Last Friday, I attended a lovely cocktail party at the Manhattan Penthouse in New York for my friend Cao K. O, who until last December served as the Asian American Federation’s first Executive Director since June 1990. Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, fresh off a flight from Washington D.C., was introduced by Jo-Ann Yoo, Interim Executive Director of AAF. The Congresswoman presented Cao with a tribute recognizing him as an important pillar in New York’s Asian American community, an advocate for equality and progress, and as a steadfast champion for justice, that she had entered into the Congressional Record.
“I always trusted his views, passion, leadership. Cao is the kind of person that really brings people together. That is really important,” shared Congresswoman Velázquez. “For 22 years, we worked on so many different issues. I always was impressed, because his agenda was the community’s agenda. It was never about him. It was always about the community. It has been a great journey throughout 22 years of knowing him and being able to try to tackle some of the important issues that are so important for the Asian American community, beyond traffic and education, job creation. The work that we did together in trying to get comprehensive immigration reform and improving health disparities not only in the Asian American community, but also with minority communities throughout New York and across the nation. I’ve been so moved, because Cao is a very special person, and not every day do I have people go on to retirement, so I stood on the House Floor and made a speech. I wanted for it to be in the Congressional Record.
On a night when Cao was being celebrated for his invaluable contributions and years of dedication to the Federation, he was surrounded by many old friends, community members and colleagues including Assemblyman Ron Kim, former City Comptroller John Liu; Chiaki Torisu, Consulate General of Japan in New York: Margaret Fung, Executive Director, AALDEF; Lilian Ling, Assistant Director, AALDEF; Fred Katayama, anchor for Reuters Television; Paul D.C. Huang, President, C.J. Huang Foundation; Hiroshi Aoki, Chairman of the Board of Japanese American Social Services, Inc. (JASSI); Sue Van, President of Wallace H. Coulter Foundation; Bill Imada, Chairman of IW Group; Filmmaker Christine Choy; Larry Lee, Executive Director of New York Asian Women’s Center; Steve Choi, Executive Director of New York Immigration Coalition; Gwynne and her husband PH Tuan; David Chen, Executive Director, Chinese-American Planning Council; Jane Eng, Chief Executive Officer, Charles B. Wang Community Health Center; Mark Handelman, Executive Director, Hamilton-Madison House; Sandy Lee Kawano, CEO, Lee Insurance; Kwang Suk Kim, President, Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York; Gail Kong; Jean Raymundo Lobell, Community Resources Exchange; Karen Rosa, Vice President & Executive Director, Altman Foundation; Jeanette Takamura, Dean of Columbia University School of Social Work; Angie Tang, Executive Director, Committee of 100; Patricia White, Program Director, The New York Community Trust; Pauline Chen; Amy Chu; Lolita Compas; June and Tony Jee; Vicki Shu; and Elaine Chan and Hong Shing Lee, who he has known since the early 80’s, when they were students at Hunter College School of Social Work.
Over 23½ years, Cao K. O built the Federation to become a leading pan-Asian organization in the Northeast, widely recognized for its path-breaking leadership in community building through philanthropy, policy research, and nonprofit capacity-building. In philanthropy, the Federation has raised and leveraged more than ten million dollars and made grants to community organizations that serve children, women, elders, and new immigrants, as well as organizations that promote civic engagement and protect civil rights of Asian Americans. Through research, the Federation has become an authoritative knowledge center that increases public understanding of Asian Americans in the New York region and provides a voice of reason on Asian American concerns. The Federation has produced several consequential studies that influenced policy and funding decisions, concerning the economic impact of September 11th on Chinatown, Asian American mental health needs after 9/11, Asian American elders in New York City, Asian American poverty, and most recently the state of Asian American children. In capacity-building, the Federation has been a trusted advisor and important resource to many community organizations through the provision of training, technical assistance, and problem-solving consultation dealing with organizational management, stability and growth. The Federation has also encouraged and brokered collaboration between organizations and communities. Under Mr. O’s leadership, the Federation has received many awards and recognitions from public officials, and from local and national organizations, including the 2007 National Leadership in Action Award from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Mr. O has maintained an active volunteer role in the nonprofit sector and in civic affairs. He is currently a board member of the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York and Hamilton-Madison House where he served for three years as board president. Previously, he was an active board member of Human Service Council of New York City and the Museum of Chinese in America. Mr. O has also served on many advisory committees of public and private entities, including New York State Community Service Block Grant Advisory Council, New York City Department for the Aging Advisory Council, the Diversity Council of News Corporation, Independent Sector’s 2005 Panel on the Nonprofit Sector work group and its 2013 National Conference Host Committee, as well as several grant committees of United Way of New York City. In September 2003, Mr. O was invited by the U.S. State Department on a speaking tour to Japan, and in 2007, he joined a delegation of civic leaders to visit Israel at the invitation of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Mr. O has been recognized by numerous public officials and organizations. In March, Mr. O was given a Community Service Award by the Ma-Yi Theater at its 25th Anniversary Celebration. In 2013, he was honored by the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. In 2010, Mr. O received a Highest Social Work Leadership Award from the New York Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. He was honored by the New Jersey Asian American Association for Human Services in 2005. In 2003, he was inducted to the Hall of Fame of the Alumni Association of Hunter College. For the month of May 2002, Mr. O was featured as an “Unsung Hero” on WB 11 (WPIX-TV) in recognition of his dedication and leadership in the months after the September 11th tragedy.
Born and raised in Vietnam, Mr. O and his sister arrived in the United States as refugees in 1975. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Cornell University and a master’s degree from Hunter College School of Social Work.
About the Asian American Federation
The Asian American Federation is a nonprofit umbrella organization that works to advance the civic voice and well-being of Asian Americans. We provide leadership to the community through philanthropy, policy research and strengthening community nonprofits.
Established in 1989, the Federation funds, serves and advocates on behalf of more than 40 member agencies in the fields of health & human services, education, economic development, civic participation and social justice. Together, we address Asian American needs and give voice to the community. www.aafederation.org
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Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia recently starred as Carole Barbara in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman, Lorey Hayes, Marcus Naylor and Phynjuar, and made her jazz vocalist debut in Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz “LADY” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York. She is profiled in Jade Magazine.
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