For Nelsie Yang, a 2013 graduate of Park Center Senior High, the road to becoming an at-large delegate at this summer’s Democratic National Convention began nearly one year ago.
A relative newcomer to the political arena, Yang got her start in politics last fall when she joined the reelection campaign for Dai Thao, her local city council member. The experience sparked her desire to bring more Hmong-American representation to politics and advocate for social justice issues.
Fast forward to March 1, 2016 and the Minnesota presidential caucus. At her community caucus that evening, Yang expressed interest in being a national delegate. After several rounds of the selection process, she had a chance to make her dreams a reality at the Minnesota DFL State Convention in June.
“There, I gave a speech highlighting the importance of social justice issues like racial equity and universal health care,” she said. “I spoke about why I wanted to be a delegate and how much it meant to me.”
Although she admits the experience was nerve wracking, her perseverance paid off. Competing against 30 other people for only a few spots, Yang was officially chosen as a delegate and awarded the chance to represent Minnesota on the Democratic Party’s biggest stage.
The role of a delegate at the convention is to place a vote for his or her presidential nominee, but Yang soaked up the entire experience in Philadelphia, meeting other members of the Minnesota contingent including U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison, U.S. Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, and Governor Mark Dayton. She said her most enjoyable moment was seeing President Obama address the audience.
“I never thought I would get the chance to see our president,” she said. “Seeing him in person and hearing his speech inspires me to work even harder to bring change to my community and country.”
Post-convention, Yang took in the sights on the East Coast. Her favorite spot? The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“It was so empowering to stand where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood to fight for civil rights so many years ago,” she added. “It was inspiring; I can see how much progress we’ve made since [he spoke there], but I also know how much farther we still have to go.”
After an eventful summer, Yang is gearing up for her senior year at Minnesota State University-Mankato where she studies social work. She has her eyes set on attending law school at the University of St. Thomas after graduation.
“My goal is to become an attorney; eventually, I’d like to be a judge,” she added.
Yang credits the Osseo Area Schools teachers who have mentored her and the opportunities available during her educational journey for inspiring her to dream big. She was a member of CLIMB (Culture, Leadership, Integrity, Motivation, Build) at Brooklyn Middle School, and said its focus on diversity, acceptance and support played a critical role in shaping her future.
“This program was the outlet for me to express what I wanted to see, and to make me aware that I get to determine my own path,” she said. “Leadership programs and multicultural groups are so important for our schools. We are stronger together.”
And while her job as a Democratic National Convention delegate is complete, Yang is quick to point out that her job as a social justice advocate is ongoing.
“I hope my story will resonate with younger folks who haven’t had a ‘voice’ in the past,” she said. “I hope I can be a catalyst for them to become inspired and get involved.”