Audrey’s Women of Influence | Valarie Kaur, Founder of Groundswell at Auburn Seminary


Influence comes in many forms, from high-profile advocates who are shaping ideas on an international stage to local heroes who are breaking barriers and defying expectations in their own communities. In our inaugural series celebrating influential Asian American women, Audrey Magazine highlights eight newsmakers, activists, leaders and trailblazers who encourage us to pursue our dreams, explore the unknown, and stand up for those without a voice.


by Ada Tseng

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On September 11, 2001, Valarie Kaur watched in horror, along with her fellow Americans, as the two towers fell. A third generation Sikh American — her grandparents came from India to California a century ago as farmers — her fear and sorrow took on another dimension when she realized the image of America’s new enemy looked like her family. Kaur was flooded with email alerts about hate crimes directed at her community, and four days later, a man she knew as “uncle” was murdered in front of his gas station by a man who called himself a patriot.

Though her first instinct was to hide, Kaur and her cousin took a road trip across the country to chronicle hate crimes against Sikh, Muslim and other Americans. This initiated her journey an activist, and her footage was eventually edited into the 2006 feature-length documentary Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath, with the help of filmmaker Sharat Raju, who would eventually become her husband and creative collaborator.

“When I look back at my college self, I see how much I had yet to learn,” says Kaur. “I was naïve about the challenges and personal costs of working for social justice. I hadn’t learned how to weave joy and balance into my projects, and I often worked myself into the ground. But I also admire parts of me: the easy impulse for compassion, a willingness to be vulnerable, a readiness to leap into the unknown.”

Kaur has been telling stories since she was teenager, realizing her Sikh faith, history and culture were absent from her schoolbooks. However, in 2004, when she was wrongfully arrested while filming a protest at the Republican National Convention and injured by a police officer — resulting in a chronic pain condition that left her functionally disabled in her right arm for years — she realized storytelling wasn’t enough. Embattled with the desire to fight for others, she enrolled in Yale Law School to work on civil rights issues.

After law school, she founded Groundswell at Auburn Seminary, a nonprofit initiative based on the idea that there’s “a groundswell of people, especially young people, who are calling upon their faith, tradition or moral compass to challenge the status quo.” Groundswell encourages people to lead campaigns for social change, whether they’re fighting for immigration reform, religious freedom, LGBTQ equality, human trafficking, hate crimes, gun violence — you name it.

Even with numerous success stories under her belt, Kaur’s life of activism is not without obstacles that challenge her faith. One such moment came on August 5, 2012, when there was a fatal mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc.

“The last year has been an unprecedented moment in the history of the Sikh American community,” she told India Abroad, who featured Kaur as a Person of the Year this June. “In the wake of Oak Creek, I experienced sadness and grief that felt similar to the aftermath of 9/11. But this time, 11 years later, something remarkable happened: the nation’s cameras turned to our community. For the first time in 100 years of history, we stood at the center of the nation’s attention. … As a result, tens of thousands of people stood with us to say that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”

Civil rights organizations including the Sikh Coalition and Groundswell had been campaigning for years for the U.S. government to better monitor hate crimes, and this past June, an FBI advisory policy board passed the vote to track hate crimes against Sikh, Hindu and Arab Americans.

“Storytelling is an act of rebellion, art, introspection and revelation,” says Kaur, who is working on a feature documentary about Oak Creek. “I always knew that I wanted to spend my life using stories to help heal the world. But I didn’t know how. As a scholar, unearthing untold stories of the past? As a filmmaker, telling stories on the big screen? As a lawyer, using stories strategically in halls of power to fight on behalf of people? As a public intellectual, using stories to deepen national discourse in the media? For the last decade, I’ve experimented with all these forms of storytelling, and I began to blaze my own path.”



On Groundswell

Coming out of law school, I founded Groundswell, an initiative at Auburn Seminary that connects and equips people across many faiths and backgrounds in one network to wage campaigns. We train people to use storytelling in movements for social change using digital tools. We run campaigns responding to today’s most pressing social issues, including LGBTQ equality, human trafficking, hate crimes, and gun violence. In little over a year, our base has grown to nearly 100,000 members. We now invite all people of faith and moral conscious to use the Groundswell platform to launch their own campaigns.

On the Yale Visual Law Project, where she makes films and trains students in the art of visual advocacy at Yale Law School

The Yale Visual Law Project is now beginning its fourth year at Yale Law School. We have sister organizations at other law schools too. My hope is that more lawyers and advocates will partner with filmmakers to use storytelling for social change campaigns.

We recently released our latest film The Worst of the Worst about the practice of solitary confinement in America’s supermax prisons. The film shows how supermax prisons harm all who walk through the doors by using personal stories of the people inside: a former inmate trying to rebuild his life but haunted by memories from the prison, a guard suffering from PTSD and the buddies trying to help him, and a desperate mother on a mission to support a son who spends 23 hours a day in isolation. It reflects my belief that changing the world requires more than battling individual bad actors; it requires challenging those institutions of power designed to bring out the worst in us. Within months of its release, the film has played a role in reforming the supermax prison in Connecticut and emptying its cells.

Who influences you?

