Vu Le: A Unicorn in Nonprofit ED’s Clothing

Vu Le: A Unicorn in Nonprofit ED’s Clothing

Vu Le (“voo lay”) is a writer, speaker, vegan, Pisces, and the Executive Director of Rainier Valley Corps, a nonprofit in Seattle with the mission of developing and supporting leaders of color to strengthen the capacity of communities-of-color-led nonprofits and foster collaboration between diverse communities to effect systemic change.

Vu’s passion to make the world better, combined with a low score on the Law School Admission Test, drove him into the field of nonprofit work, where he learned that we should take the work seriously, but not ourselves.

He says there’s tons of humor in the nonprofit world, and that someone needs to document it.

“He is going to do that, with the hope that one day, a TV producer will see how cool and interesting our field is and make a show about nonprofit work, featuring attractive actors attending strategic planning meetings and filing 990 tax forms,” says his blog bio.

He’ll be the first to tell you that he’s known for his no-BS approach, irreverent sense of humor, and love of unicorns, and that he’s been featured in dozens, if not hundreds, of his own blog posts at Nonprofit… and Fearless.

This week, he was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions for our People in Your Neighborhood column — a series of interviews with some of South Seattle’s most interesting and engaging people.

Vu loves unicorns. Probably because he is one.

Name:
Vu Le

Age:
36

Neighborhood:
Columbia City

How long in South Seattle?
11 years

Where from originally?
Born in Vietnam.

Day job:
Executive Director of Rainier Valley Corps

What do you like most about your day job?
I get to work with amazing people to help fight injustice and strengthen our community.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?
My 3-year-old and 1-year-old. They inspire me to work harder to create the kind of community I want them to grow up in. And they wake up at 6:30 each day.

Tell us about your work in the community.
Rainier Valley Corps promotes social justice by developing nonprofit leaders of color, strengthen organizations led by communities of color, and foster collaboration between diverse communities. Our flagship program is our fellowship program that recruits cohorts of talented leaders of color, provide them with a job and living wage, healthcare, and education bonus and place them to work at organizations in the Valley led by communities of color. Our fellows help these organizations carry out their important missions by managing programs, helping with fundraising, and building organizational infrastructure. We are now also working to provide a comprehensive set of operating and other forms of support to these organizations so they can focus on their critical work. My role as Executive Director is to provide guidance and fundraise, but it’s the staff who do most of the work.

What motivates you to do this work?
My family and I benefited a lot from kind, caring neighbors and nonprofit organizations when we first arrived. I want to help repay that. But I also think we each personally benefit when work toward a more inclusive and just society.

What are you passionate about?
Social justice, nonprofits, and good TV shows.

What are your hobbies?
I watch a lot of TV shows (Game of Thrones, Battlestar Galactica, Golden Girls). I also write a blog on the nonprofit sector, called Nonprofitwithballs.com

Tell us about your family:
I have a wife and two kids.

What’s your most favorite thing about South Seattle?
I love our diversity and the people we have here. Plus, our restaurants and shops are amazing.

What’s your least favorite thing about South Seattle?
I can’t think of anything I don’t like about South Seattle that I wouldn’t also hate if it happened anywhere else. For example, litter. Or graffiti.

Where is your favorite place to go in South Seattle?
I love Seward Park. Kubota Garden is also one of my favorite locations in the City.

If you could live anywhere besides South Seattle, where would it be?
It might be fun to raise kids in a completely different country.

If there was one thing you could change about South Seattle, what would it be?
I wish economic development were some times more equitable. It seems that many people who have lived here for a long time are being driven out by rising house prices and gentrification.

Who inspires you?
My family, especially my kids. And other people who are trying each day to make our community better.

What was the last thing you read?
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Tell us something about you that not many people know:
I once tried to hypnotize my little brother so that he wouldn’t feel pain when I poked his hand with a needle. It did not work.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A just and inclusive society where neighbors take care of one another, and everyone has access to education and jobs and affordable housing, and where we take care of the earth. And where Firefly had not been cancelled but is now in its 14th season.

What is your greatest fear?
That the current political and social climate continues.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I can be very disorganized and procrastinate a lot.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Latching on to an idea or a belief and then only finding data to confirm those things, and then dismissing everything else.

What is your greatest regret?
I didn’t spend enough time with people I loved before they passed away.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My wife and kids.

What is your current state of mind?
Fearful of our current political climate that has been stoking racism, xenophobia, neo-Nazism, misogyny, Islamophobia, and a host of other terrible things. But I’m also hopeful and believe most people are good and we’ll overcome.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I did help start the World Dance Party! It’s one of the most amazing, community-driven, life-affirming events we have. And it started in South Seattle. https://www.facebook.com/worlddanceparty

What is your most treasured possession?
My journals and photos. Each night, I write down just a list of what I did during the day. Flipping through the pages, I can recall the people I hung out with and what did together, and that triggers memories. Photos do the same. Memories are my most treasured possessions.

What do you most value in your friends?
I most value the fierce determination my friends have to make the world better.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Frodo. A simple little hobbit with no particular super power or brilliance or fighting skills. He just works hard and does his part. He and Sam save the world, proving that ordinary people can do great things.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My teachers through elementary, middle, high school, college, and grad school. I haven’t thanked them enough, maybe ever. But they helped me to be a better person.

What is it that you most dislike?
People who refuse to see others’ perspectives.

Is there a South Seattle neighbor you’d like to know more about? Nominate them for our People in Your Neighborhood column — a series of interviews with some of South Seattle’s most interesting and engaging people. Send your suggestions to gosouthseattle@gmail.com.

 

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