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Kavi Vu knows that everyone can win in Atlanta, as long as we spend time with each other

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As told to WeTransfer

Reading time6 minDateFeb 16, 2022Published byKavi Vu
Photography by Nate Ryan

Videographer, organizer, and civic leader, Kavi Vu shares the importance of telling the stories that contribute to a thriving community, the impact that comes with specificity and personal care, and the everyone-can-win philosophy that drives the city.

I’ve considered leaving Atlanta a few times. Maybe more than a few times—who knows what else could be waiting for me? But there’s a particular history that lives here. And there are particular people that live here. And there’s work that needs to be done here, so I’ve stayed.

In 2016, election fever was gripping the city. As a storyteller and videographer, I helped to lead outreach in Asian American communities. Largely, the work centered around voter registration as our team started to realize that hardly any Asian American were registered to vote. Then later, we realized that voter registration without voter education didn’t help us—many folks in our communities didn’t even understand the fundamentals of the United States democracy due to their emigration from countries that weren’t even democratic in nature. Our team often received questions like, “Can I vote for both candidates?” or “Do I need to register to vote every month?”

Like, wow. Immediately after registering to vote, they had basic questions that no one had ever taken the time to answer for them. Could we get ahead of that? Could we help answer those questions? Could we build a sense of confidence into civic participation?

That’s all that creativity is: solving a problem in a way that feels unique to you. It’s just expressing yourself in a way that solves problems for others. It has to be representative for you, or else your solution won’t be what your community needs.

Photography by Nate Ryan

A friend, Phi Nguyen, and I decided to create a web series. Every two weeks, we discussed the process and broke it down. How does something become a bill? Or a law? How do you register to vote, and what comes next? What’s the difference between local and national elections? What is the census, and why does it matter? We did our best to make it fun, and the community really responded to the work—many Asian Americans told us that it was one of their first times really feeling seen. It wasn’t often that something so high-production was in our language, they said. The project was done in many different Asian languages, and the views on Facebook were wild. Like 60,000 views in a few days.

We were mind-blown. These weren’t cat videos. It’s just an informational bit about the census. So we reached out to the Burmese community leader, and he said, “Nothing is ever made in our language.” When our community saw something made well—with a high production value, in their language—they were just so proud. And that solidified the work I do.

That’s all that creativity is: solving a problem in a way that feels unique to you. It’s just expressing yourself in a way that solves problems for others. It has to be representative for you, or else your solution won’t be what your community needs.

We live in the South. And perhaps this city is more traditional in thinking—often we have partners in California who tell us to fight for this controversial issue, or that controversial issue. We’re like, “Hold on, you don’t get it.” Many people around here don’t even know that we’re Asian Americans—they still call all of us Chinese. Another example is how we're fighting for same-day voting registration, which feels like a mind-blowing concept for many legislators in the South. But in actuality, it’s not. But knowing that our community is there helps. Having a really tight-knit community of creatives and innovators and caring people is key. We really help each other here in Atlanta. Some years are really hard. And others are really good. And that’s part of the journey.

Growing up, it felt as if I was the interviewer of the family. My parents didn’t really talk about their journey coming to the United States, and my sisters didn’t either. So it has felt as if I’ve had to pull teeth to get the story for myself. Proto-journalism, maybe.

So I went into journalism, photo-journalism, and then videography. I eventually worked for an agency in Atlanta, where I did mostly corporate work. It’s where I found many of my production and logistical skills—but the corporate buffer is restricting. Grand idea after grand idea, but the client would shred them down. So I went off on my own as a freelance videographer.

Atlanta has taught me everything. The city and the people who live here have really empowered me to be an artist. I never realized that telling your own story could be a viable career option. Dozens of organizations—elite storytellers here in the city—have shown me what could be next for me, and I want to be a part of that story for other Atlantans who live and work here.

The city still feels small, and collaborative, and as if we want each other to win. It’s a culture of listening, because we seek each other out. We’ll need to keep that in mind, I think, if we want things to stay that way.

From my perspective, Atlanta feels really different from the rest of Georgia. More liberal, more creative, and busier. If you drive ten minutes outside the city, you realize that people operate differently elsewhere. We have great influence on those cities surrounding us. It seems as if Atlanta plays a big brother role to all of these neighboring cities that are working through their own issues surrounding race and equity, and I’m proud of that.

There’s a lot to learn together. When people move here—or near here—how do you teach them about who we are? About what we care about? How do we learn from them about their contribution to the city? I’ve always pictured a welcoming committee, of sorts. Maybe it’s because the city still feels small, and collaborative, and as if we want each other to win. It’s a culture of listening, because we seek each other out. We’ll need to keep that in mind, I think, if we want things to stay that way.

Atlanta is waiting.

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