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I met Bee when I was a junior in high school. I was timid and awkward as I shuffled into the room full of girls. We were all waiting, waiting and needing something. I would not know her as Bee Nguyen, the determined and outspoken daughter of immigrant parents, until years later. I only knew her kind face and I remember warm hands placed gently on my shoulders as I stood in a mirror, barefoot, with my hair considerably undone. I remember her face in the mirror smiling at me when I looked up as I tried on a bright yellow prom dress. I won’t try to reinvent whatever simple yet poignant words she spoke to me in that moment, because that isn’t what I remember. I remember a woman of color, founder of her own non-profit, pouring all her love and energy into her dream, then looking at me as if I were the dream. I remember, vividly this encounter with a stellar lady, the smiles, the giggles, and body positive affirmations that she showered on us that day as we picked our prom dresses out of the racks of donated items from Athena’s Warehouse.
It was this rare moment with a powerful woman that would shape me into who I am today. Until I met Bee, I thought that non-profit work was something that “the-old-rich-&-white” did in their leisure to assuage guilt, or to hide money from the government, or to feel in control of one more thing in the world, like the lives of the “unfortunate.” But Bee didn’t view us as “unfortunate.” She looked at each of us and saw herself.
During my senior year, the organization focused on constructing a series of weekly workshops which emphasized young women's empowerment. The workshops included yoga, self-defense, cooking, and photography. During activities, we were perpetually consumed in dialogue about healthy relationships and how to stand up for ourselves. These chats were genuine, unlike the forced "freshman seminar" style dialogues of our pasts. We would talk about current relationships or crushes and Bee would chime in at the end of a tale featuring an unhealthy narrative, “Well I wouldn’t put up with that. And neither should you.” Then, there would be this silence afterwards as if a spell was broken. It was as if we were slowly realizing we didn’t have to put up with being talked down to by men or treated like a possession to feel loved. It was a profound feeling which few other women had ever attempted to conjure or convey to girls like us.
It’s an arduous journey for women and girls growing out of poverty in the United States. Many of us are tempted to surrender our freedom and thoughts to the first man willing to care for us and the children we feel prompted to give birth to as soon as we are able. There I was, surrounded by an insurmountable peak of poverty with no idea how to apply for college, what to major in, or even how to make friends. There I was, in high school trying not to be awkward, needing to be pretty, and feeling that I should be smart instead. There I was, convinced that a few workshops, a couple scholarships, some prom dresses and all the volunteer hours in the world couldn’t even scratch the surface of the needs that we faced at Cross Keys. There I was, dead wrong.
Athena’s Warehouse did more than provide me with a scholarship that helped me to stay on campus my freshmen year of college, or provide me with a senior prom dress that fit like a glove. Athena’s taught me about the magic that is born when women come together. There is something inexplicably powerful about transferring feminine energy back and forth in gossip, in song, in movement, in affirmations, and that power is embodied in Bee. I support Bee because she saw her dream reflected in me, supported me, and I see, in her, a reflection of who I hope to become.
Representative Bee Nguyen is the determined and outspoken daughter of immigrant parents who fights for people of color, for those in rough economic situations, because she is a person of color that came from a rough economic situation. She is rising, and she has taken me with her. I work by her side at the capitol as her legislative aide. As a community leader, as a woman, as a person of color, as a middle-class American, she has taken her seat at the table and is using this platform to draw awareness to issues, to listen to problems, and to seek solutions that promote the equitable dream that all Georgians deserve.
Follow me for more on the inner workings of the GA General Assembly.