My Experience With CHAT’s Youth Leadership Group, an exit essay by Kashia Yang


My name is Kashia Yang and I will be graduating from Central High School this year. Throughout high school, I was a member of Center for Hmong Arts & Talent’s (CHAT) Youth Leadership Group (YLG). YLG is an afterschool leadership development group based around the arts. As a YLG member, we are expected to commit a whole year, 1 day a week (sometimes more) to attending workshops, organizing community events, fundraisers and open mics, and creating an original theater show. My 4 years of being with CHAT’s YLG has been an incredible journey. The knowledge I’ve gained from being in this program dramatically changed my life for the better. Not just because I got to know more about the thriving Twin Cities art scene, but because I also got to familiarize myself with my wonderful Hmong community.

I decided to join YLG because I heard it would be a great way to learn more about my identity, and improve my leadership, organization, and teamwork skills. This turned out to be true! Being involved in two YLG theatre productions, Over-Rated and Second Generation Blues, and many open mics and events such as the Fresh Traditions Fashion Shows and the Frogtown Lot Squat Block Parties opened my eyes, and brought out the best in me. Not only were we community organizers, artists, actors and such, we were also involved in the creative processes and decision making. We even helped with marketing and promoting our events.

I recall the first time having to write my personal stories for our plays; the thought of performing them terrified me! It was my first time being in a theatre production and I didn’t feel I had the confidence to perform in front of an audience. Although I didn’t see myself as an artist, nor did I believe in myself at that time to do so, my peers certainly did. Knowing that my peers believed in me, I eventually began to believe in myself. That’s when I knew this program was for me.

The thought of my personal stories contributing to these plays was a great accomplishment to me but I knew I had to still learn how to perform with confidence. This was a test for me to know how far I could go as a performer and public speaker. I kept in mind that I didn’t want to lose the chance of performing my own personal stories so I kept challenging myself. As I opened myself up to my group, the support was overwhelming and I started to feel as if there was nothing I should be afraid of. (It was true!) I realized this platform was a great way to provide others with the different perspectives and stories from me, my peers and my community. As much as I was nervous to share these stories, I made sure to give my all and do the best I could possibly do.

I came to realize that a team is only a team, but in order to be a great team, there needs to be trust, communication, and understanding of one another. Trust can be a hard thing to give but I realized that if I didn’t have trust in what my team did, the goal we were striving for might never be reached. Giving a person your trust isn’t always because you have to, it’s because you need to. You’re opening yourself up and being vulnerable; giving a chance to show a personal side of you. As for being understanding, nobody is ever perfect but understanding allows us to also be open to one another’s views.

My peers and I had many different ideas and approaches in YLG, and from a very human standpoint, our ideas ultimately matter most to ourselves; and that is okay! The support I received while being in YLG tremendously impacted me, and helped me become a better person. It may seem as if the simple gesture of supporting someone’s ideas and voice doesn’t do much, but the encouragement is key to empowering us. I learned that to create the best environment for a successful team, you have to truly accept and respect each other’s ideas even if they are far from your own.

Before I started working with YLG, I always had a difficult time communicating. After having been through CHAT’s program, I’ve changed, and I’ve come to realize that two (or more) heads are better than one! Instead of just using your own ideas that you might assume is the best and only approach, why not incorporate many ideas and perspectives to contribute to one collective idea? With this understanding I’ve come to realize the importance of teamwork. I now choose to use these strategies to better interact with others in order to reach my goals. The knowledge I’ve gained from being in the Youth Leadership Group did not just enhance my skills but also expanded my openness and acceptance of others.

Being in YLG didn’t only teach me about myself, but more importantly how to work as a team in order to to reach a collective outcome. Having to work with ten+ other youth can be really challenging as there are so many ideas, preferences, voices, and of course personalities. The main thing that stood out was that we all had to trust each other. With the right guidance and mentors (Fres, Tria and Jennifer), we were provided a safe space to focus on these skills. We eventually became very supportive and considerate of each other and created wonderful and memorable events together. This experience was not without its share of frustration and emotions, but with this new found understanding, we worked towards something great and that is a beautiful thing.

Kashia Yang
CHAT Youth Leadership Group, 2010-2014
Central High School Class of 2015