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SATYAGRAH SOULS: INDIAN AMERICANS MAKING A DIFFERENCE

SATYAGRAH SOULS: INDIAN AMERICANS MAKING A DIFFERENCE
May 09
13:06 2018

A monthly series by Rishi Kumar

Rishi Kumar

SATYAGRAH SOULS is a monthly political series presented by Silicon Valley’s community leader, Saratoga Councilmember Rishi Kumar,  in highlighting the community involvement and success of Indian Americans in the United States. This series seeks to inspire us in giving back to our local community.  We Indian Americans are going through a transitional evolution, as we get entrenched in a new world, embracing new culture, exerting zealous work ethics, supporting the American economy as entrepreneurs, high tech geeks, doctors, lawyers and more. We are definitely imposing the positive intentions and good citizen values upon this fantastic country and making a huge impact. But can our involvement run a bit deeper with issues near and dear to our hearts, perhaps within our local city, or with the local public school that our children attend? Do we sometimes hear our conscience imploring, “Am I doing enough?”.  Yes we can get involved just a bit more, push our comfort zone and enhance the learning and impact our involvement. Our involvement can simply start with developing a healthy curiosity in our local community, instead of being ‘busy’ bystanders. Once we get involved, we will quickly discover, how easy it is for us to make progressive change happen and how receptive everyone around is, to leverage our skills for it. There are leaders waiting to be discovered, why not “me”, by taking that first step? The give-back experience can be freeing, energizing – personally rewarding and transformative at the same time. There are many who have made their mark in doing just that. With this monthly series, we want to highlight these SatyAgrah souls who are showing us the path. Here is a SatyaGrah soul, who has found the calling:

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Special thanks to Akshay Manglik for this profile coverage

Running for Montgomery County (Maryland) Council, At-Large

A first generation Indian American, son of small business

Ashwani Jain

owners, 15 year cancer survivor and alum of the Obama White House,

Ashwani is running a highly competitive campaign for Montgomery County Council. Backed by a broad coalition of supporters, including former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Ashwani is positioned to be the youngest person, the first Asian American, and first Indian American to ever serve on the Montgomery County Council.

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‘I’ve seen how much good comes from politics’

How did your upbringing lead you into politics?

I believe the role of government is to ensure equality of opportunity by investing in its citizens. My family immigrated to this country with limited resources. My grandfather became a high school janitor to provide for a family of 7. To pay for classes at a community college, my mother worked at a nursing home making minimum wage of $3.25 an hour. After my parents got married, my mother became a contractor for the EPA, while my father struggled to start his own business in an outdoor flea market in Montgomery County.

Ashwani Jain and family visit with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office

I’m glad to say that, today, because of the investments made by the federal, state and local government, my parents are successful small business owners. So I’ve seen first-hand the value of hard work and having a reliable partner in government.

The reality is that as members of our community, we can make deliberate choices to excel. But we also need our politicians to make deliberate choices that engage and empower us to excel.

Through my work with President Obama in his White House and on his campaigns, I’ve engaged and empowered communities here in Montgomery County for the last 10 years. And I’ve seen how much good can come from politics. I ran efforts to increase the diversity in our government, get Americans greater access to affordable housing and affordable healthcare, and build grassroots support for NIH resulting in billions of dollars for cancer research.

I now want to bring that same level of commitment to the community I was born and raised in by making our elected institutions more representative, responsive, inclusive and accountable.

Congratulations on overcoming your Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma! What was your path from being a patient to working in the White House to solve cancer?

When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer that is rarely found in children. It was the scariest moment of my life and I had to grow up fast.

Throughout my experience with cancer – from my initial diagnosis to the surgeries and procedures that followed – I felt completely out of control. I was in a continuous state of recovery, and never in a place of victory.

I lost hope countless times during my cancer treatments. I felt that life had treated me unfairly and that I deserved better. And I felt that people stopped talking with me as a person, and continued to talk about me like I was just a number. I felt powerless.

Ashwani Jain and his parents at a Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic event

But in 2005, shortly after my cancer treatments were completed, I was connected to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and they granted my wish to meet Denzel Washington. That experience changed my life forever. My wish gave me, and my family, hope in a dark time, and inspired me to belief that if I could meet my idol, anything was possible. It also empowered me to give back, which is why I became a Wish Grantor and Wish Ambassador for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Mid-Atlantic, helping other kids battling life-threatening medical conditions.

What advice do you have for other Indian-Americans running for political office for the first time?

First and foremost, I would say focus on what you want to do, not what you want to be. No one should consider a career in politics for the title, position or prestige. Instead, they should spend time focusing on what issues they want to elevate and then decide how they best advocate for them.

Second, I want folks to understand that they do not need to have a long resume or be an “expert” on any particular issue to run for office or have success in public service. All you need is passion, a willingness to learn, humility and a clear explanation of why running for a particular office or working for a specific organization gives you a way to solve the issues you are passionate about. People will support you not because they think you are the smartest or most politically savvy, but because they think you will be easy to work with and sincerely represent their values.

Third, do not let anyone discourage you from fulfilling your dreams and pursuing the work you want to accomplish. Keep the faith, the passion, the optimism and the positivity.

Friends, this was an interview with Ashwani Jain. We wish him the very best with his Congressional run and beyond.

Dear Readers, Do you have a story to share? We invite you to introduce us to folks in your community who are making a difference – we would love to profile them. Are there similar stories you are familiar with locally. The ones who helped address a simple issue in the community to make life a bit better. Perhaps someone you know decided to make a run for school board, was appointed to the planning commission. Provide us your insights on Indian Americans locally and nationally who are making things happen. These perspectives will help construct roadmaps for our community to empower ourselves, to hopefully ignite a desire in all of us to represent our local communities as doers, leaders, establish and entrench ourselves in this glorious country of America and help make it a better place.

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ABOUT RISHI: Rishi is an elected city councilmember in Saratoga, CA and politically active in the state of California, as a board member on a few state and national political organizations.  He continues to follow his passion for community service, seeking to provide services to his constituents cheaper, faster and better, in his passion to make a difference. Rishi has diligent service, responsiveness, community outreach and engagement a key focus for his political leadership, be that strong independent voice. As Silicon Valley’s community organizer, Rishi is host of many social, educational, cultural community events, many of which are free and always inclusive usually addressing a need or a cause. Rishi’s day job is as a Silicon Valley hi-tech executive but his zeal for service effervescent. Rishi is also the President of the Bay Area Indian American Democratic Club (www.baiadc.org) whose charter is to further the interests and values of Indian Americans, work towards political empowerment and advance ethical standards in the political system. You can reach him via his website www.RishiKumar.com.

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