Lifting Lives is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that mobilizes a nation-wide chapter network to benefit communities impacted by educational inequality through fundraising, supply drives, extracurricular enrichment, and advocacy.
How and why did you begin Lifting Lives?
As a first-generation immigrant who has both attended and volunteered at a Title I school, I have experienced firsthand the injustices students all across the country face on a daily basis. As a student, I experienced the indefensible link between wealth and education funding, witnessed the discriminatory impact of law enforcement in schools, and observed a system that reinforced oppressive social hierarchies. These past four years, I’ve watched in fury and horror as the Department of Education undermined protections for LGBTQ+ students and disrespected survivors of sexual assault. Public education, the alleged great equalizer, falls far short of its lofty ambitions.
My educational advocacy developed from my exploration of federal, state, and local inequity through filmmaking, where I interviewed members of Congress, state legislators, local council members, teachers, and researchers. Last year, I founded Lifting Lives as an initiative to host school supply and personal protective equipment drives to help the underserved communities hit hardest by the pandemic. As I expanded this initiative across a dozen states, I realized the importance of leveraging the power of youth to realize a just world.
Outside of Lifting Lives, you also participate in things like Model UN, a philosophy & ethics club, a field internship for a senate campaign, and more — where did these interests begin and how do they connect?
My commitment to realizing a just and equitable world governs my actions. Many of my pursuits outside of Lifting Lives correlate to fostering conversations on social disparities and grassroots organizing. As a member of the Ossoff for Senate team that flipped Georgia, I was proud to dedicate my time to assuaging Americans’ fears about this new era of political chaos and upheaval. True social change is derived from nonprofit advocacy and voter mobilization working in tandem.
Who do you admire or look up to as a role model?
I look up to all the women of color who paved the way for modern activism. Some women that come to mind are Grace Lee Boggs, who pioneered the Asian American Movement of the 20th century; Ella Baker, who mobilized nonviolent civil rights activists; Shirley Chisholm, who shattered barriers as the first black woman elected to the United States Congress; Charlotte Hawkins Brown, who founded a school that educated thousands of Black youths; and Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color elected to Congress.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be more active in advocacy, activism, or politics?
Opportunity in any socio-political realm is rarely easy to come by; it is a result of courage, tenacity, and hard work. One of my favorite Chinese idioms that captures this concept is 铁杵磨针 (tiě chǔ mó zhēn) which represents a legend about an old woman grinding an iron pestle into a dainty embroidery needle.
Here are some rapid-fire questions:
Your go-to coffee shop order?
Any good films/tv shows you’re watching right now?
I love political/legal dramas like Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, and Designated Survivor.
I woke up early for a cup of coffee and a morning run!
What is next for you and for Lifting Lives?
I plan on expanding Lifting Lives to every state in America, amplifying educational equity fundraising and mobilizing initiatives, and bettering myself as an activist.
Alanna Li is a youth educational equity activist and grassroots organizer from Maryland. She is the co-founder of Lifting Lives, a nonprofit that mitigates the impact of educational inequality, and has worked on political campaigns such as the Ossoff for Senate Campaign in Georgia.
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Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.
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