Empower to the People

As a first-generation college student, Bla Yang found it especially difficult to face those first challenges of adulthood on her own.  

The Minnesota State University, Mankato junior said her parents, originally from Laos, didn’t know how to support her with choosing a career, meeting academic challenges, or having confidence as a woman of color in rural Minnesota. Without the support she needed, Yang considered leaving school.  

Bla Yang, member of Minnesota’s Young Women’s Cabinet.  

“What made me stay instead of just dropping out was the experience I had with other students here because the diversity was very inviting,” Yang said. “It wasn’t just tokenized; students of color were important, too. Being a student of color at a diverse school, it helped me fit in and feel supported and that I mattered.” 

This experience is what led Yang to pursue a career in social work, with special interests in the foster care system and child protection. 

“Maybe their parents aren’t really involved in their lives either, and I feel like, from experience, I can help them,” she said. 

It’s this passion for inclusion and community service that led to Yang’s recent appointment to the Young Women’s Cabinet, a state task force dealing with young women’s issues.  

“I was so excited to be accepted,” she said. “With a career in social work, it’s so important to understand policies and politics and to learn to be a good advocate.” 

As part of the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota, the Young Women’s Cabinet was started in 2016 by the governor’s office and the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. Yang is among a group of 32 diverse women from across Minnesota who will focus on improving gender equity, including greater representation of women leaders in government, education and business. The group’s ideas and recommendations will be considered by the Minnesota Legislature to influence change. 

“It’s very empowering,” Yang said. “We don’t all come from the same background. I see a lot of other women who are so different from me, and we, as a whole, reflect the larger community.” 

Yang can take part in the task force for up to three years, and she’s eager to dig into the big issues and start being part of the solutions. 

“It’s so exciting that we can pitch in our ideas and opinions,” Yang said. “It’s also exciting to take what we learn and bring it back to our own communities.”