Growing up Asian American in North Carolina in the 1990s, Chavi Koneru ’01 says that it wasn't easy to find spaces where she felt that her whole self belonged. Carolina Friends School gave her a place where her value system and desire to prioritize the common good were affirmed.
“Carolina Friends gave me the confidence to explore other parts of my identity later in life without losing a core part of me,” says Chavi, who, in 2016, co-founded North Carolina Asian Americans Together (NCAAT), the first pan-Asian social justice organization in the state, where she is executive director. She later founded its sister organization, NCAAT in Action, which builds political power among Asian Americans in North Carolina through voter education, progressive advocacy and leadership development.
Chavi and her co-founder created NCAAT out of a desire to have their experiences heard and valued. “The exponential growth of the Asian population, coupled with the fact that very close margins win NC races—five or fewer voters determined 100 races in the 2015 elections—gave us the power to create that change,” she says. “Since its inception, NCAAT has boosted Asian voter turnout, particularly for first-time voters, added Asian voices to the state's political discourse, and contributed to building a more inclusive North Carolina.”
Above all, Carolina Friends School taught me how to think critically and how much power there is in speaking from the silence, lessons I have carried with me through the rest of my journey. My experience at Carolina Friends played a big part in shaping who I am and where life has taken me.
After graduating from Carolina Friends, Chavi attended UNC Chapel Hill, where she received a bachelor’s degree and a law degree. “I wanted legal knowledge to be more accessible to everyone, and went to law school with the naive hope of being able to provide pro bono legal services en masse,” she says. “After experiencing the realities of the court system, I shifted to policy work which, while being slower moving, does allow for long-lasting impact on a larger group of people.”
During her four years in the Upper School at Carolina Friends, Chavi learned that “life without purpose is life without fulfillment.” An internship through the school with the firm of legendary Chapel Hill civil rights attorney Al McSurely first exposed Chavi to voting rights law. The literature class, “Us and Them,” taught by former Upper School head teacher Carrie Huff, strengthened Chavi's passion for eliminating segregation.
Chavi warmly recalls the feeling of togetherness during silent meetings. “Above all, Carolina Friends School taught me how to think critically and how much power there is in speaking from the silence, lessons I have carried with me through the rest of my journey,” she says. “My experience at Carolina Friends played a big part in shaping who I am and where life has taken me.”
To learn more about Chavi’s work and ways to become involved, visit www.ncaatogether.org. “While we provide support specifically for Asian-identifying North Carolinians, I would highly encourage anyone genuinely interested in building a more diverse and inclusive state to take the time to learn more,” she says. “We welcome volunteers, donations, and attendees at any of our events. Even within our progressive Carolina Friends School community, there is room for more education, leading to more support for Asian students, staff, and community members.”
Profile written by Michele Lynn.