New York City Doctoral Student Works to End the Pandemic of Hate

Daily Point of Light # 7238 Mar 1, 2022

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Michelle Tran, who was a 2021 L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth Awardee. Each year L’Oréal Paris and Points of Light recognize and celebrate Women of Worth who make a beautiful difference in their communities. Ten honorees each receive a $20,000 grant to support their most cherished cause, and an online vote determines one honoree who will receive an additional $25,000 grant. Nominations for 2022 are now open! If you know a woman who works to create lasting and significant change in her community, nominate her to be one of the 2022 Women of Worth.

Hatred was spreading all around her in New York City as the COVID-19 pandemic continued around the world  — Michelle Tran remembers people crossing the street to avoid her and even witnessed elderly Asian Americans getting attacked at restaurants and cafes she frequented.  

In light of escalating hate crimes against Asian American Pacific Islanders, Michelle Tran rose up to give her community a sense of hope and belonging with her nonprofit, Soar Over Hate, an initiative to combat anti-Asian hate and equip vulnerable Asian American Pacific Islanders with self-defense materials, culturally-competent therapy and other resources. 

“Our goals are to empower the community and to give a voice back to the people that are feeling like their voices have been silenced or taken away,” Michelle said. “The COVID-19 pandemic really illustrated how detrimental and dangerous racism can be.” 

“It’s extremely eye-opening for people to see that lives can be lost from these horrible reasons,” she added. “It can be debilitating and affect people’s emotional well-being and ability to relax.” 

Michelle co-founded Soar Over Hate with her mentee, Tiffany Yuen, in 2019. The doctoral student of medicine was recognized as a L’Oréal Paris Woman of Worth in 2021 and received a $20,000 donation to support her cause. She remains motivated to reclaim her power and voice, and to help others to do the same. 

Michelle Tran and Howard Chen donate a personal safety alarm to a senior in Manhattan’s Chinatown./Courtesy Derek Kao

Michelle began attending rallies that brought together Asian American Pacific Islanders who stood in solidarity against hate crimes. She realized that people needed to take extra safety precautions in the city. The drive to keep herself, her friends and her family safe began as Michelle purchased pepper spray. Shortly after, she raised funds to purchase personal safety alarms for Asian Americans who didn’t know how to find the resources themselves or couldn’t afford them on their own.  

Michelle realized how big this need was after thousands of dollars poured in from her friends, family and colleagues on GoFundMe. Vulnerable communities — immigrants that didn’t speak English, low-income residents, women and members of the LGBTQ community — were prioritized, and Soar Over Hate has distributed more than 23,000 safety alarms, whistles and pepper sprays. 

The fourth year doctoral student didn’t stop there. Michelle began to host Asian American Pacific Islander Care Fairs that offered health care screenings, self-defense classes, mental health resources, therapy, meditation, healing circles and more.  

Soar Over Hate’s Bright Futures scholarship program, launched in 2021, has awarded six people $500 or $1,000 in funds. Michelle hopes the scholarship program will continue to grow and help provide healing and hope to AAPI youth in addition to giving out more personal safety equipment to the community this spring.  

“It’s been really meaningful for me to connect with the Asian community in New York City and to have so many bonds made, especially after more isolation throughout the pandemic,” Michelle said.    

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Michelle? Find local volunteer opportunities. 

Madi Donham