Against The Grain was saddened to learn of the passing of a very special member of the ATG family Lyly Koenig Mendez. Lyly was an orphan brought to the United States through Operation Babylift and whose story is highlighted in ATG’s documentary feature, Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam.
A great supporter of ATG and the arts, Lyly grew up in Festus, MO, graduated from Crystal City High School in 1993 and earned degrees from the University of Missouri at St. Louis and the Miami International University of Art and Design. She worked in TV and film production, was a skilled graphic designer and fashion designer who also had her work featured in ATG’s 2010 Fashion for a Passion. In addition, she was a cheerleader for the St. Louis Rams in the 1990s as well as the San Diego Chargers from 2000-2001.
She died on January 20, 2015, near Houston, TX, at the age of 40, after an eight-year fight against breast cancer. Throughout, she never let the disease take her joy, humor, creativity, compassion, humanity and passion for family, friends and life. A shining example of what it means to “Go Against The Grain,” this memorial artistic scholarship was created in her name specifically to support talented emerging graphic/fashion design students like her and dedicated with love as a reminder of her unique spirit and legacy…to #LiveLikeLyly.
After a nationwide call for applicants, Dallas-based non-profit ATG Against The Grain Productions is proud to announce its 2012 Scholarship Winners. After receiving nearly 150 applications, the scholarship committee culled down the pool to a short list of top finalists, who were then interviewed to select the final winners.
Director of Community Outreach Lily Yang, who was in charge of spearheading the search, said, “It has truly been an honor and privilege, on behalf of myself and the rest of the scholarship team, to have the opportunity to review so many wonderful and inspirational submissions from a such diverse group of artists all across the country. Though their medium of art is different, we were blown away by everyone’s passion for the arts as well as involvement as leaders in their school and community. It was a very tough decision. We believe our winners not only show potential in their field, but also truly embrace our organization spirit of ‘going against the grain.'”
Candidates were scored based on GPA, an artistic portfolio, essay, demonstration of leadership/community involvement and letters of recommendation. The finalists were interviewed to see who would be the best representative of ATG and the organization’s values. There were two 2012 ATG Artistic Scholarship Winners, each of whom will receive $1,000 towards tuition and education expenses. Both candidates were articulate, energetic and showed exceptional academic prowess, dedication to community involvement, artistic talent, as well as leadership ability. The first winner is Britt Espinosa, an 18 year-old from Kingston, Washington who will attend Northeastern University to study Music Management and performance. Espinosa said, “I feel incredibly honored to be chosen out of all the very impressive entries, and participants! It humbles me to see so many young people like myself making beautiful art, and giving back to the community.”
The second Artistic Scholarship winner is Thoa Nguyen, who graduated from Juan Seguin High School in Arlington and
will go on to study Radio/Television/Film at the University of Texas at Austin. Said Nguyen on winning her award, “It means the most to me spiritually. It is a sign or reassurance that what I am doing will be worth it in the end because someone out there believes in me.” Nguyen will be one of the seven exhibiting artists at this year’s Fashion for a Passion event that takes place on Saturday, October 13th at the Dallas Contemporary Museum.
For the first year, ATG offered the Sunna Lee Leadership Scholarship, a result of a generous donation from marketing executive Sunna Lee. The goal of the scholarship was to find a student who was moving to change the Asian American stereotype as a passive, showed strong leadership and ability to affect change in the community. The winner is awarded with a $5,000 scholarship towards tuition and education expenses, $1,000 of which will be donated to a 501(c)(3) non-profit of their choosing to allow them to give back.
President/Founder Tammy Nguyen Lee was honored to have the opportunity to expand the organization’s outreach efforts through this new leadership scholarship. Nguyen Lee said, “We created the Artistic Scholarship as an extension of what our organization is already doing to promote and support Asian Americans in the arts, and we hope that the Leadership Scholarship continues to cultivate those in our community who are finding unique ways to express themselves and create stories for us to share.” Nguyen Lee continued, “ATG is very fortunate to partner with pioneers in the Asian American community like Sunna Lee and be the organization chosen to broaden our scope to select and promote a leader among the Asian American student population. It’s a huge honor and responsibility. Our hope is that that this will send an impactful message and continue to inspire others to affect change and leadership in others.”
Regarding the Leadership Scholarship winners, Yang continued, “We had high expectations for applicants of our Leadership scholarship and wanted to hear from Asian American leaders across the country. The diversity and caliber of applicants far exceed even our highest expectations. The submissions truly touched us and affirms the goal of our scholarship to support outstanding Asian American leaders to make a difference in the world around them. The winner has demonstrated not only leadership skills, but also the talent, knowledge, passion, commitment and charisma to make a difference.”
