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AAPI Leaders Gather at the Annual ILF Gala

Written by CAPA-JRC reporters Doris Wang, Jessica Zhang, Sophie Huang, Emily Jia, Joy Jiang, Eileen Luo, Chaiwey Chen

On July 28, 2022, the Chinese American Parents Association Junior Reporter Club (CAPA-JRC) headed into the Capital Hilton Hotel in Washington DC to attend an annual gala hosted by the International Leadership Foundation (ILF). Founded by Chiling Tong in 2000, the ILF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the next generation of Asian Pacific American youth leaders. They held a luncheon to start off the day before the evening Scholarship Gala. At the luncheon, several fellows from the foundation’s fellowship program, foundation board members, and service award winners spoke about their experience with the ILF.

Interviewing Dr. Henry Lee

After an introductory speech, the JRC had the opportunity to interview Dr. Henry Lee, a Chinese-American forensic scientist who has been part of many famous cases including the OJ Simpson and Laci Peterson cases. He started his work as a police officer, then later transitioned to the field of forensic science.

The interview started with an overview of Dr. Lee’s career and the impressive feats he accomplished. Dr. Lee was the first ever Chinese American to become a forensic science laboratory director. In 1976, he was appointed as the chief criminalist and forensic scientist of connecticut. Perhaps one of his most notable achievements was “breaking the glass ceiling” by being the first Asian American to become a state police commissioner. He has since retired five times, but he still works fourteen to sixteen hours a day, seven days a week.

JRC reporters interviewing Dr. Lee. Image credits: Feng Li

Yet despite all his accomplishments, he is most proud of not letting his mother down. “She works hard, holding the family together,” Dr. Lee said, recalling memories of his mother.

As a child, Dr. Lee held a curious view on life, where he deeply enjoyed reading fantasy and detective novels. Even though his mother wished that he would read textbooks rather than fiction, he continued to devour fiction, reading under his blanket late at night with a flashlight. “Reading is a good habit,” he said, explaining that it was a good way to gain knowledge.

Three years ago, Dr. Lee made the decision to stop taking cases, and focus on cold cases instead. He helps families review the cases and wants the younger officers and forensic scientists to take care of the cases, taking on a more mentor-like role instead of actively leading the case investigations.

As a forensic scientist, Dr. Lee stressed that the most essential part of the job was learning how to “compartmentalize [his] brain”. He described it as pushing away the events that happened away from affecting himself. Then, when he needed these events while working on the case, he would relive the scene. This was also important because it helped him focus solely on the cold facts of the case, rather than the interpretation of those facts.

Fireside Chat With Elaine Chao

Following the interview with Dr. Henry Lee, the JRC reporters headed towards the fireside chat with Elaine Chao. The chat consisted of Chao, the 24th U.S. Secretary of Labor and the 18th U.S. Secretary of Transportation, and the first Asian woman in the United States to be appointed to the President's Cabinet, having a casual chat to share her parents’ upcoming biography.

Ms. Elaine Chao chatting with Ms. Chiling Tong. Image credits: Qiang Wang

During the chat, Chao discussed her heritage and the role her culture plays in different aspects of her life. She also talked about her parents, focusing on her father and the accomplishments he achieved within the business field. “He just loves people,” Chao said, emphasizing that trust in others was an important factor in her father’s career. Chao also explained how her father’s childhood, where he “had nothing”, turned him into someone who needed to have the trust of others in order to get jobs and build relationships.

Chao then told the audience of the many lessons and values she obtained from her parents. Her father taught her the importance of persistence and determination, both of which helped her through her career in public service. As the eldest of six daughters, Chao shared that her family was very united and faced problems together. Chao said that she was very thankful for her family and heritage as they helped shape her identity and values.

Attending the Gala

The JRC later attended the evening Scholarship Gala. The ILF’s annual awards gala honors individuals and organizations in a number of categories for their efforts to advance and support the AAPI community over the past year.

Governor Hogan gave a keynote speech at the gala. Image credits: Qiang Wang

The gala kicked off with the American anthem and a speech from Ms. Chiling Tong, who introduced the ILF, their purpose, and their contributions to the AAPI community, followed by a montage honoring past members of the ILF.

During the presentation of Leadership Awards after dinner, Dr. James S. C. Chao was awarded the Person of the Year Award, and Mr. Charles Liang won the Business Leadership Award, with many other outstanding individuals being awarded as well.

Right before the closing remarks given by MD Senator Susan Lee, MD Governor Larry Hogan gave the keynote speech at the gala. “Tonight, as I see all of these incredible young Asian American leaders, it gives me hope that America’s best days are still ahead of us,” said Governor Hogan. “So embrace the things that make you unique, do what you are passionate about, take bold risks, challenge the status quo, and don’t ever give up.”


The luncheon was a rewarding opportunity to learn about many prominent speakers and guests, as well as to learn from inspirational ILF members and their experiences. Through the ILF, our reporters received the chance to not only interview an AAPI leader in forensic science, but also celebrate other AAPI leaders in politics and other fields.

This article was provided by Chinese American Parents Association Junior Reporter Club (CAPA JRC) with members who interviewed, audio recorded, wrote, translated, and video recorded. CAPA JRC has 25 Montgomery County middle to high school students. They have created a bilingual platform delivering news and serving the community.


Instagram: @capa_jrc


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