My mother’s father was Captain Gurdial Singh Gill, who lived with my brother and me our entire childhood. He is the single greatest influence on my life – my guiding star and pillar of wisdom.

My grandfather’s last lesson to me was this: In life, you will endure the noise and whip of the whirlwind. But if you dare to walk the path of a saint-soldier, the deepest part of your heart will always be sheltered from the swirling hot winds. You just have to practice residing in that still sacred center. For me, each day presents an opportunity to live boldly like Papa Ji, and each night to close my eyes with love and gratitude in my heart, as he did.




Audrey’s Women of Influence | Grace Ueng, Founder and CEO of Savvy Marketing Group (with Web Exclusives!)


Influence comes in many forms, from high-profile advocates who are shaping ideas on an international stage to local heroes who are breaking barriers and defying expectations in their own communities. In our inaugural series celebrating influential Asian American women, Audrey Magazine highlights eight newsmakers, activists, leaders and trailblazers who encourage us to pursue our dreams, explore the unknown, and stand up for those without a voice.


by Ada Tseng

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Grace Ueng was supposed to be an engineer. Her father was a professor at Georgia Tech, she grew up surrounded by engineering magazines, and after only applying to universities that had engineering programs, she ended up at MIT. But when she got there, she found herself scrambling to find her place in this environment of technical geniuses.

What she discovered was that she was a better leader than a programmer. Despite the fact that she had mapped out an escape route to study English at another Ivy League, she ended up being elected president of her MIT class and continued to serve for the next three years. After transferring to the school’s Sloan School of Management, where she studied management science and marketing, Ueng started the Sloan undergraduate Management Association, which still runs today. She would eventually go to Harvard Business School.

“I wasn’t the super geek who codes, but because I went to MIT, I really understood technical people,” says Ueng, who has worked for a number of technology start-ups and led campaigns for entrepreneurial technology companies that produced more than $1 billion of value for investors. “A lot of technical people don’t know how to bring their brilliance to the market, but in order for people to take advantage of their invention, it has to be packaged up. That’s where I come in.”

Nowadays, as CEO of Savvy Marketing Group, whose slogan is “Your successful venture is our passion,” Ueng has been called everything from “a success accelerator,” “a strategic weapon” to “a corporate therapist” by clients that now understand how strategic marketing can be integral to the success of their company.

When Ueng founded Savvy Marketing, many of her earlier clients were based in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, home to many of the nation’s prominent high-tech research and development centers. Ten years and approximately 100 projects later, she has branched out into health care (marketing medical technologies and devices), has started a nonprofit practice (recently, she helped revamp the business plan of a local organization that gives small business loans to rural and underprivileged populations), and has begun consulting companies interested in taking advantage of the Chinese market (an area she became interested in after teaching entrepreneurial marketing at Shanghai’s Fudan university).

Looking back, when she was working in executive teams where she was often the youngest member and the only Asian American woman, she says she was always trying to be superwoman. “Also, because I was a single mom, I felt like I had to prove that I could do what men, who had wives to do everything at home for them, could do,” says Ueng. “And now I realize women should just be themselves. I was always so focused, but you can’t always plan life.”

This was a lesson that was cemented eight years ago when she “literally went downhill at 40.” A few days before her 40th birthday, she was involved in a biking accident that left her with a broken neck and without her short-term memory. Neurospecialists told her she couldn’t work for months, but she was able to relearn everything and finish the projects she promised she would finish. Since then, she’s established a healthier work-life balance, and her second chance at life just makes her appreciate her work more.

“I want my clients to think big, and I want to help them get big,” says Ueng. “One of my CEO clients said to me, ‘Grace, you will things to happen.’ All entrepreneurs will things to happen; you have to really want it. Especially when there are mountain-moving goals, you have to inspire people to make it happen.”



On being initially intimidated while studying at MIT

I sometimes think that if I went to a less intense school, maybe I would have been an engineer. But it was my freshman year, I was put with the smartest woman from Korea and the smartest person from the Philippines, and everyone was so intensely brilliant. Then there was me, from Georgia, where people say, “Hey y’all!” I realized being a science brainiac wasn’t my thing, and decided to do what I wanted to do in that environment. It was definitely very rigorous, but I was always surrounded by very collaborative people at MIT.

On her bike accident at 40

It was a life-changing experience. After my head injury, my first words were in Chinese, [which she had learned as a kid but didn’t speak as an adult]. It was such a wild experience, and when I started forgetting my Chinese, they told me it was good cause my brain was healing. I couldn’t work for a number of months because I had to rest, and that was hard. It made me really appreciate life because it was almost gone, and I was also asked to do more inspirational talks, which I loved.

On her initial goals when working with clients 

First, I always want to understand what the client’s goals are and how our influence can help them be successful. When Ping Fu [of Geomagic, now 3D Systems Corporation] hired me, she told me, “I seek truth, not comfort.” And our role to always tell the truth to our clients. We see things in a different way. They’re so close to their business, and we can give them an outside perspective, and sometimes it’s tough, because I definitely see all the issues, but it’s my responsibility to point them out and help figure out solutions. It’s our responsibility to go in quickly, assess the situation, ask for the right data, gather the right data, and generate new data in order to glean insights and help implement change.

