Speak Up, Lead On: A Discussion with Kathy Khang and Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

Nikki Toyama-Szeto, Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, and Kathy Khang / Photo by Kristyn Komarnicki

On Monday, October 22nd, ESA’s Nikki Toyama-Szeto met with Kathy Khang and Natasha Sistrunk Robinson at Busboys & Poets in Washington, DC to discuss their recent books,Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up and A Sojourner’s Truth: Choosing Freedom and Courage in a Divided World.

The following is a short transcription from the conversation—and for a behind-the-scenes chat with both authors, be sure to check out our Facebook Live videos with Kathy and Natasha, immediately preceding the event!

Nikki Toyama-Szeto: Knowing when and how to speak up features prominently in both of your books. Can you talk about your understanding of the power of your own voice, and your calling?

Kathy Khang: You’ve described us before as prophets, Nikki—but the prophets either got killed, or they were always alone, under a tree, swearing to God. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t sound fun! That’s not something I would choose; that’s not a label I would choose for myself.

But at the end of the day, the question is: “What am I called to?” And when I pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” I hear on earth, as it is in heaven. And so I am called, while I am here on the earth, to do the work of the kingdom.

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson: I believe that God is Lord. And he is Lord alone, and besides him there is no other…and that’s who created me. I’m very clear about who I am, and I believe I am loved by the one who created me.

For example, when I was at the Naval Academy, I knew who I was when I got there. So when I started getting messages, saying “You don’t belong, you’re a quota, you’re here because of affirmative action,” I just didn’t believe them. I believed that because I had been sent, I was going to graduate. This was just an obstacle to get over. When you are clear about who you are, and who you belong to, that changes the perspective of everything.

When you are clear about who you are, and who you belong to, that changes the perspective of everything.

Nikki Toyama-Szeto: Can you tell us a bit more about what other people wanted to put on you, what other people wanted you to carry? Because I believe you both had to shed that, in order to speak up and speak truth.

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson: The church has its own culture. The evangelical church has its own culture. Korean Americans have their own culture; Black people have our own culture. So it’s important to understand those different things that shape us, that shape our identity, and understand what about those things are good, and what are bad.

For me, the myth of the “strong black woman,” that’s exhausting. Like, at some point, you need to take a nap! So I had to give myself permission to enjoy the goodness of the Lord, in the land of the living. Not wait for it to come later. I think all those things that subconsciously shape us, that we don’t always identify or name, we need to be able to say “What part of that is my insecurity? And what part of that do I need to lay down?”

Kathy Khang: I needed you, Natasha, when I was a teenage girl. I needed someone to say to me, “God had you born into this time, as a Korean American young woman immigrant, now, for a reason.” As opposed to the feeling I grew up with, which was this this was a mistake.

I needed that. And there are still days where I need that reinforcement, because there’s still the process of shutting down those lies! Just when I think I’ve gotten over the imposter syndrome, or figured out, yes, God is my creator, and God didn’t make a mistake…for me, it’s an ongoing process.

I struggle with this all the more now that my kids are older, because I hate seeing the same insecurities and lies that I carried, now carried by my kids. I hate how those lies stick so hard.

I hate seeing the same insecurities and lies that I carried, now carried by my kids. I hate how those lies stick so hard.

Nikki Toyama-Szeto: Both of you talk about speaking up and leadership as a responsibility. Can you tell us about how writing your books intersected with some of the places where you are speaking up and exercising leadership in your lives?

Kathy Khang: I am finding that after 20 years of being a Korean American woman in ministry, it’s difficult to realize that I am still blazing a trail. Quite frankly, I am tired of blazing trails.

I like to say that my personal vocational dream is to be a stay-at-home mom, with no children in the home! Because sometimes, the work I do is exhausting. It grieves me that the church has had so little space. And I think because I write about raising your voice, it adds to the confusion. Like, “Can we do that? We can do that?” And so there’s an excitement behind it, but also at the same time…I was hoping that this wasn’t such a big deal. Apparently it is.

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson: It matters how we build. And it matter who we decide to build with…so the importance of mentoring and sponsorship. I have a nonprofit called Leadership LINKS that offers leadership education, character development, and spiritual formation. Right now, our primary audience for that is African American girls in middle and high school.

We’re raising them to lead. And we do that by offering them mentorship, leadership education and training; exposure and opportunities. There are young girls who have never seen or heard. They become women who never see or hear. So I’m saying to these young girls, not just “You can do it,” but “Let me show you how.”

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson (MA, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is a writer, international speaker, leadership consultant, mentoring coach, and founder of the nonprofit Leadership LINKS, Inc. She is a graduate of the US Naval Academy and a former Marine Corps officer, and has nearly twenty years of leadership and mentoring experience in the military, government, church, seminary, and nonprofit sectors. She is the author of Mentor for Life: Finding Purpose through Intentional DiscipleshipHope for Us: Knowing God Through the Nicene Creed, and A Sojourner’s Truth: Choosing Freedom and Courage in a Divided World (InterVarsity Press, 2018).

Kathy Khang is a writer, speaker, and yoga teacher based in the north suburbs of Chicago. She is the author of Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up (InterVarsity Press, 2018). You can connect with Kathy on her blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram.

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