Karen Lau

2021 - CONNECTICUT

Karen Lau is a senior at Norwich Free Academy in Norwich, Connecticut. She currently serves as president of the Robertsine Duncan NAACP Youth Council. The rapid increase in hateful sentiment and xenophobia towards Asian Americans fueled her desire to become an activist for racial justice. After marching against police brutality and systemic racism, she and a group of activists began organizing the "Community Chat with the Norwich Police Department" forums. Citizens and officers spoke about de-escalation policies, crisis intervention training, and police response to domestic violence situations. These conversations inspired her pursuit to combat social injustices and mobilize young activists to work towards ending inequities that target underfunded communities. In February 2021, Karen helped organize a Black History Month Town Hall series with the theme, "Strengthening Our Community, Policing and Criminal Justice System." The first Town Hall focused on the impact of the Norwich Community Policing Unit, police department initiatives that increase accountability, and programs to engage residents and officers in conversations about social change. The second Town Hall focused on the criminal justice system, the Juvenile Review Board, diversionary programs, and the roles of public defenders and prosecutors. Students and panelists engaged in a conversation about restorative and transformative justice, impacts of substance abuse and mental health on offenders, and socioeconomic inequality. Karen's efforts to advance racial justice on the NAACP Youth Council will be sustained by the newly elected officers for next year who will lead similar community-wide initiatives to educate students about policing, education policy, and voting rights. As a student representative on the Norwich Race Equity Committee, Karen is working with local principals and educators to draft the Norwich Racial Equity Policy for Board of Education consideration. Her goal is to diversify the hiring of faculty and staff, build inclusive curriculums featuring multicultural literature and history, and increase resources to support students' socio-economic needs. Karen has also advocated for racial justice at Mitchell College's "Diversity, Inclusion, Belonging and Social Justice Week" and "Standing Against Asian Hate" panels.