What We’re Up To

A Coffee with… Tommy Lee, Account Coordinator

May 21st, 2021

A Coffee with Tommy Lee, Strategic Campaigns ACA Coffee with Tommy Lee, Strategic Campaigns AC

We grabbed coffee with our Account Coordinator Tommy Lee to talk about the importance of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, cultural diversity and family traditions. Plus: he shares how it is to provide PR and communications support for major racial and socioeconomic justice advocacy organizations.

How do you like your coffee?
As of late, I’ve been taking my coffee black. If I want to spice things up though, I’ll add some almond milk and a cheeky little dollop of honey.

How did your heritage shape who you are today?
I come from a family of immigrants. My father came to America in the 60s with my grandparents and my mother immigrated over in the 90s. They settled down in Los Angeles and worked hard in pursuit of a better life for us all, navigating the socioeconomic struggles and systemic barriers that immigrant families face throughout this country everyday. Because of my family’s relentless work ethic and sacrifices, my wonderful sisters and I are able to pursue our own dreams and build upon the intergenerational framework set forth by our ancestors. Safe to say, I’m proud to call myself a Korean American today.

However, growing up, I walked this super fine line between these two different identities. I would find myself neglecting my Korean heritage, often due to internalized frustration, confusion, and an inherent lack of understanding. I saw it as more of a burden than something which I should be proud of. To this day, I still can’t speak Korean fluently, nor can I read the language. The extent of my hangul is me being able to write my middle name in crude handwriting, which is something a lot of Korean Americans can relate to.

Leaving home for both college and work has really helped me put things back into perspective and embrace the importance of my Korean identity and heritage over time. The innate importance of family and community within Korean culture cannot be understated, and it is something that I hold dear to my heart, The cultural notions of humility and generosity permeate seamlessly into my everyday life, whether it be in or outside the office. The need to help others and be a part of a community bigger than myself is what led me to New York and into progressive politics today.

I am not who I am today without my Korean heritage.

What traditions does your family have that are important to you?
My family celebrates Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) and Seollal (New Year’s Day) every year, and it is something that I always look forward to. Not only do these holidays provide mountains upon mountains of delicious Korean food for us to all enjoy, but they also bring the entire extended family together. We have a fairly big family here now, with many cousins, uncles and aunts putting down roots across the entire country. But on these days, we always come together to give gifts, eat amazing food and spend quality time together as one collective unit.

My family also takes this time to pay respect to our ancestors, which is super integral to Korean familial culture overall. We perform a ceremony in which we lay out our ancestors’ favorite foods and drinks whilst we bow in remembrance and commemoration. We do this in conjunction with a yearly gravesite visit in which we all come together to pay our respects, clean our ancestors’ resting places and arrange colorful flower arrangements. It’s truly an amazing time where we’re able to celebrate the unbreakable bonds of family.

Tommy’s first birthday

Why is AAPIHM important to you?
America is a country built by immigrants and it’s important for all of us to recognize the integral role that they play in our country’s ever-growing history and future successes. Oftentimes, the AAPI community gets boiled down into a multitude of unfortunate stereotypes, but we are more than just a mere generalization. The reality of the situation is that we are a community built upon diversity—we all have our own unique cultures, successes, struggles and narratives here in this country we call home.

Ultimately, AAPIHM gives us a platform to share these experiences to anyone willing to listen and understand our respective stories. Especially with the disgusting rise of Asian hate crimes nationwide, it is crucial for us to amplify the unique perspectives of America’s AAPI members and to celebrate the inherent beauty and wonder that comes from cultural diversity.

Why did you join BerlinRosen?
I’ve always been amazed by BerlinRosen’s track record of promoting social justice and fostering essential socio-economic change nationwide. The firm lies at the forefront of this extensive, nationwide progressive infrastructure and I wanted to do everything that I could to help build upon this ever-growing project for years now. Now that I’m here at the BerlinRosen, I’m blessed to contribute toward the growth of the progressive movement and the well-being of vulnerable communities across the nation.

Describe what you do at BerlinRosen.
As an Account Coordinator on the Strategic Campaigns team, I provide media relations and communications support for various clients within the racial and socioeconomic justice space. I take immense pride in being able to represent these amazing clients daily and to fight for inclusivity and equality for marginalized communities across the country.

Tell me a life-changing moment that helped shape who you are today.
Moving to the east coast really put me on the fast track to grow both professionally and personally. The move pushed me to really come into my own quickly and contextualize the goals I set out for myself all throughout my childhood and adolescence. Nowadays, I can’t imagine what I’d be like without NYC!

⚡️ Fast Facts

Last TV show I binge-watched: Neon Genesis Evangelion and Succession (can’t wait for season 3)
Restaurant (delivery) I’d recommend to close friends: L’industrie Pizzeria is the absolute best pizza in NYC. Unreal crispiness and topping selection, I highly recommend!
Best concert I’ve ever experienced: Nancy Whang from LCD Soundsystem has this amazing DJ set in Greenpoint that I need to go back to once things return back to normal. The ambiance and music are just to die for.
Book that changed me: The Ball is Round. Absolutely amazing chronicling of soccer’s development and global impact throughout history.
Movie I’d pay to see again and again: Moneyball. Who doesn’t love an underdog story with an unbelievable soundtrack?
My heroes are… my mom and my dad. They’ve sacrificed so much for our entire family and to say that I’m blessed to have them both in my life is an unbelievable understatement. Both of them give me the strength and motivation to be myself and fight for what I believe in.
Advice I’d tell my young self: Don’t stress over the little things, be proud of who you are and just enjoy the ride.