accessible, romantic.