Who influences you? 

Well, I’m most influenced by my parents and the way I was brought up, and then, on a day to day basis, by my 16-year-old son. And also my friends and clients, because I’m picky about the people I work with. I work with people with integrity and big goals. But I even learn from my interns because young people have a totally different point of view, and as much as they say I mentor them, it’s a two-way street. I think I learn from everybody, and you should learn from everybody.



Audrey’s Women of Influence | Somaly Mam, Co-founder and President of the Somaly Mam Foundation


Influence comes in many forms, from high-profile advocates who are shaping ideas on an international stage to local heroes who are breaking barriers and defying expectations in their own communities. In our inaugural series celebrating influential Asian American women, Audrey Magazine highlights eight newsmakers, activists, leaders and trailblazers who encourage us to pursue our dreams, explore the unknown, and stand up for those without a voice.


by Ada Tseng

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“When I was in the brothels, I felt like I had died inside, even though my body was alive,” says Somaly Mam, a former human trafficking victim who has dedicated her life to ending the sex slave trade around the world. “I would have loved for someone to help me, but there was nobody I could call or trust. These memories inspire me to do what I am doing today. You cannot forget, but you can forgive and love again.”

After being orphaned as a child during Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge rule, Mam was forced into prostitution by an abusive man she called “grandfather,” and she suffered for many years until a French aid worker helped her escape Cambodia in 1993. Mam says that at the time, she had no idea that she would devote herself to this cause, eventually co-founding the French nonprofit foundation AFESIP in 1996 and, in 2007, becoming the president and face of the Somaly Mam Foundation, which supports victim services, eradication efforts, and survivor empowerment from their New York Headquarters. Somaly and her team have rescued over 7,000 women and girls to date, and have touched the lives of tens of thousands more through peer education and outreach efforts.

“My life immediately changed the day I met a girl named Tom Dy who suffered from HIV/AIDS,” says Mam. “She reminded me of my past life in the brothels, and I immediately took her home with me because I wanted her to feel safe. There are more and more girls who need help to build new lives with dignity, but how? It takes five minutes to save them from brothels, but what are you going to do with them? This is the challenge.”

Mam not only participates in raids to help girls as young as 5 escape, but the foundation provides shelters and rehabilitation programs that help reintegrate the victims into the world. When Mam first started AFESIP, she asked trusted friends to help teach the girls how to sew; nowadays, there is education provided for the younger girls, and career training for the older ones, from hairdressing to computer skills and English-language classes.Eradicating human trafficking, now the second most profitable criminal enterprise, requires more global attention. At the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in 2012, President Obama named human trafficking as a national priority, and he became the first ever U.S. president to visit Cambodia. However, a 2013 UN report stated that people trafficked now come from at least 118 countries — 58 percent are for sexual exploitation and most are women, with the number of children increasing.

“When you see a woman sitting on the street, ask yourself who she is, what her story might be, where she might come from,” says Mam. “If she had a choice, maybe she would have chosen something different for her life. Please do not look down on her. Please do not abuse her further. There are a lot of problems in the world, and human trafficking is only part of the larger problem of the breakdown of values and connection between people.”

Mam not only provides this connection for her girls who call her “Mom,” but she encourages them to speak out for themselves through the foundation’s Voices of Change program, run by survivor Sina Vann. Some of the girls also host the “Somaly’s Family” anti-trafficking radio show in Cambodia to spread awareness. By empowering the victims, they are, in a sense, creating a powerful legion of mini Somaly Mams.

“I am so proud of the survivors in the program who stand up and advocate for those whose voices are not being heard,” says Mam. “There is a young generation of leaders who are engaged in this fight, and that gives me great hope for change.”



On the Voices for Change program

Voices for Change is designed to give survivors an opportunity to help themselves by helping others, to have their voices heard in the courts of law and public perception, and to have influence and impact on effectuating change. It is our vision that from those who have struggled through the pain of slavery will arise a new generation of leaders who stand for justice and free will. Some of our survivor-leaders host their own radio talk show, for the purpose of raising awareness in the community: in Cambodia, radio is still the best way to reach the masses.

In collaboration with UNIAP, Voices For Change conduct trainings in combating human trafficking to police, gendarmeries and local authorities who obligate to implement law legislation. In addition, they facilitate a student coalition as [a means of] groundbreaking local activism to combat human trafficking in the next generation.

On watching her girls grow up

My work means so much to me because I watch these children get their childhood back: especially when I see them going to school. Thousands of women have been reintegrated with sustainable livelihoods; some of them have gotten married and now have their own families. I cannot tell you what these stories mean to me. In addition to two girls who are now university students, there are three more girls who have just taken their high school diploma exam in the last couple days. After all they have been through in their lives, they are going to have a degree in the near future.