The winner of the Sunna Lee Leadership scholarship is Rebekah Kim of Fullerton, California. She will be awarded a $5,000 scholarship — $1,000 of which will be donated to a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity of her choosing. Kim the first Korean American to make the U.S. Olympic Synchronized Swimming Team and competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Teaching at the University of Southern California. Kim said, “It is extremely encouraging to know that an organization such as ATG, that is truly making a difference in the Asian American community, is supporting me in my endeavors to be who I want to be and do what I want to do. It definitely makes a special mark in my heart and impact my life in a way that I would like to do for others.” Kim will join Sunna Lee on the Groundbreakers Speak panel event on July 28th, hosted at the Crow Collection of Asian Art.
Britt Espinosa graduates this June after being homeschooled with a variety of academic courses through public school, online, community private courses and self-directed learning. His community service and leadership experience includes a month long service trip to South Africa with Global Expeditions, Food packaging and shipping (Children of the Nations), Sharenet Christmas Shop volunteer, Small Group Leader and Kairos Youth Group Leadership Team. Britt is an Awana Citation Award winner after serving for 10 years with Awana International.
Britt studied classical piano for 10 years and had formal voice training for 2.5 years. He quickly discovered he loved music and found himself on various musical groups singing and playing; not only piano, but also guitar, bass, and the occasional drums. Britt is actively involved in leading a musical ministry team, teaching younger and newer musicians. He has received multiple artistic awards, including Superior Ranking in Male Vocal Solo and Superior Ranking in Christian Band. In the past two years, Britt has performed and toured regionally throughout the West Coast with his band, The Exchange, playing about 100 events during that time. Whether it is through singing with fellow team workers in South Africa, performing for youth on stage or leading a team of young musicians, Britt values the power of music. “When words fail, music speaks. – Hans Christian Anderson Britt will attend Northwest University this coming fall, with his anticipated major being Music Business Management and Performance.
Britt Larson Espinosa
What does ‘going against the grain’ mean to you?
To me ‘going against the grain’ means having the discipline and drive to pursue a dream in the midst of hardship, stigma, and setbacks. Discipline includes dedication to education, working when you don’t think you can go anymore, and having foresight. Having a ‘drive to pursue’ means to make the most out of every opportunity, and to also hold onto to the dream when things are slow and require patience.
How do you go against the grain?
I live to pursue and accomplish. When I set my sights on a goal, I will do everything to accomplish that goal. I go against the grain because I know that education, foresight and patience are essential to success.
On the importance of art to a community: (excerpted from scholarship essay)
“A man named Thomas Merton once said, ‘Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.’ Art plays a huge role in culture, community, relationships and everyday life. In my opinion, a society without art is a society that has no identity or soul. Art is an expression of the soul, like Thomas Merton said, it pushes us to ‘find ourselves’ and lose ourselves’…Art affects much of our culture and the way we identify with our culture. From branding to movies, art is the aspect that our souls react and respond to. Art is important in our society and community because it gives meaning, purpose and identity to individuals and groups. Without art, the world would be a bland place, full of people without an identity and without the desire to find one.”
What made you decide to pursue a degree in music/music management?
I’ve always loved music, and musical performance. I started the band, The Exchange, in 2010. Over the next two years, we went on to perform almost 100 events, playing shows, youth camps and conferences throughout the West Coast. As we gained more experience and play time, I started to fill the role of managing the business and road management aspects of the band. Through this and also my years of leading young musicians on a musical team, I came to find that I greatly enjoyed and was challenged by the business aspects of leading a band/team. I want to sharpen my skills as an artist in my college years. Additionally, I believe an artist can be much more effective and influential if combined with skills of leadership and management expertise. A possible outcome of my combined education would be to become an artist developer and manager.
What have been some of the challenges you faced/lessons you learned as an Asian American in this field?
As an Asian American, I have always been aware of the undercurrent that exists, that I may not be given the “benefit of the doubt” as to my abilities or education. Sometime during my middle school years, I read a book entitled Do Hard Things – A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. I came to realize I may not be able to change people’s initial perceptions about me based on their first impression. However, if I personally pursue excellence and not make excuses, in the end, I would become the best I could be and would eventually earn the trust and confidence of those I am working with. Serving overseas in South Africa as well as through the various countries that I have traveled has also allowed me to apply this same principle of acceptance and openness to others, no matter what culture I may find myself in.
