Community Engagement: Racial Inequity

In Fall/Winter 2021, SJPL held a Community Conversation series on racial inequity. During November and December, various guest speakers shared their work to advocate for and support communities of color in San Jose.


Sameena Usman - Sameena serves as a Government Relations Coordinator for Council on American-Islamic Relations in the San Francisco Bay Area. She actively works to build bridges with communities, conduct interfaith dialogue, and empower the American Muslim community. Her talk focused on issues impacting American Muslims and the fight for civil rights.

Kanyon Coyotewoman Sayers-Roods - Kanyon is proud of her Costanoan Ohlone-Mutsun and Chumash heritage. She is the CEO of Kanyon Consulting LLC and serves as Cultural Representative for the Indian Canyon Mutsun Band of Costanoan Ohlone People. She’s also an artist whose work has been featured at the De Young Museum, The Somarts Gallery, Gathering Tribes, Snag Magazine, and numerous Powwows and Indigenous Gatherings. Kanyon centered her conversation on local Indigenous perspectives and efforts to preserve native cultural traditions.

Dr. Yvonne Y. Kwan - Dr. Yvonne Y. Kwan is assistant professor of Asian American Studies at the Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at San Jose State University. She teaches classes in Asian American History and Politics, Southeast Asian Diaspora, and Asian American Representation and Popular Culture. She is also the Director of the Ethnic Studies Collaborative and helps organize the CSU-wide Asian American Studies Caucus. Dr. Kwan delved into the importance of ethnic studies in education and defining the key terms of nativism, xenophobia, and racism.

Tram Bao Vu, LCSW - Tram Vu is a Psychotherapist and Parent Coach who has specialized in working with children, adults, and families for over 10 years. Hosted entirely in Vietnamese, Tram shared reflections on resilience and mental health from the lens of a Vietnamese immigrant woman.

Maritza Maldonado - Maldonado leads Amigos de Guadalupe Center for Justice and Empowerment in the Mayfair neighborhood in East San Jose. Maritza joined our Spanish-speaking community to talk about how the organization has been helping residents who have lost jobs or are sick with COVID-19, providing financial assistance to cover basic expenses, back rent, and burial costs.

Yvonne Maxwell, LCSW - Yvonne Maxwell is a licensed social worker and a lecturer of social work at San José State University for over 20 years. In her position as executive director, she leads Ujima Adult and Family Services, providing African-centered behavioral health services. Yvonne discussed the importance of staying connected with cultural roots and each other. Vice Mayor Chappie Jones provided opening remarks on the importance of racial equity work in San José.

Community Reflections

Community members explored a range of issues throughout the series. Reflections included reimagining public safety, affordable housing for ethnically diverse households, as well as how to better understand each other with compassion and humility. Some community members shared the generational differences and struggles they observe within their own families, while others noted feeling left out by broad racial/ethnic groupings such as "Asian" and the vast regional, linguistic and cultural identities within. Some groups also delved into systemic issues, including how to make our education system more inclusive and acknowledging of the harm caused to many communities by government and institutions. Many of the groups also delved into the impact of COVID and the continued disproportionate effects on communities of color in San Jose.

The guest presenters also shared some additional ways in which we can continue to take action to change racial and ethnic disparities. Kanyon welcomed people to her cultural competency workshops and other presentations throughout the year. Sameena urged for greater investments in mental health services and access to education, as well as sharing best practices for religious sensitivity and language regarding world events. Dr. Kwan stressed the importance of personal responsibility to learn, through History and Ethnic Studies, about the struggles of communities of color, including Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) and other populations.

"All that we’re doing is valuable, but there is a lot more work that needs to be done - on behalf of the city, mayor, myself and the libraries we’re committed to moving the conversation forward and moving forward with policies that will uplift all of the members of our community and close the racial divide. To make sure that every person regardless of their race, gender or religion will have an opportunity to thrive and succeed in Silicon Valley.” - Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, who participated in one of our conversation spaces.

Ultimately, as Yvonne Maxwell shared, we all must continue having these conversations and deepening our understanding of the issues. More importantly, she made a call to community action and beckoning us all to actually act on what we learn and change our behaviors.

SJPL will continue to plan more Community Conversations around race - what would you like to learn more about? Please include it in the comments, we'd love to hear more!