AAPI Heritage Month Interview with Hilary L. Yu of OUR ACADEMY, Our Dream
What is your current role in the cannabis industry?
I’m the Founder of Our Dream and Executive Director of Our Academy a 501(c)(3) non-profit precelerator for social equity applicants, operators, and BIPOC cannabis entrepreneurs.
Which upcoming project are you most excited about at Our Academy?
We’re working on a learning management system that’s evergreen and has been in the pipeline for years… plural ha.
What does Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you?
It’s definitely a helpful tool for mass audiences to reflect on AAPI heritages and to be celebrated while highlighting the beautiful aspects of all of our communities. It also creates an opportunity to openly appreciate the hardships our families and community members have faced. For those reasons, I participate in it, but I’m not gonna lie… I’m not the biggest “month” person. In my head, Black History Month, Pride Month, Women’s Month, etc. is year round, but if it amplifies underrepresented people in the process, I’m all for it.
How has your heritage shaped the person you are today?
My parents and grandparents always prioritized family and loyalty. If they didn’t search for a better life as a family to come to North America and value education, I likely would not be here, nor would I have the opportunity to take a risk like working in the cannabis industry. I’m really fortunate and privileged to have had their support the majority of my life and to have grown up being told I could do and be anything as long as I worked hard enough for it.
For better or for worse, those values have stuck and our motto for Our Academy is ‘turn dreams into reality’.
What brings you joy about your heritage and culture?
It’s communal, celebratory, and those celebrations are normally centered around food. As a food-motivated person who loves eating, that definitely brings a ton of joy. My family shows their love by feeding you and ensuring you leave with leftovers. Who can be mad at that?
In this current moment, what more can the cannabis industry be doing to support the AAPI Community?
Highlighting and amplifying more AAPI causes, companies, and people consistently. Representation is important and that can be done through leading by example.
Who are the role models or mentors that have influenced you or helped guide you?
Ever since I was little, my Uncle Fred would reiterate that falling back on consistently working hard was how to get from “Good to Great”. He’d share his anecdotes of always being the first one in the office and the last one out when he was younger. As a kid, watching him work as hard as he did while building successful teams and supporting other leaders within his own company stayed with me. When I joined the workforce, those values were deeply internalized. It’s a little different now, since I work from home, but the sentiment is the same. In everything we do with Our Academy, I try to make sure 120% of focus goes into our work and if something doesn’t fall into place, I at least know that it wasn’t for lack of effort. When I get on my little zoom soap box for our programming, it’s that same work ethic that we tout to our Mentees, though many of them already come armed with that same drive and determination.
How does stigma affect Asian American Pacific Islanders in cannabis today?
I can only speak to what I’ve experienced and observed, but there’s a misconception that Asian women are quiet and demure and that our work ethic is something that can be taken advantage of.
I’d say this about anyone, but especially with AAPI women – do not mistake reserved kindness and a reserved disposition as a weakness. The AAPI women I’ve met in cannabis are loud, proud, and incredibly dynamic people who cannot be reduced to cultural stigmas.
Our Academy is a workshop, mentorship, and resource group of individuals and companies in the cannabis industry that are open to knowledge sharing and supporting social equity qualified applicants, partners, and other disproportionately impacted and targeted communities of the war on drugs (i.e. refugees, immigrants, and the LGBTQ+ community).