On Sina Vann, her right-hand woman and the Voices of Change co-director

Sina is a survivor, trafficked when she was 12 years old from Vietnam to Cambodia. She was drugged and locked up, and for many years was forced to take 20 clients a day — if she refused she was beaten. When she came to us, she hated all Cambodians because of what had been done to her. My staff said we could not take her — she was too much a fighter, too violent and unpredictable. She didn’t speak Khmer, I didn’t speak Vietnamese, but I took her hands in mine and looked her in the eye. I was careful and loving with her, and soon we understood one another. Sina stayed with us — she did not leave! — and as she recovered in the center, she learned Khmer and English and began to show leadership qualities. Now she works in the field every day doing outreach and advocacy, visiting the centers, inspiring the younger girls, and traveling to speaking engagements and conferences.

Who influences you?

Mainly my girls influence me. I see them recovering, going to school and having hope. Secondly, my team’s work: they work so hard to support victims and survivors. Thirdly, my team of Voices for Change survivors; they stand up and advocate for those whose voices are not being heard. And all the supporters around the world influence me too. Without them, none of our achievements could have happened.




Audrey’s Women of Influence | Alex Wagner, Host of MSNBC’s NOW with Alex Wagner


Influence comes in many forms, from high-profile advocates who are shaping ideas on an international stage to local heroes who are breaking barriers and defying expectations in their own communities. In our inaugural series celebrating influential Asian American women, Audrey Magazine highlights eight newsmakers, activists, leaders and trailblazers who encourage us to pursue our dreams, explore the unknown, and stand up for those without a voice.


by Ada Tseng

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Host of MSNBC’s NOW with Alex Wagner

If two Fulbright scholars from Burma have a daughter, and this progressively minded woman, who worked at the historic nonprofit American Association of University Women (AAUW) to empower young girls, procreates with a top U.S. political strategist who worked on Ted Kennedy’s and Bill Clinton’s campaigns for president, you might just end up with someone like Alex Wagner, the host of MSNBC’s daily political opinion program NOW with Alex Wagner.

According to Wagner, her interest in journalism started “in utero,” and she worked on her school newspapers from elementary school all the way through college. Politics also runs in her bloodstream, and early memories of her father include him coming home every night from the Ted Kennedy campaign, immediately picking up the phone and asking for the poll numbers of the day. “When I was little, that’s how I learned to answer the phone,” says Wagner. “I’d stand on the chair in the kitchen to pick up the phone, and I’d say ‘Give me the numbers!’”

There was always a healthy amount of debate at the dinner table, a skill that would prove helpful many years later when she launched her own show. In addition to showcasing a young, diverse female voice, NOW with Alex Wagner values Wagner’s unconventional broadcast background: she worked on music and cultural magazines before becoming the cultural correspondent for the Center for American Progress; executive director of the advocacy organization Not on Our Watch, started by the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon; White House correspondent for Politics Daily; and then a contributing analyst to MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.

NOW highlights issues close to Wagner’s heart, including income inequality, social mobility, immigration, surveillance and national security, but it’s important to Wagner to make news interesting and accessible to a wider audience — whether it’s having openly gay Speaker of the New York City Council Christine Quinn come on to talk about how even conservative New Yorkers are congratulating her on her marriage, or booking untraditional guests like Questlove from The Roots to talk about his reaction to the Zimmerman verdict. “We are all part of the national dialogue,” says Wagner. “It’s just that some voices are heard more than others.”

In 2012, Wagner was given the opportunity to sit down with Burma’s Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, as part of Amnesty International’s Rights Generation town hall event in Washington, D.C. Wagner’s family on her mother’s side are Burmese exiles who were granted safe passage to the U.S. when her grandmother was hired to head the East Asian books department at the Library of Congress. Decades later, Wagner was able to take her 96-year-old grandmother to meet the iconic pro-democracy leader.

“I don’t want to take away from the fact that it’s a difficult time for Burma,” says Wagner, “but just the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi was released [from 15 years of house arrest], then the fact that she was in the U.S., and then finally that my grandmother could be in the room, alive, to see her gain freedom and have her granddaughter interview her — I never imagined it in my wildest dreams.”

Wagner credits her grandmother, who used to take her to Burmese Democracy Movement protests as a kid, for gifting her a passion for activism and advocacy early. “She was always trying to get arrested,” says Wagner. “Nowadays, more people know about Burma, but this was a time when unspeakable atrocities were being committed against ethnic peoples of Burma, and nobody was paying any attention. My grandmother was out there waving her signs, and she got arrested when she was 84 or 85.” Wagner laughs. “I remember my mother was so indignant, but my grandmother was completely unapologetic.”

It’s this type of political spirit that Wagner wants to inspire in her viewers. “I hope the show is a reminder of the importance of politics, service and democracy, and that it will encourage more people to believe in the process and participate,” she says. “It’d be great if someone thought, ‘I want to make a difference in that issue, so I’m going to run for PTA to get involved in these questions of education, I’m going to march against this cause, or I’m going to get involved in a death penalty case.’ I hope we promote awareness and optimism about the power to change.”