What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment, and why?
While I could initially say it could be my band, grade point average or even my overseas service project, as I truly reflect on a personal accomplishment, I would say it would be completing 10 years of classical piano training. This is my biggest accomplishment, not because of the years or even the hours of practice, but because there were several times I wanted to quit. During my 8th and 9th year of piano lessons, I doubted whether sticking with piano was even worth it. What kept me going was simply my personal discipline and knowing that even though it was not always easy or enjoyable, I wanted to finish strong with my piano training. Now, looking back, I can see how my piano training has opened so many doors and possibilities, even allowing me to learn other instruments more quickly. I learned perseverance. I learned that hard work can pay off and that reaching for excellence, even when there is no motivation, is truly the most rewarding after all.
What’s up next?
I will be attending Northwest University, where I will be working towards obtaining a degree in Music Business Management and Performance. I also plan to continue touring with my band, The Exchange. Recently, I was asked to be in Northwest University’s choir called Choralons. This is an innovative choir comprised of 110 vocalists and a 7 piece rhythm section, of which I will be the piano player.
Quote to live by:
“He is no fool who gives, what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot
Sign (Eastern Animal Sign & Western Zodiac): Rooster/Capricorn
Passionate about: Music, Jesus Christ and Rock-n-roll!
Favorite food: Lumpia
Can’t live without: Listening and playing music on a daily basis
What does it mean to you to be named the 2012 ATG Artistic Scholarship Winner?
I feel incredibly honored to be chosen out of all the very impressive entries and participants! It humbles me to see so many young people like myself making beautiful art and giving back to the community. To be chosen out of this group is a very great honor!
Non-profit to Award Three Scholarships to Exemplary Asian American Students
DALLAS, TX– Dallas nonprofit ATG Against The Grain Productions proudly announced the addition of the Sunna Lee Leadership Scholarship to its already existing Artistic Scholarship, to be awarded to Asian American students who are breaking the mold through their work in the arts and/or leadership in the community. Last year’s Artistic Scholarship winners were Texas students Monika Hoang and Dorcas Leung. Both Hoang and Leung were awarded a $1,000 scholarship for their exceptional artistic ability, talent, community involvement, leadership and academics. The addition of the Sunna Lee Leadership scholarship is a $5,000 commitment from business executive Sunna Lee, a powerhouse in the business and fashion world who previously attended ATG’s Fashion for a Passion charity event as a guest and was moved to do her part by motivating and celebrating a young Asian American leader who is changing the stereotype of Asian Americans.
ATG Founder/President Tammy Nguyen Lee is excited to include this Leadership Scholarship as an extension of the organization’s already strong commitment to community outreach. Nguyen Lee said, “We created the Artistic Scholarship as an extension of what our organization is already doing to promote and support Asian Americans in the arts, and we hope that the Leadership Scholarship continues to cultivate those in our community who are finding unique ways to express themselves and create stories for us to share.” Nguyen Lee continued, “ATG is very fortunate to partner with pioneers in the Asian American community like Sunna Lee and be the organization chosen to broaden our scope to select and promote a leader among the Asian American student population. It’s a huge honor and responsibility. Our hope is that that this will send an impactful message and continue to inspire others to affect change and leadership in others.”
Sunna Lee is a first-generation Korean American with 25 years as an executive in product development, which includes trends, design, marketing and sourcing for brands and retailers small to large, private and publicly traded companies with $7 million to $2.5 billion in revenues. She has served as Vice President of Marketing for Priss Prints and NoJo, Vice President of New Business Development for Crown Crafts Infant Products, Vice President of Merchandising for Riegel, Director of Fashion for Dorel Juvenile Group and is currently the Director of Product Development for Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. At Cracker Barrel, she leads the women’s group, Woman’s Connect, as a member of the steering committee to develop future women leaders of the organization. She previously founded her own line of high-end handmade handbags, which were sold at Stanley Korshak and Neiman Marcus. Lee said, “Being a female Asian growing up in the Deep South, I have had to overcome double the challenges of prejudice and ignorance and have chosen to convert what others may perceive as a disadvantage to a competitive advantage.”Lee is passionate about empowering others to tap into their own potential. “Teach someone to fish instead of giving them fish. Fishcan feed them for one meal. The skill to fish will feed them for a lifetime.”
