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ARTS DISTRICT, LOS ANGELES – It started as a movement in response to hate crimes against their Asian American community sparked by fears and misinformation surrounding Coronavirus.

Two years later, Hate Is A Virus – co-founded by Michelle Hanabusa and Tammy Cho – is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and growing community that has reached more than 5 million impressions via the efforts of its community advocates and leaders, and countless others.

That activism earned Hanabusa and Cho the distinction of being recognized as the Rams' third community pLAymaker honorees. They were surprised with a $5,000 check from The Los Angeles Rams Foundation last week.

"To be in community with everybody across the nation, as well as our local community, and to see everyone come together, whether it's to fundraise for different organizations, whether it's to create spaces just to learn from each other and have dialogue, it's just been such an honor to be able to be in community with with everyone," Cho said. "And so being a playmaker, I think, is a testament to the fact that our community is making some progress and being able to continue this movement."

Hanabusa said being a pLAymaker isn't just her and Cho in this movement – it takes everyone coming together to see change, and they've seen how powerful it is when that happens.

"I think it's just a testament to our community, and all of the moving pieces that are happening right now, for us to feel hopeful for the future and to seek the change that we want to see," Hanabusa said.

Cho describes Hate Is A Virus as an organization and nonprofit committee of "mobilizers and amplifiers to dismantle racism and hate."

The initiative began in March 2020 when they saw the rise in anti-Asian hate and violence stemming from COVID-19 fears and misinformation. According to its website, they were seeing 6, 7, and 8 year-olds getting bullied by their peers and the elderly getting attacked in broad daylight, to the point that the FBI issued a warning to law enforcement about an increase in hate crimes. On top of that, Asian-led small businesses were reporting an 80 percent decrease in business months prior to mandated shelter-in-place by the government.

According to Cho, it first started as a local initiative supporting those local small businesses, then evolved into an awareness campaign once those lockdowns took place. Due to community needs, it evolved again into a nonprofit that now aims to educate their community on their role in this moment and sustaining that work over the long run.

"I think what's what's really beautiful about Hate Is A Virus is that we really try to understand the needs of our communities, whether it's locally or at large, and be able to pivot and be able to evolve as the needs change," Hanabusa said. "So being able to do that from two years ago, and really shifting our goals and being able to still support our community in that way has been a really awesome experience."

Along those lines, Hanabusa said that to her, inspire change means understanding where they're at in their journey, continuing to be a part of this movement and finding their voice in this movement.

"Understanding where we are in our journey – are we at the very beginning of just learning about this? How can we activate our voice and our skillset to be a part of this? Or have we been doing this work for decades, which so many grassroots organizations have done," she said. "So we think it's understanding where we are at in this journey, and then being able to work together, bridge those connections and be able to push forward."

Also important to inspiring change, according to Cho, is being able to welcome people into the movement, no matter where they are in their journey. Specifically, allowing them to bring their whole selves and unique perspectives into the movement in order to continue pushing it forward.

"And also remembering that issues like racism are not going to go away overnight," Cho said. "So remembering to also pace ourselves in that journey, and support one another and really uplift one another, treat each other in love."

When it comes to people inspiring change in their own communities, Cho draws from that journey again, encouraging people to think about one step they could take each day to be part of changing this reality for the betterment of current and future generations.

"Sometimes, specially if you're newer to talking about these issues, or even learning about them, it can be really intimidating to be a part of the conversation and engage," Cho said. "But it doesn't have to be."

Know a pLAymaker in your community?Click hereto nominate them!

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