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Phillip Lim: I’m Not an Activist, I’m a Human Being Who’s Been Activated to Stand Up for the Asian Community

On Nov. 30, Phillip Lim will be honored with the Social Impact Award at the 35th annual FN Achievement Awards. Below is a heartfelt letter Lim wrote for FN’s Nov. 29 issue. 

As I reflect on the past year and all that has happened in our community, I’m no longer fearful, I am hopeful. I’m hopeful in my heart and in my spirit because instead of focusing on what happened TO our community, I choose to focus on how we united and grew stronger. We did this in one of the most challenging times we’ve ever faced, when the then-leader of our country was against us — that is the epitome of resilience and the definition of grit. I choose to focus on the most important thing: that we spoke up for ourselves and stood up for each other. That is a very powerful thing, and it has taken us generations to get here.

It is not over, though; this kind of work is never finished. As society and the world continues to change, layers of systemic racism in this country are uncovered, and we face new challenges and issues that can either divide or unite us. It is up to us, every individual and every community, to show up in a way that is going to progress the world for future generations. 

I’ve always believed that no matter what your race, ethnicity, religion or gender is, we all just want to belong. We all have different, complex but equally important stories of our family’s journey seeking a better life, a safe haven with the promise of infinite possibilities and the freedom to pursue our dreams.

I want to belong — as an Asian, as an American, as an immigrant, as a business owner, as a creative entrepreneur and as a human.

It was never my intention to become an “activist,” nor do I still consider myself one; I’m just a human being who has been activated. It took years of trying to fit in, experiencing the constant “othering,” racial microaggressions and always being referred to as the “Asian American” designer to get me here. I’m an American and a human being.

As a leader and with a platform, I feel a large sense of responsibility to do what it is right. It was never about putting myself forward, only the cause. The act of standing up for what I believe in was the only action that felt right in the moment. I stood up for all Asians, Asian Americans, I stand for all victims of senseless violence, for all immigrants, for Mr. Yao Pan Ma, for small business owners and for marginalized communities that were not only blamed but suffered far worse in the pandemic.

Everything that has led me here has been by instinct and integrity, to speak up for what is right and help whoever I can in the fight against racial injustice.

Speaking out was the spark that started #STOPASIANHATE, and it grew from there. I had been given the microphone to help bring aid and awareness to victims of the hate crimes and businesses within my community. The support and overwhelming response were more than I ever could’ve imagined.

One of the biggest initiatives that I am so proud of is the GoFundMe. Along with myself, Musa Tariq, Bing Chen, Robecta Ma, Vinh Long Nguyen and the amazing team at GoFundMe, we’ve been able to support the AAPI community and raise nearly $7 million.  This fund has been able to aid and give resources to victims of hate crimes, small businesses, various AAPI communities and grassroot organizations. It’s been such an incredible uplift for our community.

With every experience comes continued growth and the possibility to harness our own power further. It is actually a superpower. Here are a few things I’ve learned: 

1. We need to stop separating who we are from what we do. There are no lanes anymore, everything is interconnected. What is professional is personal. Our best work comes from being our authentic self and prioritizing our values and point of view in the service we provide to the world. The more we do this, the greater our impact will be.

2. Own your authenticity. Speak your truth but also realize that the answer isn’t always immediate. Give yourself the space to own who you are and process all that you have endured. The fight for social justice is one that is long; we won’t overcome everything overnight. Keep the energy and find comfort in your community.

3. Be present. Don’t worry too much about the future, but what you are doing in the present moment. Focus your energy on what you are currently working on and start with the end in mind. Channeling our energy into the present will make for a better future. We get wrapped up in what the future holds, but we need to face the adversity that is currently looking straight at us. Take on each day as it comes, have trust that we are currently building a better tomorrow, together.

There is strength in numbers — we can no longer be silenced. For so long, we have been seen as the model minority, we are taught to absorb our trauma and live with it. This is no longer the case. We will be seen, we will be heard and we will be the change for future generations.

There is a power in speaking up and fighting for what you believe in. In turn, this gives others the encouragement and bravery to also take a stand. I am calling on the fashion community and beyond to keep fighting for all marginalized communities. There is so much work left to be done. This is just the beginning.

With gratitude, Phillip Lim

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