Brandon Wong and Many Uch are volunteers who run an advocacy group for currently and formerly incarcerated Asian-Pacific Islanders across the state.
But when they partnered with the Library, they connected with resources that could advance their cause – and the volunteers would lead the way.
The collaboration was part of the Library’s COPE program – the Committee for Outreach, Programming, and Engagement. It’s a new Foundation-supported effort to help social justice advocacy groups by listening to their needs and responding to their ideas on how the Library can help them advance their causes.
At Formerly Incarcerated Group Healing Together – known as FIGHT – they help form educational curriculum for the incarcerated, assist released people with deportation cases, and bring counseling services to those on the inside.
“At first we thought it was just all about books,” Brandon, FIGHT co-founder, said of the collaboration. Brandon himself was incarcerated for 10 years before starting FIGHT with Many.
The Library did help FIGHT with books and materials to supply to prisoners, but it offered printing services and event space, also.
“It helped open our eyes to what resources – not just books – the Library had that we could try to use or share with each other,” Brandon said. “At the same time, the folks at the Library could
learn the work that we do.”
Last year, FIGHT hosted three events with the Library’s help: a discussion on youth incarceration, a panel addressing the unique needs of former Asian-Pacific Islander prisoners, and an event supporting the family members of incarcerated people.
Many spent more than five years in prison and immigration detention. He said Asian-Pacific Islanders are susceptible to deportation after prison release and are often forced to perform hard labor and under-the-table work to support themselves.
JM Wong, an advocacy volunteer at FIGHT, said the Library’s help solidified its role as a social service provider committed to equity.
“I’m really impressed that folks in the Library are taking such a proactive role in the community and seeing itself as a hub where folks from all different backgrounds can come to access resources,” she said. “That’s one really powerful way in which we can get our work out there.”