Student-athletes share truths, celebrate Asian Pacific American heritage

April 12, 2021
By Sara Holley and Luke Johnson, strategic communications, UNC Asian American Center Campaign

An exciting lineup of student-athletes and student-athlete alumni who identify as Asian or Asian American will make their voices heard at “Reclaiming the Commentary,” an event celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM).

Set to take place via Zoom webinar on Thursday, April 15, “Reclaiming the Commentary” will feature a series of short talks from Ezra Baeli-Wang, Michelle Ikoma, Nicole Lu, Kane Ma, Bryana Nguyen and Toby Song. The event is a collaboration between the UNC Asian American Center (AAC), Carolina Athletics, the Carolina Union Office of Student Life & Leadership (SLL) and the Office of the Provost. Nationally, APAHM is recognized in May, but at UNC, APAHM programming occurs in April while the semester is still underway.

The event is a “first” in more than one way: This April is the AAC’s first APAHM since the Center opened its doors virtually in the fall of 2020. It is the AAC’s first time collaborating with either Carolina Athletics or SLL. “Reclaiming the Commentary” will also be the first event in recent knowledge to highlight Asian and Asian American student-athletes, specifically, on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus.

An entrepreneur to watch: Kane Ma

One speaker, Kane Ma, has a story that will particularly resonate with members of the innovation and entrepreneurship community. Ma graduated in 2018 with degrees in computer science and economics, and he played junior varsity men’s basketball. During his senior year, Ma walked on to the varsity team, and he was the first Asian American player to do so since Daniel Bolick walked on in the 2010 season. After a short stint with the Macau Black Bears, he co-founded Kamo Digital Solutions, a full-service digital marketing agency based in North Carolina.

Ma is Kamo Digital’s Chief Technology Officer, and he is passionate about serving like-minded entrepreneurs through his work and leadership in the agency. At “Reclaiming the Commentary,” he plans to talk about his journey from being a student-athlete to starting his own business.

The team behind the event

The team behind “Reclaiming the Commentary” consists of students, faculty and staff who are rallying behind the shared goal of uplifting the voices of Asian and Asian American student-athletes and student-athlete alumni.

Shivam Bhargava, a junior studying neuroscience and member of the AAC Campaign’s Campus Engagement team, said the event is “incredibly important” to him because it highlights a space in which Asian Americans have been historically underrepresented. Bhargava said, “It’s been really rewarding being able to hear about the experiences of Asian American student-athletes that are often overlooked.”

Matthew Wang, a senior studying public health and nutrition and Director of the AAC Campaign’s Campus Engagement team, echoed Bhargava’s desire to bring attention to unheard narratives. “As someone who loves to play sports and work out, it bothers me that Asian Americans can be seen as ‘deceptively athletic,” he explained, referring to a label that Taiwanese American basketball player Jeremy Lin has called out for its stereotypical undertones. Wang added that he hopes the event will “help spread awareness of our community’s inherent athleticness and empower people to explore that athleticness.”

The students noted that guidance from faculty and staff has been instrumental in putting “Reclaiming the Commentary” together. Marcus Donie, a Manager at the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes, is one of those key players. “Working with the new AAC and other campus partners has been very fulfilling,” Donie said. “We are providing the UNC community with another valuable resource to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Visit the UNC website to learn more and register for “Reclaiming the Commentary” on Thursday, April 14, from 7-8:30 p.m.

About the UNC Asian American Center

Founded in 2020, the UNC Asian American Center (AAC) seeks to cultivate a critical understanding of Asian American peoples, cultures, and histories. Through education, organizing and advocacy, the AAC engages and empowers Asian American students, faculty, and staff and the greater university community. To learn more, visit the AAC’s website, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.