Written by Charlene Khoo
Dear Mimi Kim,
I met you almost 12 years ago. I had just moved to California and was starting my first job at a shelter for Asian survivors of domestic violence. The non-profit industrial complex was about to break my heart for the first time.
In those days, I still believed that the state could keep us safe. And yet, in my work I saw that survivors were repeatedly failed by the systems that were supposedly built to support them. Feeling alone, I scoured the internet for some hope and found you: an Asian anti-domestic violence advocate speaking up about the harms of carceral solutions to violence. I learned about Creative Interventions, the organization you founded for survivors who needed community-based solutions to violence without involving the state and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, a network you co-founded with other Black and Indigenous abolitionist feminists of color. Yearning to learn more, I reached out and invited you to speak with my organization. I hoped that with your help, I could radicalize our very traditional non-profit.
You drove an hour to our office and spoke about how this work, though hard, was possible. But, when you left, I was told simply that this couldn’t work and that we couldn’t afford to not work with the police. That day, I learned how the non-profit industrial complex takes hold of our imaginations. I learned how easily dreams of a radically different future are killed. This would not be the first time the non-profit world would break my heart. In one version of this story, I become jaded, but in another I realize this moment was perhaps the beginning of my radicalization.
Meeting you completely shifted the course of my political journey to becoming a racial justice organizer. In 2014, after Akai Gurley was killed by Peter Liang, a Chinese American cop, Chinese Americans mobilized rapidly to defend Liang. I felt horrified. That moment moved me into action. I recalled the lessons imparted by you and other INCITE! feminists of color who shaped my understanding of solidarity and safety and joined Asians for Black Lives (A4BL). A4BL began when Asian Americans responded to Black organizers calling for solidarity against state violence and anti-Blackness.
Last year, an 80 year old Chinese woman was assaulted by a young Black person in San Francisco. Rather than let this moment inflame deeply rooted anti-Blackness in our communities, I and other A4BL organizers supported the family with difficult conversations about harm, punishment and anti-Blackness. Your organizing with INCITE! taught me that anti-Blackness and imperialism creates barriers to accessing safety and how our collective organizing needed to always center these issues to work. Above all, you opened up my mind to a world where collective safety meant turning toward each other, rather than turning people over to the state. Throughout, I drew on what I had learned from you about redefining what safety and repairing from harm looks like.
Today A4BL is an organizing formation of almost 70 members working to support the safety, justice & resilience of Black communities—so all our communities can prosper. As I continue this work amidst the current uprisings against systemic racism, I return to your teachings. You taught me that our communities are resilient and that we already hold the solutions to keep ourselves safe without police. We needed those lessons then and we need them still today, badly. This world without police we are dreaming of can exist and movement leaders like you have already created the scaffolding of that world for us.
Mimi, my path as a racial justice organizer and abolitionist has been winding, but it has always been rooted in the lessons I learned from your life’s work.
Thank you, Mimi, for daring to breathe life into ideas that few dared to dream about a decade ago. I cannot wait to be part of building this world that you’ve always known could exist.
Charlene Khoo (she/her) joined 18MR in 2020 as their first full time Development staffer, bringing with her 7 years of fundraising experience at various non-profits and grassroots organizations including Oakland Museum of California, Kearny Street Workshop and San Francisco SPCA. Most recently, she was Program Director at National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area. She organizes with Asians for Black Lives and is a recent member of Critical Resistance. She holds an M.A. in Ethnic Studies from San Francisco State University.