This past Saturday a slew of Asian-American youths between the ages of 14 and 21 gathered in the parking lot of The Hong Kong Supermarket on Jimmy Carter. Many of them were performing for the evening's festivities and even more of them actually helped plan and execute the event, which was the first of its kind in Norcross.
AYEP Night offered music and dance performances by youths, guest speakers like Mayor Bucky Johnson, food, games, and career and college community booths where teens could speak with representatives from various colleges.
Although the event was hosted by the Asian Youth Empowerment Program (AYEP), it was a youth-led event.
“We have over 50 volunteers, and they're all youths,” said Youth Program Coordinator Kim Nguyen. “They’re the volunteer coordinators, they’re the marketers, they’re bringing in speakers like the mayor, they’re taking charge on this and telling me, ‘This is what I want, this is what I don’t want.’ So, their voices are definitely incorporated in the event.”
Another place their voices were heard was on stage, the backdrop of which had a slideshow of youth artwork. The music and dance performances were an important aspect of the night and many of the festival goers, as well as Nguyen, said it was their favorite part of the evening. Although, it was apparent from the applause alone that the crowd was enjoying the talent show.
Sixteen-year-old Tim Hoang said his favorite part of the evening was the raffles. The MC of the event made the giveaways interactive and entertaining.
“I think it’s really funny when people come up who didn’t even buy tickets,” Hoang said. “It’s pretty fun here.”
Nguyen said they're going to make this an annual event, and youths will help to develop the event in the future as well.
“I don’t see the youth having opportunities to be leaders,” said Nguyen. “I think to be a leader, you’ve got to just go out there and do it. It’s not about the training you provide. Just give them the opportunity to show their talents, to show what they can do. And I think AYEP Night has shown that.”
Fifteen-year-old Kristy Mguyen was one of the youth leaders. She was working backstage at the event, making sure all the volunteers and performers were running on time and knew where to be. She said she really enjoyed seeing her peers talents displayed on stage in the music and dance exhibitions.
Mayor Johnson and Senator Curt Thompson came out to speak at the event. Johnson said he tries to support the youth whenever he can because they’re the future, and events like this also allow him an opportunity to make connections that he might not make otherwise.
He would love to see more events like this in Norcross. He’s actually a musician himself. “I’m a drummer, former band director. So, as a teacher and a musician I feel kind of a connection,” he said.