Jacqulyn Whang is the 2019 Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds. Except for she is a WOC, and this is her real-life, not a movie.
As a teacher in Compton, Jacqulyn has a power that transcends the classroom. She held a women’s empowerment day on a Wednesday at like 9 AM at her school and invited 300 women to come as mentors (across industries, from all across the city). Impossible, right? That many women in LA, taking off work, let alone sitting in morning traffic to make it? WELL, Jacqulyn filled an auditorium of women, stylists, policymakers, other teachers, women in film, writers, DJs, old, and young. It was a sight to see, and a room that would’ve been impossible without her organization and leadership.
She marries the classroom with creatives. She doesn’t think that because her students are kids, that they aren’t able to work in whatever industry they want to get into now. She’s had filmmakers, clothing brand owners, poets, you name it, come visit her classroom to give her students the things many of us as students never had access to. She started a film club at her school with hundreds of dollars donated by camera companies. She’s lead yoga and meditation in the classroom with students and parents, not as a gimmick but as a passion that she shares with her community (catch one of her classes soon).
Activism in action. Beauty in strength. Read more about this powerhouse below.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
When people first meet me, they ask me the general questions of “What do you do?” “Where do you live?” Those two questions are great entry points into my life. I am a teacher, and I live in Compton, where I teach.
At first, people get startled. I’m assuming for various reasons, some including: I’m Asian and a fairly small-framed woman; also, not many people seek out to move here. Little do they know about me, and little do they know about the power and beauty of the city, a force that changed my life and led me here.
I’ve always been an activist. Ever since I was younger, my parents showed me that an honourable life is one of servitude and love. They raised me in a Christian household, with Confucius rules. Much of my actions were and still are driven by the values and beliefs they fostered in me as a child. They were ministers and much of their life they served in humility and strength. They were the types of pastors who made sure everyone at church had a job, food to eat, and schools for their children. Activism is not something I one day woke up and claimed, but it was small to big acts of giving and loving on a daily basis that affirmed this identity.
Where are you from? If you’re not from LA, what brought you out here?
I moved around a lot growing up and lived in different parts of Southern California, and even Illinois. My early childhood was in San Bernardino, and then we moved to Glendale, where my mom worked at the Eagle Rock Mall. This is crazy because the first school I taught at is right down the street from here. We then moved to Illinois, and my middle school and high school I spent in Diamond Bar. I went to various high schools in Diamond Bar, Walnut and Pomona, so much of my social upbringing was in transience.
I went to undergraduate at the University of San Francisco and spent four years in the Bay and then graduate school at Harvard School of Education and spent a year in Cambridge. I finally moved back to Los Angeles to teach. I came back here because I always knew I’d come back to be a teacher. This is the community that I felt closest to and wanted to plant my roots.
What are you working on that you’re excited about?
The most recent project I’m excited to work on are some community events. I am a part of a few working groups to plan some programs.
One of them is a young women’s wellness day in Compton. One of the most exciting things about this project is that I get to work with leaders in the community and dream up a programmed day that we all think that our young girls could benefit from. We want to include all the cute, the cool, the positive – from guest speakers, panelists, workshop hosts, parenting classes, and DJ dance parties.
Another thing I’m excited about are the school clubs I’m running on campus. We are finalizing some video students who shot for the Film Club, where they used Super 8 cameras and VHS to document archival and current footage that share a narrative of someone they love. Also, our Future Voters club is in the works of planning another Voter Pre Registration drive on campus and planning a project they can do in the city that involves the upcoming school board elections.
What are you currently struggling with?
I am currently struggling to find time to exercise. I LOVE working out and being active, so it has been hard for me physically and emotionally to not work out. I do some yoga every day, but to feel energized and well, I need to have something physically challenging. I want to find accountability partners to help; maybe walk around the track with some of my teacher friends.
At this moment, what are you grateful for?
I am most grateful for my friendships. My friends are people I rely on and build with. They inspire me to not only do what I do but believe in what they do. I’m also thankful for my job and everything that comes with it. I’m actually grateful for a lot. I can go on forever about this.
Where or how do you find rest?
My routine helps me find rest. Eating at a certain time and eating healthy. I find rest by sleeping early. I try not to sleep past 11 pm. I wake up between 5:30 to 6:00 am during the weekdays, so try to hold strict to this regiment. Exercising, journaling, reading, getting sun. When these things are not in balance, I feel a bit restless.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? What’s the greatest piece of encouragement?
My grandma told me two statements that have guided me through my life. The first is that “everyone has their own seat at the table.” This advice affirms me when I feel insecure and that I’m not enough to do the work I dream of. Knowing that I have a seat helps me to keep pushing and not worry about what others are doing.
The second word of advice is, “This is just the beginning.” This brings me hope because it helps me see adversities as a launching pad for a new chapter and new season.
When you’re a cute grandma (grandpa) at 85, where do you picture yourself and what are you doing?
Somewhere creating beautiful art with the people I love.