Local Hero: Stewart Kwoh

Stewart Kwoh

"To seek justice for the mistreated, create a stronger voice for disenfranchised Asian Americans and others, and build a united, multi-racial community - that is my passion."

In 1983, Stewart Kwoh set out to create a nonprofit organization that served as the voice of the exploited and discriminated for Los Angeles' Asian Pacific American community. What developed was the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) - the largest and most diverse legal assistance and civil rights organization representing the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) communities in the United States. Mr. Kwoh is co-founder, president and executive director of APALC.

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Under Mr. Kwoh's leadership, APALC is a vital voice in the community. It offers an array of services, including legal services via a telephone hotline in Khmer, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Vietnamese, litigation that protects the exploited, the promotion of immigrants' rights, protection of voting rights and leadership development.

Mr. Kwoh's passion for social justice also extends into education. He is currently an undergraduate lecturer at UCLA's Asian American Studies Department and editor and co-author of "Untold Civil Rights Stories: Asian Americans Speak Out for Justice," the first textbook for high school students that focuses on Asian American civil rights heroes. Further, Mr. Kwoh co-created Mandarin in Schools, an initiative that advocates the teaching of Chinese history, culture and language in conjunction with Chinese American history in Los Angeles' public schools.

After the Los Angeles Riots in 1992, Mr. Kwoh co-created the Multicultural Collaborative (MCC) to develop long-term solution to ethnic conflict.

Currently, Mr. Kwoh is chair of the board of the Los Angeles Methodist Urban Foundation and vice-chairman of Asian American Justice Center (a national civil rights organization), which was co-founded by APALC in 1991. He is also board member of Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs of California State University, Los Angeles, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, and Southern California Public Radio.

Previously, Mr. Kwoh was steering committee member of Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) and chairman of the board of The California Endowment.

Mr. Kwoh is the co-author of "Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America's Future" and "Searching for the Uncommon Common Ground: New Dimensions on Race in America."

In June 1998, the MacArthur Foundation named Mr. Kwoh a MacArthur Fellow. He was the first Asian American attorney and human rights activist to receive this highly prestigious recognition. Mr. Kwoh has received several awards. In 2010, he received the Civic Medal of Honor from the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. In 2007, he was honored with the Loren Miller Legal Services Award from the State Bar of California and the Impact Award from the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association (SCCLA).

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Stewart is truly an inspiring figure and I am glad he is being recognized for it. I know that many of us who had the honor of having him as our professor at UCLA have held his work as a guiding light for our goals.