Communities of Hope ”features Detroiters from communities of color who have sought ways to persevere during the pandemic.


Last year, civic engagement organizers rushed to educate voters during the pandemic. Some groups have found ways to move in-person activities to Zoom or other virtual connections to fulfill their mission.

Rising Voices, a group that organizes Asian American women and families in Michigan, felt it was essential that people come to vote during a presidential election year.

Prior to the pandemic, Rising Voices executives met regularly in person to learn about the unique needs of Michigan’s 180,000 Asian American voters. Like many civic engagement organizations, the group helped people register to vote and be counted in the census. Executive Director Laura Misumi said achieving these goals would send an important message.

We really saw how the pandemic increased existing inequalities in our communities, and we wanted to make sure people had equal access to information about what was going on. “—Laura Misumi, Rising voices

Last year’s election was an opportunity for our community to come forward and show with force that you are not going to defend the way we have been treated and vilified, through the ban on Muslims, to through all these different other policies enacted under the previous administration, ”she said.

Preserving communities

Asian Americans are often not hired by voter groups, and many believe they will not be numerous. During the pandemic, Misumi says it was even more important for Asian Americans to vote and stand up to the anti-Asian rhetoric of former President Trump, who called the coronavirus “Kung Flu” or of “Chinese virus”.

About two or three months before the lockdown during the pandemic, it’s kinda tight when we started trying to think about doing programs in person and finally having staff that we could actually implement some things with, ” she says.

Courtesy of Laura Misumi

Laura Misumi is the Executive Director of Rising Voices.

Initially, the Rising Voices team recruited bilingual telephone bank workers to educate Michigan residents about the census. As soon as the pandemic hit, that effort turned to welfare phone calls.

Misumi says it was important to know that the community was Okay and had real-time information about the coronavirus, especially since many minority populations are essential frontline workers who work in hospitals, grocery stores and factories.

And we knew how important it was for us to try to get the word out to our communities, both about what was going on for the census, but also about the wellbeing measures people can do to help. protect themselves during this period, because we also knew that there was a delay in the state’s ability to produce documents on COVID in the language, ”says Misumi.

Rising Voices sent letters with information from the World Health Organization telling residents how to protect their health and the importance of preserving communities by completing the census.

We really saw how the pandemic increased the existing inequalities in our communities, and we wanted to make sure that people had equal access to information about what was going on, how to stay safe, how to access tests, and then later on. vaccines, but also by making sure that we ask our government representatives to take our communities into account, in preparing a response, ”she said.

The power of language

Grand Blanc's Shriya Yarlagadda started as a paid telephone banker with Rising Voices in June 2020, calling people 20 hours a week, for four weeks.  Courtesy of Shriya Yarlagadda

Courtesy of Shriya Yarlagadda

Grand Blanc’s Shriya Yarlagadda started as a paid telephone banker with Rising Voices in June 2020, calling people 20 hours a week, for four weeks.

Misumi says 59,000 Asian Americans in Michigan voted absent in 2020 out of 101,000 self-identified Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders AAPI voters in legislative elections. This is against 8,000 in 2016.

She says Rising Voices aims to ensure that Asian Americans are seen as a political force in the state – a diverse group made up of different cultures and languages.

One of these languages ​​is Telegu, a South Asian language.

Shriya Yarlagadda of the Grand Blanc started as a paid telephone banker with Rising Voices in June 2020, calling people 20 hours a week, for four weeks.

I was hired, in part because of my knowledge of Telugu, ”Yarlagadda explains.

Yarlagadda had previously worked on telephone banks for we Senator Debbie Stabenow and Governor Gretchen Whitmer. She spoke to predominantly white voters. She heard about Rising Voices and then applied as a Rising Voices Youth Leadership and Civic Engagement Fellow. Yarlagadda says working with the organization during the pandemic allowed it to have real conversations before providing voter information.

Film and television producer Kristine Patnugot previously worked on political campaigns before joining Rising Voices.  Jarod lew

Jarod lew

Film and television producer Kristine Patnugot previously worked on political campaigns before joining Rising Voices.

For example, she would call and say, “I’m calling to verify that you are doing Okay with the COVID-19 situation. I have a list of phone numbers and contact details or resources if you need them. ‘ And then afterwards, we would say, this is the organization that I work with. And that’s what we do.

Like Yarlagadda, Kristine Patnugot previously worked on political campaigns before joining Rising Voices. Patnugot is a film and television producer and writer who has worked on Rising Voices PSAs. PSAs were created to address a variety of issues. They encouraged Asian Americans to assert their political power in elections to challenge misinformation and ensure every vote was counted. The messages were produced in 10 languages.

We had Spanish, Bengali, Tagalog, Cambodian, Cantonese, Mandarin and Arabic, ”she says.

Patnugot says the pandemic has prompted many to pay more attention to election information.

And I think the ability to use resources like Zoom and reach people on the internet is so much more important right now because a lot of us don’t engage as much in person, so the power of The internet has been very clear, ”she says.

This year, Rising Voices has started door-to-door again for next week’s municipal elections. The organization always understands the importance of taking care of each other and the whole community during COVID.


Listen: Rising Voices provides voter education and wellness support during the pandemic.


Reliable, precise, up to date.

WDET strives to make our journalism accessible to everyone. As a public media institution, we maintain our journalistic integrity through the independent support of readers like you. If you value WDET as a source of information, music and conversation, please give a gift today.

Donate Today »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.