Hungry for Change?
Head over to Mei Mei Restaurant at 506 Park Drive in Boston and enjoy a great meal in a fun, creative atmosphere rooted in socially conscious entrepreneurial practices.
At a recent Youth Leadership InItiative reunion, 2007 InIt Alum, Irene Li hosted a warm and welcoming evening for her YW peers at the establishment that she and her siblings, Andrew and Margaret Li own and operate together. Mei Mei’s vibe is friendly and upbeat with a thoughtful, modern layout. The menu caters to adventurous palettes and those looking for bold new fusions in Chinese-American fare. Best of all, everything served from their kitchen is made fresh with sustainable ingredients that are locally sourced from small farms.
As a teenager interested in social justice, Irene had the opportunity to connect with other young people from the greater Boston area through the Youth Leadership InItiative Program, or InIt for short. Together, she and her peers dialogued and explored issues of race, gender, class, and intersectionality. Over a decade later, Irene is still applying the things she learned as a teen at InIt and putting her own personal touch on everything she does as a Boston business owner.
The alumni gathering at Irene’s served as an opportunity to catch up with InIt community members from as early as 1998, back when the program was known as Anytown, all the way through 2012. As the evening unfolded it was clear that the experiences InIt/Anytown alumni shared as young people played significant roles in shaping their careers. In small huddles throughout the Mei Mei restaurant, InIt/Anytown alumni reminisced about the days when they camped out during the program’s Immersion Week, all the “aha! moments” they experienced in those early leadership trainings, the deep conversations they shared, and the inevitable laughter when someone had to sing the “late song” at the morning gatherings.
Today, InIt young professionals fill the ever-present need for strong, socially conscious role models in our city.
The work that each of our InIt alumni do in their daily lives, in many ways, still reflects the leadership commitments they made to each other, to their families, and to their communities over a decade ago. Irene’s restaurant and her approach to business development is a prime example of the leadership follow-through that InIt encourages. Not only does Irene serve up delicious food at her family-owned and operated establishment; she does it with a focus on creating equity for marginalized people. Over 50% of her employees are women and 50% are people of color. Irene takes excellent care of her employees. She has sound, responsible business practices that include financial literacy training for her team members and she even has plans to develop systems for profit sharing over time.
Payal Sharma, InIt/Anytown class of 2003 and current YW Boston Racial Justice Program Manager said, “I had a great time reconnecting with fellow InIt alum and hearing stories from peers who are doing interesting and important work in the community. It’s great to see how everyone’s careers have evolved and how their youth leadership experiences have shaped them as young professionals. It really just felt like an old family reunion. We had fun, we laughed, and reminisced about intense, life-changing workshops and movements.”
“Our hope for the future of InIt is to create an alumni mentoring program,” said Emily Conwell, the InIt Program Coordinator. “Having reunion events like the one hosted by Irene at Mei Mei is a first step toward rekindling a strong alumni network for the InIt community.” Jeanyne Hendershott, InIt alumni 2010, is a residential counselor at Wayside Youth & Family Support Services. During the reunion, she shared reflections of her early leadership experiences, the mindset that strengthened her as a teen and still motivates her to help others. Connecting folks like Jeanyne with younger alumni and current delegates of the program can give students the opportunity to learn from and grow with people who took their InIt commitments to heart and became leaders for social change in their selected fields.
If you’re a young person hungry for opportunities to lead, advocate for yourself and your peers to bring InIt to your school. Let school administrators know that you’d like to become part of the InIt community. If you’re a parent, educator, or community leader who works with youth, contact us to help make connections and build a partnership. And finally, if you’re an InIt alumni, join the network we’re building together and share your story with YW Boston. We’ll be collaborating to write spotlight blogs featuring your community leadership stories.
We want to hear from you, so please reach out and share the great work you’re doing to advance social justice and create equity in Boston!
“Special thanks to Irene and the Mei Mei kitchen staff for hosting InIt’s kick off alumni reunion. All of us at YW are proud of the work that you and your family are doing to grow this wonderful, socially sustainable business.”
–Julia Macmahon, Youth Leadership Program Manager
Everyone out there reading this, go feed your appetite for change! Support unique businesses like Mei Mei and help build a future that promises to be deliciously inclusive.
InIt Alumni Reunion Photos & Slideshow by Kaitlin Pang