Lily Yang, ATG’s Director of Community Outreach, spearheads the review process for both scholarships and highlights the principles of the funds. “The Artistic Scholarship embodies ATG’s mission of promoting awareness of art in all media and a commitment to the community. The scholarship program is not limited to only financial assistance, but also provides the winner with mentorship, exposure and a support group both within and outside of the art community.” Yang continues, “The addition of the Leadership Scholarship allows us to reach out to an even wider group of Asian American students who have demonstrated exemplary leadership skills and made a difference by challenging the conventional Asian American stereotype. We are looking for candidates who truly embody the spirit of “going against the grain.”
Both the Artistic and Sunna Lee Leadership Scholarship applications are online at www.AgainstTheGrainProductions.com/Scholarship, and the application deadline is April 15th. Scholarship winners will be invited to attend ATG’s 4th annual Fashion for a Passion charity event, to be held on Saturday, October 13, 2012, at the Dallas Contemporary in Dallas, TX, where they will be presented with their scholarship, as well as showcase their talent amongst other Asian American artists.
ATG Against The Grain Productions, a Dallas-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, promotes Asian-American cultural awareness through compelling media projects and raises funds for international orphanages and outreach. Their first project, Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam, has received the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature Film at the Vietnamese International Film Festival and the Documentary Audience Choice Award from the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival. For scholarship details, visit www.AgainstTheGrainProductions/scholarship. For more information, visit www.AgainstTheGrainProductions.com or www.TheBabylift.com.
Non-profit Awards Artistic Scholarship to Two Outstanding Texas Asian American Students
DALLAS, TX– Dallas nonprofit ATG Against The Grain Productions announced the winners of their first ever Artistic Scholarship as Texas students Monika Hoang and Dorcas Leung. This year’s Against The Grain Artistic Scholarship is sponsored by Hotels.com and is given to an outstanding Asian American high school senior or college student pursuing a degree in the performing and/or visual arts and who represents the spirit of the organization’s going “against the grain” mantra. Both Hoang and Leung will each be awarded a $1,000 scholarship for their exceptional artistic ability, talent, community involvement, leadership and academics.
ATG Founder/President Tammy Nguyen Lee is proud of these two exemplary students who set a precedent for the standards that ATG values. Lee said, “We created this scholarship as an extension of what our organization is already doing to promote and support Asian Americans in the arts, and we hope that this scholarship continues to cultivate those in our community who are finding unique ways to express themselves and create stories for us to share.” She continued, “We look forward to seeing how these two students will grow in their profession and see just how they will find a way to give back.” Lily Yang, ATG’s Director of Community Outreach, spearheaded the review process for the ATG Artistic Scholarship and highlights the principles of the fund. “The scholarship embodies ATG’s mission of promoting awareness of art in all media and a commitment to the community. The scholarship program is not limited to only financial assistance, but also provides the winner with mentorship, exposure and a support group both within and outside of the art community.” She says she hopes that the scholarship will be a catalyst that will propel winners to greater heights.
Monika Hoang is a junior at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX and is majoring in creative advertising. She was recently awarded top honors as Best Art Director for her portfolio class and was chosen to participate in the elite One Show Student Exhibition in New York City. In response to winning the ATG Artistic Scholarship, Hoang said, “Receiving this scholarship shows me that support for the arts is out there in the community.” She said that the scholarship gives hope to others who are hesitant in pursuing arts. “This scholarship is like a gentle nudge and whisper telling me to keep doing what I love.”
Dorcas Leung, a senior at Stratford High School in Houston, Texas, recently graduated at the top of her class. There, she starred in and participated in nine different theatre productions. She was nominated twice for the Tommy Tune Awards’ Best Featured Performer. She is skilled in ballet, jazz, modern, tap, musical theatre and piano. She was one of twelve students accepted into the Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre at the University of Oklahoma, where she will begin her college career this fall. “Getting the ATG scholarship makes me feel very blessed. It is hard enough already to be an Asian American in a difficult field of study, but I feel that with this scholarship I could be an encourager to other Asian Americans wanting to pursue a career in the arts,” Leung said. “I am very happy to be a representative of this scholarship, and I know it holds a lot of weight, because I want to be a good example of ‘Going Against The Grain’ and prove that I can do what I want to do, even if it is difficult.”
Both scholarship winners will attend ATG’s 3rd annual Fashion for a Passion charity event, held on Saturday, October 1, 2011 at Studios 1019 in Dallas, TX, where they will be presented with their scholarship, as well as showcase their talent amongst other Asian American artists. Hoang’s artwork will be on display, while will Leung perform a vocal medley.