On how her parents met

My mother is a Burmese exile. My grandfather was involved in the Burmese government before the military coup, things became very difficult for my family in the early 1960s, and they needed to get out of the country. Both my grandmother and grandfather had been Fulbright scholars who came to the US in 1950s, and my grandmother had done her master’s in Library Science at Catholic University in Washington DC, so they contacted their circles to see if they could get assistance getting out of Burma. The US Library of Congress actually needed someone to be the head of their East Asian Books Department, so they arranged all the papers and necessary visas for my grandmother and uncle and mother to get safe passage to the US. But it took 3 or 4 years for them to get out of the country, and in an absolutely stunning move, the Library of Congress kept the position open for years so that my grandmother and family would have a place that they’d be able to come in the US. My mom and uncle went to college in US, and my grandfather eventually joined them a few years later. My mom was very politically-minded in college and eventually ended up in DC working for Teamsters labor union, and my dad was person who hired her.

On starting NOW with Alex Wagner in 2011 in the midst of the presidential campaigns

[MSNBC president] Phil Griffin is kind of a maverick. He is just went for it. He said, “Let’s just do this thing at noon.” He was upfront. “You’ll probably suck for first six weeks and the first six months, and then you’ll figure it out.” [laughs] He had a very open and adventurous attitude toward it, and since he is the president of the network, if he has that attitude, it’s contagious. You think, let’s give it a shot!

On some levels, it’s harder to start a show during a presidential campaign, but in other ways, it’s easier, because it’s a pre-determined set of stories. Now, we’re in a different period, so the way we go about picking stories is like developing a different muscle group. In some ways, it’s scary and difficult, but if you’re curious about world, it’s a very fortuitous time to be in news.

On learning to share her political opinions on air

There’s a difference between having your point of view in a discussion with your producers and saying it on the air, and it’s taken some time and experience to figure it out. Sometimes I have said things that perhaps were not the most thought-out, but as I’ve gotten more comfortable with the medium, my producers and I have become more comfortable showcasing my opinion and writing scripts that are reflective of my point of view. But at same time, it’s important for us to allow room for debate and discussion that gives ample time to people who have different points of view. As much you may hear my opinion and understand where I’m coming from, I try not to make it so that I’m litigating my point of view — that my view is the only view. Preserving that is a really important part of the show.

Who influences you?

Nelson Mandela is a huge inspiration. I was just looking through biographies of him a couple months ago, when we thought he might pass way, and his life is so incredibly extraordinary. His perseverance and belief in a hope unseen. That’s the story of Mandela that I think everyone should carry with them at all times.



Audrey’s Women of Influence | Madhulika Sikka, Executive Editor for NPR News (with Web Exclusives!)


Influence comes in many forms, from high-profile advocates who are shaping ideas on an international stage to local heroes who are breaking barriers and defying expectations in their own communities. In our inaugural series celebrating influential Asian American women, Audrey Magazine highlights eight newsmakers, activists, leaders and trailblazers who encourage us to pursue our dreams, explore the unknown, and stand up for those without a voice.


by Ada Tseng

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Executive Editor for NPR News

Every week, 26 million people tune in to National Public Radio programs and NPR Newscasts — more than the total circulation of the top national newspapers — and since January 2013, Madhulika Sikka, an Indian American woman born in England, has been responsible for setting the agenda for the entire news division.

On any given morning, her team could be placing equal importance on the Detroit bankruptcy, President Obama’s economic tour, the golden age of television, new methods to engage their audience in an honest discussion about race, and Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge, a.k.a. the royal baby.

“I’m a big believer in satisfying your wonk and your whimsy,” says Sikka, who previously executive produced NPR’s newsmagazine Morning Edition. “It might have something to do with my own personal news ADD, but I just think that we’re curious people, and we’re curious about lots of things. It is no accident that we have a program called All Things Considered.”


Sikka is extremely pleased with NPR’s global health and science coverage that other broadcasters don’t cover as thoroughly — exploring tuberculosis outbreaks around the world and incidents of polio coming back — but she also wants to make sure her listeners are prepared for lighter water-cooler conversations around the office.

“We have two extraordinary female correspondents that covered Syria as well as anybody, and I’m proud of that coverage because it’s vital to our mission,” says Sikka. “But I’m also proud of the enormously great coverage we’ve done on cultural issues, like this summer’s series on the different kinds of media that kids are exposed to.”

But being multifaceted in content is not enough: it’s also very important to Sikka that NPR News continually evolves with technology and that there’s a fluid relationship between all platforms, whether it’s radio, digital tech, multimedia or social media. “None of us could have imagined the incredible range of ways we get to tell our stories now,” she says. “It’s really incredible the things we can do, the tools that we accrue, and how technology allows us to be in places that might have been completely out of reach before.”

Next year, Sikka will be publishing her first book, The Breast Cancer Alphabet, a collection of personal essays she wrote when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and went through treatment in 2011. “There’s kind of a mythology around breast cancer that’s very pink and fluffy and positive,” she says. “And that is not the experience the whole time, so I felt like I gave myself permission to not feel that way. It ended up being an alphabet — starting at A for Anxiety, H for Hair, M for Mastectomy, ending at Z — and I hope it will be of use to other people going through it.”

Whether it’s providing “4 Tips To Help A Foodie Get Through Chemo,” penning a Daily Beast article about her late mother’s bravery (“As I wrapped her body in a red sari for her funeral, it dawned on me that her refusal to dress in Western clothing was more pioneering than anything I had ever done”), or slipping behind the scenes to study how best to engage her growing NPR audience (an intellectually curious group that hungers for, above all, interesting stories), Sikka wants us to open up our minds in terms of how we view the world.

