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The Trotter Multicultural Center hosted MSNBC anchor Richard Lui and Rudy Espinoza, executive director of Inclusive Action for The City, on Wednesday night as part of their distinguished leadership series. Erika Hayasaki, a writer, journalist and associate professor at the University of California-Irvine, moderated the event. 

Lui and Espinoza both spoke about the significance of storytelling in civic engagement and began the event by sharing their backstories.

As a Mexican immigrant whose mother worked at a restaurant for over three decades, Espinoza said he had wanted to become rich to help his family thrive in America. Though in college his plan was to become rich by going to business school, a class on ethnic studies changed his life. 

“It’s not about just my family being rich, it’s about everyone,” Espinoza said. 

Espinoza’s microlending job at Inclusive Action for The City now provides low-interest loans to entrepreneurs and startups, most of whom are immigrants or women. Rackham student Fareeha Khan introduced the speakers and explained how Espinoza’s work focuses on helping communities in need.

“(Espinoza) specializes in designing economic development initiatives in low-income communities, building private non-profit partnerships and training the workers to participate in socioeconomic revitalization of their neighborhoods,” Khan said.

Lui was the first Asian American to anchor a daily news program and talked about his experience starting a camp newsletter as a child. Lui said experiencing how journalism and storytelling can bring color and perspective to people’s lives at a young age has helped him support communities of many different cultures during his career. 

“You will see an Asian face, a Latino face, a white face, a Black face; because when we talk about immigration in America, it’s all of those (faces),” Lui said.

Espinoza recalled his experiences helping street vendors in Los Angeles as part of the LA Street Vendor Campaign. Street vending plays a big role in the economy for the city, but Los Angeles is the only major city without a system in place to support these vendors, according to Espinoza. He added that Los Angeles often issued misdemeanor penalties and criminalized vendors and low-income workers. 

“Experiences that people are having are not by accident,” Espinoza said. “We need to figure out how to demystify (policymaking) as a society, so we could elect the right leader and enact the right policies so we could help people.”

Lui discussed his career as a reporter, explaining that when he first started out working as a journalist, he limited himself from writing too many Asian-American stories. 

“I would do (an Asian-American story) every two years so that I didn’t get pigeonholed as the Asian guy with Asian stories,” Lui said. 

Upon becoming the first Asian American man to anchor CNN, Lui said he realized if he was not telling the stories of Asian Americans, no one would. He encouraged others to avoid making the same mistake he did. 

“Don’t check anything at the door; to engage is to bring all of you,” Lui said. “It took me five years to outgrow that.”

After talking about their own stories, the speakers gave advice on how to make an impact in a community through the power of storytelling. 

“Be curious about why things are one way or another,” Espinoza said.  

Espinoza also emphasized the importance of knowing who your representatives are and how to reach them if their policies do not serve their constituent’s best interest.

“Do the research about what are the levers that one can pull to make a change,” Espinoza said. 

When asked how to ensure that policymakers hear the stories he tells, Lui emphasized the importance of determination. 

“You have to be ready to not give up, the policymakers may not be ready for that story yet,” Espinoza said.

Lui added that sometimes he needs to start small, and as long as one person is listening he is doing okay. 

“Start with one,” Lui said. “It’s not about changing the world at once, it’s about changing it little by little.” 

Daily News Contributor Joey Lin can be reached at joeyylin@umich.edu.