Changemakers is a series that profiles young people who are making radical changes in communities across Minnesota. At 18-years-old, GaoZong and Mai Shoua are using the power of digital storytelling to shift the narrative about young people in Minnesota. As the hosts of the podcast Hear Us Out, this pair of friends work to spotlight youth voices. Each episode features a different young person who speaks about social justice issues that impact their lives. Topics include net neutrality, cultural appropriation and LGBTIQ representation. Read more to learn about Hear Us Out, and the obstacles and successes that these two young Hmong women encountered along the way to becoming podcasters.
GaoZong (Left) & Mai Shoua (Right)
Meet Mai Shoua & GaoZong
The Hear Us Out hosts are using the digital airwaves to amplify youth voice one podcast at a time
Q: Can you start out by telling us a little bit about yourself and the work you do to make change?
GaoZong: My name is GaoZong Lee, I am 18 years old, currently working with the Kitty Andersen Youth Science Center as a media and tech intern. The work I do involves using a podcast to voice youth’s opinions and truths about social justice issues.
Mai Shoua: I am an 18-year-old Hmong female residing in Saint Paul. I am currently trying to attain my AA degree at Century College. I don’t have a major in mind yet since I’m not sure which career I want to pursue. I’ve been working at the Science Museum of Minnesota since I was 16. There, I work inside the KAYSC (Kitty Anderson Youth Science Center). During high school, I was part of a high school crew called Bits to Bites. Our slogan was: “decoding injustice through food justice and technology”. Our social target issue was food deserts and food insecurity around our neighborhood. We attempted to develop a mobile food kitchen cart in the hopes of being able to sell organic produce that our crew grows to the community at a cheap and efficient cost. Today, I am still a part of the KAYSC, but I am now a design and engineering intern whose goal is to deliver STEM knowledge and expose underrepresented youth of color within the community to STEM at a younger age.
Q: What brought you to podcasting?
MS: What brought me into this work is simply that I am a minority female living in America who someday hopes to see her community change dramatically. I do this work in the hopes of inspiring younger youths to carry on with this kind of work and leadership.
GZ: Youthprise and the BrandLab introduced me to this, and I saw it as an opportunity to dip my toes into something new. Also, my passion for media and technology inspired me to try new things.
Q: Can you tell us any specific things that you would like to see changed? How can other people support that change?
MS: A specific change that I would love to see is youth voices being heard and taken in on a more serious level. We are the future leaders and I feel it is important to start making social justice changes around our community as soon as possible because over time we will only grow more and more and this will only happen if you listen to youth. This can be supported by just having an adult tune in to what their youth have to say about certain things and listen to what youth care about. Young people can pitch the idea but it’d be even more ideal with someone who has more authority to stand beside us and help make that idea come to life.
GZ: I would like to see youth’s voices be taken seriously for a change. Other people can support this by being open minded and willing to listen to what young people have to say without judgement. Not only that but through listening, adults can also conversate and grow.
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I would like to see youth’s voices be taken seriously for a change. Other people can support this by being open-minded and willing to listen to what young people have to say without judgment.
Q: As a young person, has anything made it difficult to do your work?
MS: As a young Hmong female and minority, I’ve came to the realization that I definitely do get it harder than other people. My name itself makes it hard enough for me to find a job sometimes, and me being connected to my Hmong culture sometimes even limits me and how far I’m able to pitch and expand an idea out because of how I’m perceived. But because I am aware of all this, it has never really stopped me from going for what I’ve always wanted to do and be.
GZ: The most difficult thing as a young person is not being taken seriously because of my age and feeling like I am being looked down upon. Often times, I feel like my age can be a disadvantage because of my “lack of experience”.
Q: What has supported your growth as a leader, or helped you to do your work?
MS: My two best friends have always been by my side supporting and rooting for my successes and accomplishments. Also, I thank the KAYSC very much for exposing me to all these social issues that I was only slightly aware of. Because of them, my knowledge about social justice has grown tremendously over the years, resulting in me becoming more and more passionate about making changes in my community.
GZ: Interning with the BrandLab shaped me up to be a better and professional person. They helped me find where I fit in, where I can be a leader and a follower. How and when to listen and to speak.
Q: Do you have any advice for organizations or policy makers about how they can best support young people?
MS: My advice for organizations and policy makers on how to best support young people is to definitely be real and expose youth to the reality that goes on in our everyday lives. This means don’t sugar coat anything. We are young adults but that doesn’t mean that our minds aren’t able to handle ugly truths. Another piece of advice is to show and give young people as many leadership skills as possible before they are kicked out of the nest and so they are really ready to spread their wings and fly. Adults help guide every young person’s life and a strong leader begins with the right guide and right content being delivered.
GZ: Listen to young people and take what they have to say seriously. Because most times, it’s coming from a sincere place.
Q: Any advice for young folks who are interested in making change in their communities?
MS: My advice to young people who are passionate about making changes in their community is to definitely take in every single experience that you come across. Every person you meet along your journey is not coincidental but in my personal opinion, a part of a larger fate. I say this because I like to think that a lot of things happen for a reason, and sometimes that reason is upfront but sometimes it’ll be up to you to find out why it happened, what it means, etc. Life is truly the longest, probably even most tiring, and confusing journey you’ll ever be walking on but if you truly believe in something, go grab it for yourself and make the most of it. It’s not going to come to you if you don’t work hard for it, common sense.
GZ: No matter how difficult it may seem, find people who support you and let them be your foundation to doing everything and anything you want to accomplish.