“I think our primary goal is to provide information so they can be informed about the decisions and choices they make,” says Sikka. “If [our listeners] learn one thing that they didn’t know before, then we’re doing pretty well. An informed democracy is a more healthy democracy.”



On why she’s wanted to be a journalist since she was 16

I wanted to be able to shed light on things that were happening around the country and around the globe. I grew up in England watching the BBC and being impressed at their ability to be everywhere, to open a window to places and issues that I might not have otherwise thought about. And I thought that was a wonderful thing to do.

On the difference between working on Morning Edition vs. being Executive Editor of NPR News

When you produce a daily news show, it’s very focused. You’re responsible for filling two hours every day without a break, so producing Morning Edition helped me hone the skill of working fast and being decisive — which is what a deadline does to you.

[Being Executive Editor of] NPR News is different. I’ve been a news person my whole life — that is what runs through my blood system, and that’s hard to eliminate — but now, to have a hand in discussing broader coverage, and even coverage online, is a really exciting new prospect for me. How can we move, how can we react, what’s appropriate for each particular outlet? For example, when the President came out unannounced [to speak about the Zimmerman verdict and reactions in the African American community], I realized it was a pretty extraordinary thing to hear a President speak that way, so we were able to get together very quickly and talk about what we’d do in next hour, the next morning, the morning after that, what we’d do online, etc. And that’s really what you come in for.


On her first book, The Breast Cancer Alphabet

I never thought I’d write a book, and I certainly didn’t think this was the book I’d write if I was going to write a book. When I was getting treatment, I was just writing a little bit for myself, because I had things I needed to get out. A lot of people encouraged me to write and then talking to people helped me hone a concept. My agents and publishers are excited about it, because they think it’s a different kind of cancer book.

Who influences you?

I wrote about my mother and her death in an article that was published in the Daily Beast.  It took me a while to come to the realization that she was a very brave woman. She got married when she was not quite 18, left her family behind and moved to England in 1960s.

I think that there’s a different measure for our modern interpretation of a brave woman, but it’s kind of extraordinary to think about that generation of women in the Indian diaspora and the idea that you’d have three kids with a stranger in an arranged marriage and raise them by yourself with no family around in early 1960’s England, which wasn’t the most hospitable place in the world for people of color, all without the benefits that we have today. I can’t go a week without calling my family in England, but Skype wasn’t even around when she was alive.

So are there amazing pioneering women in journalism? Yes, of course, and also in other spheres of life, but when I actually took the time to think about what my mom did, it’s pretty remarkable.




Audrey Magazine’s Women of Influence | Keli Lee, Executive VP of Casting at ABC Entertainment (with Web Exclusives!)


Influence comes in many forms, from high-profile advocates who are shaping ideas on an international stage to local heroes who are breaking barriers and defying expectations in their own communities. In our inaugural series celebrating influential Asian American women, Audrey Magazine highlights eight newsmakers, activists, leaders and trailblazers who encourage us to pursue our dreams, explore the unknown, and stand up for those without a voice.


by Ada Tseng

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 8.39.45 AM
Photo by Narith Vann Ta.

Executive VP of Casting at ABC Entertainment

For everyone who’s grateful for the recent rise of minority faces on American television, it’s important to note that behind every Sandra Oh in Grey’s Anatomy, every Daniel Dae Kim, Yunjin Kim, Jorge Garcia and Naveen Andrews in Lost, is a casting director responsible for pairing these actors with the unforgettable roles that will go down in television history.

Keli Lee, an executive who has been casting TV shows at ABC for more than 20 years, was on her way to law school when she landed a fortuitous college internship that introduced her to the entertainment casting industry. In her first week working for Phyllis Huffman, who often did casting for Clint Eastwood’s films, Lee operated the video camera that captured the auditions for the Academy Award-winning 1992 film Unforgiven. From there, she eventually worked her way up the ladder, and as Executive VP of Casting at ABC, Lee now has a corner office with a view and spends her days looking for the next new star.

Born in South Korea, Lee moved to the States as a toddler, and whenever her father stayed in Korea for work, her adventurous, road-trip-loving mother would move her young kids to a new state every six or seven months, depending on her whims. “Up until I was 13, I never started or finished the same school, so I met thousands of people from around the country,” says Lee. “It forced me to socialize and understand people, and ultimately I think that’s how I got to be good at what I do. I’m searching for people and learning about their emotional core.”

For Lee, more important than finding a good-looking specimen or skilled thespian is determining whether the actor is authentic. “I think within the first 10 seconds of meeting someone, you can get a sense of a person,” says Lee. “You know whether you want to continue to watch them.”

Twelve years ago, Lee started the ABC Casting Department’s Talent Showcase with the goal of providing more opportunities for minority actors who either don’t have representation or aren’t even aware of the opportunities available. Since its inception, 14,000 people have auditioned, and 432 actors have participated in 30 showcases, with winners earning mentorships. Beneficiaries of this program include Liza Lapira (Crazy Stupid Love,Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23), Carrie Ann Inaba (Dancing with the Stars), Aaron Yoo (Disturbia, 21), Archie Kao (CSI), Randall Park (Larry Crowne, The Five-Year Engagement), and Janina Gavankar (True Blood, The L Word).

