Alumni Fellows

Our Leading Edge Fellows from past years

Lian Cheun

Executive Director

Organization: Khmer Girls in Action

Location: Long Beach, CA


Leading Edge Idea: To divest funding from policing into sustained positive youth development by deeply engaging youth in democracy.

What is your vision for your community? For California?

There is an African saying in which someone new comes in to the community and asks “how are the children doing?” Normally, when this gets asked, it is meant to be reflective of society and community as a whole—that if children are not well, then we as a community are not well. This is a question we need to be asking of our community and of California. For many of us, the children are not doing well and are facing similar problems all over the state as they are in their communities. Many young people, particularly in this generation, are going to be living the consequences of this administration for decades to come. If we work with young people to problem solve and form an approach to this, they can be part of their own and their community’s liberation.

My idea comes from the intersection of deepening youth organizing around what we think our democracy should look like and utilizing the electoral process to build the people power necessary to impact policy. The ultimate goal is to increase investment in prevention and intervention for young people, while decreasing the amount that goes into policing and incarceration.

How were you inspired to get involved in this work? What motivated you?

My family and I were resettled from Cambodia to Oakland in the mid 1980s. Like many other refugees, we were put in a low-income urban center that was dealing with a lot of challenges, including racial tension and gang fights. Young people, at that time, were growing up without a lot of support to overcome the layers of trauma that they were feeling. Seeing similar dynamics in refugee resettlements and the rise of youth incarceration in communities became very personal to me. I knew I needed to take action and organize for systemic change.

What barriers have you faced, or continue to face, in achieving your vision of change?

Often times, the biggest challenge is resourcing the work and people understanding a smaller Asian subgroup with a very different historical context in this country and globally. There also are challenges around mental health and PTSD rates, and organizing in a community with a lot of trauma.

What progress, if any, have you seen thus far in your work?

Last year, we pushed the city of Long Beach to establish the first Investment in Youth Fund in Long Beach. We also kicked off 2019 with a city-wide, youth-led strategic planning process centered around racial and gender justice. Simultaneously, we are ramping up the field to move a local ballot initiative that would generate revenue for the Investment in Youth Fund that can be used on a year-by-year basis. While this is a localized fight, we are hopeful that it will have an impact statewide.

How will the Leading Edge Fund fellowship help?

First and foremost, it is so important and inspiring for me to connect with a group of folks who are doing important and groundbreaking work in their own right. When we do local work, we tend to work in silos. The opportunity to be part of a fellowship, take a breath, and look at the collective is what makes me excited. Secondly, the three year fellowship and intentional opportunity to build relationships will be an important culture to cultivate. Finally, the financial resources will be crucial for implementation and help me allocate my energy in to the movement.

What are your goals for your time as a Leading Edge Fund fellow?

I want to increase the pool of socially conscious and politically active young people in our community who not only see this work as rite of passage, but as a long-term career opportunity that is meaningful and creates social change. Young people, particularly those whose lives have been touched by this work, are often left out of the political and electoral process. Every young person should have their voices valued and heard.