Bincheng Mao knows how to navigate different cultures. Born in mainland China, he then spent his adolescence in the Middle East. Next, he rounded out his high school experience in California. Then, he moved to New York City for college. When he started at NYU in September 2019 as a Liberal Studies student, racist and anti-Semitic incidents were rising across the United States. In response, Bincheng founded the East Coast Coalition for Tolerance and Non-Discrimination (ECC). This nonprofit is committed to protecting marginalized communities and fighting xenophobia. Soon after, he won an NYU Social Impact Grant to expand ECC’s efforts. Looking back to when he first created the ECC, Bincheng remembers his hope to cultivate inclusivity and equity across campus and around the city.
Combating COVID-19: Emergency Relief
Then, in early 2020, the world changed. The news coming out of China, Japan, and Italy got worse and worse. In addition to the emergence of more cases of COVID-19, there was not enough personal protective equipment (PPE) or hospital space. “I realized that front-line medical workers and low-income communities were the most vulnerable. Despite this, many of them were uninsured or underinsured,” Bincheng says. “So, I reached out to my fellow ECC members at NYU to see how we could help. We wanted to show the world that young people are speaking out and fighting for social equity. Everyone’s voice should and can be heard.”
Over the next two months, ECC members connected with students at colleges across the country. Together, they raised $30,000 to purchase PPE for hospitals in or near vulnerable communities. As cases ballooned across the United States, members worked to source and distribute PPE where it was needed most. This included the Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in LA. But as COVID-19 swept the United States, so did overt discrimination and racism.
The Minority Defense Initiative
In early March, Bincheng was waiting in line at a grocery store in the Bronx. Out of nowhere, a customer walked up to him, yelled, “You, virus!” and flung a cup of water in his face. While Bincheng was no stranger to anti-minority sentiments, this blatant hate was a turning point. “I encouraged my classmates to observe and collect similar incidents. We saw a clear pattern of hurting and targeting Asian minorities,” he explains. In their shared experiences, he saw an opportunity for social impact. “We wanted to do something to raise awareness, because the more people know about a problem, the more likely people will stand up and fight to make things better.”
In response the ECC launched the Minority Defense Initiative to combat minority discrimination in the face of COVID-19. They applied for and received an NYU Social Impact Grant to get started. Any Liberal Studies student seeking to act as a global ambassador by addressing pressing community issues can apply for an NYU Social Impact Grant.
At first, it was just Bincheng and his fellow NYU ECC members. They sent out hundreds of cold emails to potential partner organizations near and far. At the same time, they worked to grow their membership. Soon, the ECC had 2,000 students across the country lending time to the cause. Finally, the group connected with the Asia Society, then the Rockefeller Foundation. Together, they decided to host a virtual forum, Standing Against Racism in the Time of COVID. Days later, Shaq tweeted about the initiative.
Suddenly, the ECC was fielding questions and requests from global leaders. On May 3, Bincheng spoke alongside a diverse panel of guest speakers. Among them were LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, Congressman Ted Lieu, former UN World Food Programme executive director Josette Sheeran, and renowned actors Wang Leehom and Tzi Ma. In the days that followed, Sing Tao Daily, City Limits magazine, and China Philanthropist magazine published articles on the forum. Following the event, Bincheng became the inaugural recipient of the NYU Outstanding Service Award in Civic Responsibility and the annual NYU Liberal Studies Global Service Award.
Police Transparency and Legislative Equity
In May, Black Lives Matter protests swept the nation. ECC mobilized their network and partnered with groups across the state to advocate for greater police transparency. Their “Repeal 50-a Campaign” sought to end 50-a, one of the strongest police secrecy laws in the country. By June 5, ECC had made over 4,000 calls to New York State senators and assembly members. Then on June 10, the New York legislature voted to repeal law 50-a.
“When I was little, my mother taught me the proverb ‘Wù yǐ shàn xiǎo ér bù wéi,’” recalls Bincheng, who is now a rising sophomore at the College of Arts and Science planning to double-major in Philosophy and Public Policy. “It means, ‘Never omit a good deed because it seems trivial.’ My mother was a front-line doctor during SARS, and now she’s doing it again during COVID-19. That proverb motivates and guides me to work for the betterment of society every day. I hope my fellow classmates all get involved. NYU provides a wonderful array of opportunities for anyone to make an impact.”