In the upcoming fall season on ABC, TV audiences can look out for Ming-Na Wen and Chloe Wang Bennet in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Liza Lapira in Super Fun Night, Ginger Gonzaga in Mixology, Summer Bishil in Lucky 7, and Albert Tsai in Trophy Wife.

“My goal is to change the face of television,” says Lee. “When I came to the U.S. at age 2, there wasn’t much diversity on television, and now, it’s such a different time.”




On how she ended up in the casting industry

Like most Korean American families, entertainment [as a career] was not an option. It was the stereotype: are you going to be a doctor or a lawyer? So, I had planned to go to law school, I was studying philosophy at NYU, and I was a hostess at Caroline’s Comedy Club, so it was the comedians who introduced me to the world of entertainment. I actually fell into this business. I got an internship in casting and worked my way up, while I went to school full time at NYU. First, I worked at Warner Brothers, and then I went to ABC, where I’ve been for 21 years.

On starting ABC Casting Department’s Talent Showcase to find diverse talent

12 years ago, we were talking about diversity and thinking about how we can provide more opportunities for diverse actors, so I started this showcase program to give exposure and training to actors who either don’t have the representation or aren’t even aware of the opportunities that exist. After my team auditions the actors, we select the top 15-20, and we put them through this training program. Usually you have material, and you find people to play the characters, but this is the reverse: we find the right actors and then try to find the right material for them. Some of the actors who’ve gone through this program that we’re excited about are: Liza Lapira, who was on Don’t Trust The B—- in Apt 23, Jorge Garcia from Lost, Dania Ramirez from Devious Maids, and Jesse Williams on Grey’s Anatomy.

On their first digital talent competition this summer

This is new. We’re the first network to launch a digital talent competition. We had over 14,000 submissions, we’re having a public vote, and the winner will be announced August 30. The winner gets $10,000 and a talent option hold with ABC. Just based on the submissions, I’m excited to be able to find new faces. These are actors from around the country: there’s coming from everywhere from Florida to Alabama, and it’s really great to hear some of their stories.

On the Latino and Asian Outreach Initiatives

This is international. We started this program last year. For the Latino Outreach, we targeted Mexico, Latin America and Spain, and I’m excited to say that one of actors we found in first year of the Latino Outreach Initiative, Adan Canto, was cast as series regular in Mixology. The Asian Outreach Initiative started in India, and we just expanded to the Philippines this year.

Asian faces to look out for in the 2013-14 ABC season

Aubrey Anderson Emmons in Modern Family
Ming-Na Wen and Chloe Wang Bennet in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Ginger Gonzaga in Mixology
Liza Lapira in Super Fun Night
Sandra Oh in her last season of Grey’s Anatomy
Yunjin Kim in Mistresses
Summer Bishil in Lucky 7
Albert Tsai in Trophy Wife
Griffin Gluck in Back in the Game
Naveen Andrews in Once Upon a Time in Wonderland
Tim Jo in The Neighbors

Who influences you?

I have an amazing circle of really strong, smart, successful female friends, and we feed off that positive energy and help each other out. That’s part of what I do in my profession: I’m helping people realize their dreams, and that’s what we do for each other. I often have these conversations with my girlfriends, where I wish I had women as role models or mentors, so now that we’re in our positions, we think, how can we help empower other women and be role models for them? All these female pioneers paved the way for us, so how can we pave the way for other women?





Wong Kar-wai Made Tony Leung Fight a Real Martial Arts Champion in The Grandmaster

After a successful run in China where it was released earlier this year, Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster opens in the US today, August 23. The story about Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man, most famous in the West for training Bruce Lee, stars Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Cung Le, and Song Hye-kyo.

Director Wong Kar-wai is known for his intense, free-falling style of filming, where the actors often don’t even get scripts beforehand. (At The Grandmaster‘s Academy screening in July, Wong joked that people think he doesn’t have a script, but really, his scripts just aren’t finished until the film is done.) The Grandmaster, which took four years to complete, is his sixth collaboration with Tony Leung.

Leung says this was the first time, in all of his experiences working with Wong, that he actually understood his character prior to shooting — only because it was based on a real person.

“I was very confident on the first day on the set, because I know who I am, so I can respond to different situations,” says Leung. “Before [in previous films], I always had [only] little hints about the character… so I would feel very insecure and frustrated. Also, [this time around,] I always felt very positive and optimistic, and I never had this feeling of calm and peace [on a Wong Kar-wai film] before.” He laughs. “Maybe because all the characters [I played] when I worked with him were very dark and suppressed – very different from this one.”


Ip Man not only had the physical skills of martial arts, but he also possessed the wisdom and the desire to leave a legacy that earns him the title of a grandmaster. To prepare for the role, Tony Leung learned kung fu for the first time at age 46, spent four years training, and broke his arm twice in the process.

He calls the opening action sequence in the heavy rain the most difficult scene he’s done in his acting career. It took 40 nights to shoot, and they shot during winter.

