#IAMNOTAVIRUS works to foster inclusivity, support Asian American community


Courtesy of Mike Keo

A poster for #IAMNOTAVIRUS, an organization that works to end racial discrimination and empower Asian American people, along with other communities.

Suffolk’s Asian American Association (AAA) is looking to help those who have faced microaggressions and other forms of racism by working with the new organization, #IAMNOTAVIRUS.

Mike Keo founded #IAMNOTAVIRUS in late February. When COVID-19 began to make its mark on the world, he was angered by people calling it the “Wuhan flu” and the racist remarks and treatment many Asian people faced as a result of the virus. Keo began this project to help others share their stories and fight the long history of racism against Asian Americans. 

“We are not a virus,” Keo said.  “This organization allows us to say who we are.”

Keo’s platform is looking to educate, advocate and, in his words, “break the cycle” of racism. #IAMNOTAVIRUS began as a photo campaign in a small studio space where people could get their pictures taken and tell three #IAM statements about themselves, such as #IAM a mother, “#IAM” a friend or “#IAM” a teacher. 

He said this was a way for people to share their experiences and start a conversation. It began through an individual’s perspective and cultivated into people looking for solidarity.

#IAMNOTAVIRUS member Michelle Lo joined the organization because she wanted to advocate for others. Since she is a Suffolk student, she decided to start this work at the university. In her eyes, it was one thing to spread awareness through social media, but it was another to achieve tangible goals with others.

“When I joined, it was inspiring because of everyone on the team,” Lo said. “I learned so much from Mike and the grad students and I’m still learning. It’s a good process, change is a good thing.” 

The mission of the organization is to empower Asian American individuals and strengthen their community. #IAMNOTAVIRUS has worked with high school and colleges to provide educational resources, such as mental health guides and COVID-19 resource packets, and educate others on immigrant diasporas and more.

Not only is this group supporting the Asian community, but the Black community, as well. 

Simara: “I am Simara Alice Rivera and I want to remember them, Ashanti Carmon, and all the glory that they are and should have been and never got to be because of this world. I am a girl who loves waterfalls, I am obsessed with makeup, I am always happy, and I am not a threat” (Courtesy of Mike Keo)

The murders of George Floyd, BreonnaTaylor and other Black people sparked  #IAMNOTATHREAT, which partners with Concerned Parents of Color of West Hartford and Kamora Cultural Center to help keep the names of victims of police brutality at the center of American conversations, as well as “to push back against the narrative by centering Black stories,” according to Keo.

Expanding outreach has been a very prominent goal for the organization. #IMNOTAVIRUS is creating resources for queer families of color, queer women of color and other Asian Americans within the LGBTQIA+ community. Promoting what it means to be inclusive and diverse is the overall goal for this program.

“Representation matters all across the board for all communities,” said Keo.

#IAMNOTAVIRUS has been successful in its outreach and has become a resource at the University of Connecticut and other campuses in D.C., Denver, California and more. They also provide resources in other parts of the world, including Australia, Brazil and the U.K. 

At UConn, the organization has partnered with the university’s Asian/Asian American Studies Institute to provide a mental health activity book as a resource for Asians on campuses. 

“We have a voice, so why not use it? This is the perfect moment for us to finally do more,” said Suffolk senior Anna Nguyen, who is president of AAA at Suffolk. 

Krishna: “I am not a virus. I am a daughter, a mathematician and I love household plants.” (Courtesy of Mike Keo)

AAA is looking for other groups and clubs to partner with #IAMNOTAVIRUS. The organization and AAA are looking to meet through the winter and aim to hold workshops during the spring semester for the entire Suffolk community. 

If anyone is interested in joining or reaching out, you can do so through the #IAMNOTAVIRUS website. There, you can find hotlines and other sources for Black and Asian solidarity, according to Keo. 

“We see these representations of ourselves being harmed,” Keo said. “It’s important to say who we are, to love ourselves and to be unapologetic about it.”