BY MAHADEV DESAI
Atlanta, GA: On Monday, May 6, as part of the White House’s observance of AAPI Heritage Month, Aparna Bhattacharyya of Atlanta was honored as one of fifteen Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women who are “Champions of Change.” The event recognized Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander women who are doing extraordinary things to create a more equal, safe, and prosperous future for their communities and the country.Aparna was one of two Indian-American women, honorees recognized at the event.
“These fifteen women represent the strength and diversity of the AAPI community. These leaders – in business, advocacy, philanthropy, sports, the arts, and academia – are wonderful examples for young women across the country,” said Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls.
“As we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month this May, we pay tribute to the many AAPI women – from Bernice Pauahi Bishop to Congresswoman Patsy Mink to Sunita Pandya Williams – who have shaped the story of America,” added Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff to the First Lady and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.
The Champions of Change program was created as an opportunity for the White house to feature groups of Americans – individuals, businesses and organizations – who are doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities.
Aparna shared her participation in the event, “The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders hosted a luncheon for the honorees. The Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) Kiran Ahuja who has Georgia roots lauded White House Associate Director of Public Engagement, Gautam Raghavan for his initiative to honor AAPI Women leaders. She noted that this was the first time the White House was recognizing the roles and contributions of AAPI Women leaders. We also got to meet with Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff to the First Lady Michelle Obama, and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02). The latter attended but did not address the gathering. U.S.Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and U.S.Congresswoman Dr.Judy Chu (D-Calif) also gave inspiring talks. “I was amazed to hear about the uplifting work done not only by the AAPI politicians but by my fellow AAPI Champions of Change. Each Champion was doing exemplary work in her own community, each one with a different perspective and reality. Each of the women varied in ages, backgrounds, accomplishments and experiences. Each one was empowering but modest. Each one spoke their own truth and spoke it with passion. I was struck by their humility, and strength and I feel I learnt something new and enriching from each one of them. I will cherish the opportunity to interact with each of them.”
Aparna Bhattacharyya, who is well-loved and respected for her bubbly, enthusiastic nature, innate compassion, concern, caring and social activism was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She has served as Executive Director of Raksha since 1998.
Aparna graduated from Georgia State University with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. She volunteered and worked as a Victim Advocate for 5 years for the city of Atlanta’s Victim Witness Assistance Program (VWAP) where she developed the multi-cultural components of the 1996 Olympic Crisis Response Team.
She was one of the many victim advocates, who responded to the Olympic Bombing in Atlanta during 1996.
She worked as a Project coordinator/Employment Specialist for the Newcomers’ Network’s Refugee Family Violence Prevention Project (where she developed and implemented the License to Freedom Project to help battered refugee women find jobs and obtain driver’s licenses).
From 1995-1998, Aparna volunteered and served as a steering committee member of Raksha Inc. before becoming an employee. As a representative of Raksha, she has served as founding Task Force member and Board Secretary for International Women’s House (the first shelter in the Southeast for battered immigrant and refugee women and their children and a founding member of Tapestri, the Immigrant and Refugee Coalition challenging gender based oppression.
She has served as a member of the Georgia Advisory Committee for the U.S Commission on Civil Rights, board Vice President for Tapestri, Inc., an Advisory Board member for the National Network to End Violence Against Immigrant Women, Advisory Board Member for Georgia State’s School of Social Work, Board Member of the DeKalb County Domestic Violence Task Force in 2006- 2012 (Board Chair from 2010-2011), and the Cross Keys Foundation Vice President in 2011-2012.
She was awarded with the Indian Professionals Network (IPN) award in 1997 and 1998 for her service to the community, the Director’s Eagle Award from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council in 2006, the Georgia Commission on Family Violence Gender Justice Award in 2008 and the DeKalb County Domestic Violence Task Force’s Deborah C. McDorman Award in 2008.
Aparna is an alumna of Leadership Atlanta’s Class of 2010, and a 2009 recipient of the Center for Pan Asian Community Service’s Asian Women’s Leadership Development Grant.
Aparna was recognized by the Indian American Cultural Association for Excellent and Continued Contribution to the Community in 2010. She is currently on the Board of the Georgia Coalition against Domestic Violence, the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project and is the Board Chair of VIDA Legal Assistance.
Aparna is married to Paul. Both live in Atlanta. She continues to advocate for access and justice for immigrant survivors of domestic and sexual violence and trains community members, law enforcement, attorneys, and law enforcement both locally and nationally. Aparna strongly urges the Atlanta community to support Raksha Inc. through volunteering but more so financially so it can perform its services better.
Shalini Patel (Raksha Board Secretary) and Meena Dev-Sidhu (Raksha Board Co-President) laud Aparna for her dedication and selfless service,” “Aparna has devoted her life to supporting the South Asian community. Through Raksha she has helped countless men, women and children in their hope for a safer, more stable future, and despite the challenges she has faced, Aparna has worked tirelessly to ensure that Raksha keeps its doors open and continues to provide the invaluable services the South Asian community needs. She is positive, cheerful and a true ray of sunshine, and we admire her for her spirit and ability to uplift people at times when they are most in need. Aparna is the reason why Raksha has done an extraordinary job in educating and supporting our South Asian community.
There are so many people who stand with and encourage Raksha simply because of Aparna’s unwavering commitment to the organization. The Champions of Change award acknowledges all of Aparna’s personal sacrifices, hard work and efforts on behalf of those who need Raksha’s services. It is truly deserved, and we hope the award inspires others to get involved and help Raksha with its mission.”