“We were shivering behind the camera every night after midnight, and we had to keep ourselves wet all night long,” says Leung. “We couldn’t even change our rubber-soled shoes, because if the camera sees [the dry shoes], then [the shot] would be no good.”


Cung Le, a mixed martial artist and former International Kickboxing Federation Light Heavyweight World Champion, makes a memorable appearance in that scene, though he says that by the time he showed up to the set, the team had realized they should at least provide him with a wet suit for the bottom half of his body.

“I didn’t know that at the end, I’d have to fight a real champion,” says Leung. “Here’s a guy double my size, a real champion, and I was like, ‘No….’ But Kar-wai said, if you can handle fighting him, you can handle fighting anybody.”

His training paid off, which was confirmed both by Le and co-star Zhang Ziyi, a frequent star of martial arts films herself, on the red carpet of the Los Angeles red carpet premiere at the Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood.


“I couldn’t tell that it was his first time doing [a kung fu film],” says Zhang, who also trained for eight hours a day and had three different masters teaching her various kung fu skills. “He’s such a great professional actor, and he made everything easier.”

“It was a really demanding and exhausting journey,” says Leung, who is proud of the team behind the film. “Everyone [did] their best.”


The Grandmaster is currently playing in Los Angeles and New York, and it will be released nationwide on August 30.

Check Out Zhang Ziyi’s Chanel Red Carpet Fashion at the LA Premiere of The Grandmaster

When asked what made The Grandmaster different than other martial arts films she’s done in the past, Zhang Ziyi responded: “I have no weapons in my hands.”

Check out Zhang Ziyi’s red carpet look:

A Chanel Fall 2013 black dress with a pearl-accented leather belt

Screening Of The Weinstein Company's "The Grandmaster" - Red Carpet

Fuschia lips and side-swept waves


Black and gold Casadei pumps


Chanel handbag


Diamond earrings




Add it all together, and you get a Grandmaster of red carpet style!






Fall ’13 Fashion Extra | Chatting with Stylist Sima Kumar about Kristin Kreuk’s Cover Shoot


Sima Kumar, on why it’s fun to dress Kristin: We’re both yoga junkies, and that’s part of what makes her fun to dress. She has an organic sense of her body, so she can carry off so many different looks and really be a chameleon.

When she was just about to turn 30, we talked about how interesting it’d be to change up the proportions of her style. She’s so fit and thin, so it’s easy to put her in tight clothes, especially since she comes out of the CW and is so pretty. But people have noticed that I’ve started draping her in looser things with different proportions in a way that’s more interesting and brave.

I always look at [fashion] as an opportunity for other people to see [Kristin] in a way that’s different than the way she’s marketed for her shows. You get so stereotyped when you’re on a series, [for example,] as the girl who’s always crying or heartbroken, so it’s just another opportunity for us to shake it up. It’s a playful way to express parts of her that the public doesn’t usually get to see. And she likes the intellectual process I go through styling, in order to try and create a story.


Kristin Kreuk by Dexter Quinto3

Sima Kumar: I’ve styled so many musicians, so this look was inspired by rock ‘n roll. There’s the furry vest with long slip dress underneath, which has kind of an off-duty model/rock star girlfriend vibe. I think she pulled it off really well.


Kristin Kreuk by Dexter Quinto4

Sima Kumar: This is more of a fun, bohemian look. I know she’d never wear this in real life, but I pulled it for the shoot because it photographs beautifully. We’re mixing prints, and this outfit shows her love of travel and other cultures.


Kristin Kreuk by Dexter Quinto2

Sima Kumar: This look is inspired by Devo. [laughs] It’s almost like one of those ’80s videos.


Kristin Kreuk by Dexter Quinto1

Sima Kumar: This look was more about the different textures: the jeans are metallic, the sweater is cashmere, and the blue necklace is handmade by an amazing designer, Elke Hechler. They’re made of Austrian hand-blown glass beads that are woven and knit together.. It’s a very basic outfit — a comfy sweater, jeans, and necklace — but it shows her bumpy side, her soft side, and her shiny side. The multiple layers of her personality.


Kristin Kreuk by Dexter Quinto5

Sima Kumar: This was a hot outfit; she had ankle boots, leather shorts, a T-shirt, and a chain nail vest that’s designed by Alana K’akia. So this look is about how we’re always protecting ourselves. Our armor is very complex and intricate, but she’s exposing it. And the dog belongs to Dexter [Quinto, the photographer]!


For Sima’s blog post about what it takes to put together a shoot, check out New Culture Revolution.




5 Swoon-worthy Tony Leung Commercials To Get You Through Your Work Day

Sometimes you just need a little pick-me-up, a reminder that all it takes is a smile (from Tony Leung) to brighten up your day. But it’s not like you can pop in In the Mood for Love, Chungking Express or Happy Together in the middle of work, without ignoring your responsibilities for the next two hours while your eyes are glued to the screen.

But taking a break to watch some YouTube videos can’t hurt. Just one or two. Or five.

Enjoy this blast from the past from a man who makes everything from Chevrolet Malibus to Xerox printers look good.


Tony Leung’s latest film The Grandmaster will be released in Los Angeles and New York on August 23rd and nationwide on August 30th.