When a gunman opened fire on three Atlanta-area spas on March 16, 2021, killing eight people — the majority of the victims being Asian American women — the news shocked the country. But there was no group more devastated and terrified than the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community that had already seen a dramatic increase in hate crimes and violence against them amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the ever-changing news cycle of 2021, the story barely lasted three days on most news broadcasts, but for ABC News anchor Juju Chang, who was born in Korea, the news hit home. During a network meeting, she and anchor Eva Pilgrim, who was also born in Korea, made their case for why the story should not go ignored, according to the LA Times.
Their efforts led to a special edition of “20/20” titled, “Murder in Atlanta.” It was the only network program to devote an entire primetime hour to the story, according to the LA Times. With Juju’s emotional interviews with the victims’ families and further reporting on the history of anti-Asian rhetoric in the US, Juju and her team were not only able to spread more awareness about the racism Asian Americans are facing, but they also helped to invigorate activists fighting to stop Asian hate.
Just as she has helped empower the Asian American community through the news, Juju has been doing the same in the nonprofit world. She is one of the co-founders of the Korean American Community Foundation (KAFC), which provides grants and support to nonprofit groups serving Korean American individuals and families who are under-resourced.
The origin of the foundation goes back to 2002 when South Korean ambassador Young-mok Kim gathered a group of Korean-American professionals in New York, including Juju, for lunch. Midway through the meal, the ambassador told the group that he’d like them to start a nonprofit to help their community.
“I remember thinking this seemed so ambitious,” Juju said. “But soon it made the 15 or so people in the room with me say to ourselves individually and collectively, ‘If not us, who? If not now, when?’ The next thing we knew, we were crafting a mission statement and founding the Korean American Community Foundation.”
By funding more than $10 million in grants to hundreds of projects such as job training programs, bilingual and skill-building classes, public benefits counseling, academic enhancement and youth leadership initiatives, KACF has been able to strengthen the economic security of countless low-income Korean Americans in the greater New York metropolitan area.
On top of her work with KACF, Juju has emceed or hosted events for many other Asian American nonprofits such as the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Asia Society. She credits her parents’ generosity of spirit for her own altruistic values.
“Growing up, I watched my immigrant dad give his time, energy and resources to help more recent immigrants,” Juju said. “He was always helping with translations, paying fees or helping people achieve their version of the American dream.”
Now as a mother herself, Juju is passing on that same passion for service her father instilled in her to her own three sons. In the past, she, her husband and children have built bikes together for their synagogue to give to kids in need. They’ve helped clean up city parks, pack lunch bags at food pantries and pick up trash along the Hudson River. During the pandemic, Juju and her sons delivered meals to homebound seniors through Meals on Wheels.
“It felt like the old proverb, ‘Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.’ The best thing to do in the midst of the darkness of the pandemic was to help people in need,” Juju said. “It fills you with gratitude and uplift.”
Byron Pitts, Juju’s co-anchor on ABC News’ “Nightline” has seen firsthand how Juju’s heart for service has inspired those around her.
“Juju never waivers in her support of the Korean American Community Foundation — a co-founder and tireless champion, throughout the years learning about Korean non-profits and the challenges facing the community, and the possible solutions,” Byron said. “A steadfast ambassador and a pillar in the Korean American community, her generous spirit and down to earth personality are infectious to all, on and off TV. Juju is grace, she is goodness. Juju is the best of us.”
With the hours it takes to work as a journalist, run a family and be involved in various organizations, Juju’s schedule is already packed to the brim. But she said taking the time to volunteer is worth it because she gets as much out of it as those she serves.
“I think we are all looking for meaning and purpose in this chaotic world, and volunteering is a beautiful way to do just that,” she said.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Juju? Find local volunteer opportunities.