Two years ago, we met Alice Liao (pronounced like meow, which we love) when outfitting the Belles of the Brawl with kicks. Our team all kind of instantly fell in love with her – her positivity, her intelligence, her smile. They’re all contagious (yes, she makes us feel smarter!) and you can see why she is such a great teacher, leading by example. She practices what she preaches, believing that hard work is always worth the fight. We talked to Alice in-depth about the fight, the hope, and the importance of empowering our youth in this week’s Lovers & Fighters journal story...
MATT DOYLE FOR YORK ATHLETICS: Tell us your name, and your story. What is your deal? Why are you here?
ALICE LIAO: My name is Alice. I am a high school history teacher. I started boxing two years ago and that's actually when I took some time off from work. So, during that time, I consulted for a non-profit and traveled around the world to run youth conferences, particularly focusing on anti-racist training and stereotype workshops.
DOYLE: What does the word "fight" mean to you?
ALICE: The word "fight" means a lot of things. Number one, though, it means hope. Because hope is unshakable and we have to have hope in our community, in our world. More importantly, in ourselves. So "fight" means hope, and "fight" also means growth, because you grow from failing. And success.
DOYLE: You can't be afraid to fail, right?
DOYLE: People have said that you have to embrace your failures.
ALICE: That's what we always tell our kids. We want them to learn that it’s not about failure or about success, or even what they think necessarily, but how do they look at themselves in the third person and ask, "What did I learn? And how can I grow?"
DOYLE: Tell me more about the program that you're involved in.
ALICE: I teach in an interdisciplinary project-based learning program. We don't do any tests, we only do projects. We're all about experiential learning. So we go out into the community, we have real-life projects, and we push our kids to think about themselves, and about their place in the world.
DOYLE: The word "fight" to you means hope. What right now is your most important fight?
ALICE: I think every day my most important fight is to empower youth to be good citizens and good leaders because they are the future, whether we want to believe it or not, or whether we have hope in them yet. We as a society don't allow them to think that they have these opportunities. We don't allow them to think that they are leaders, and they think that they have to be an adult in order to succeed in anything that they do. But the truth is it's now, it's them at 17, 18 years old. That inspiration, that curiosity is what will drive our future.
DOYLE: How do you fight for our youth and their potential?
ALICE: They always say you have to lead by example. Two years ago, I did Haymakers for Hope, and the scariest thing was training and putting myself in that ring. But I tell my students, you have to put yourself close enough to get hit. And the hardest part is getting in that ring and standing in front of people. But more importantly, you're really fighting yourself. What are you going to put yourself through to make the uncomfortable comfortable?
DOYLE: What did you learn about yourself when you went through that training? Had you done any sort of fighting before when you made that decision?
DOYLE: Take us through that process, from the earliest thought of it happening, all the way through to fight night.
ALICE: I got an email from Haymakers for Hope and it was like, "Sign up if you're interested" And after two years off, I had just came back, or was about to go back to teaching. Taking those two years was probably the hardest thing that I had done. I left a full-time teaching position, a FT job, to learn more about myself, right? The kind of journey where I was asking myself: “What am I doing with my life?” My biggest fear was staying at the same job for 40 years and still being that teacher that shows up to the basketball game every Friday, and what I learned was you have to take risks. You have to jump. Opportunities are coming and it’s your decision whether or not you want to jump in.
So when that email popped up, they talked about the fight against cancer, and my grandfather is the definition of a fighter. A World War II veteran, I call him Ojiichan. It's Japanese for grandfather, but he's actually Taiwanese because Taiwan was under Japanese occupation. And so for him, he had to learn Japanese, he learned to become a Japanese speaker, because he needed to provide food for his family. And he had six children and took care of them. Then my dad and my mom come over as immigrants. I feel we have a family of fighters, to some degree. I needed to continue that legacy of being there and showing up – I needed to represent. Because that's what fighting is, it's just showing up.
DOYLE: You mentioned your family. Who helps you in your fight? You said you're fighting for the youth to have an opportunity to have a voice, fighting for their future. Who helped you in your fight?
ALICE: Behind closed doors, I think it's definitely my parents, kind of where I learned my values from and guidance. Growing up I never understood it, you know they kept pushing me and pushing me. My Dad's like, "Keep climbing that mountain!" And I'm like, "There's no mountain. We're in California."
But I get it now, and I see it, and it's the same feeling now when I see my students. I want the best for them, I want to push them, and it's this hope of, how do we continue to work together? Because it's a very dependent relationship -- I can't do it myself. I depend and I feed off my students energy of what they're doing or what they can do to inspire me. And I also know when I step out there and I lead by example, it inspires them.
DOYLE: Why is your fight worth it to you? You said you're fighting for the youth and you want them to have opportunities. What makes that worth it to you? Why do you think that fight is worth it?
ALICE: I think, specifically living in Massachusetts, it’s a really great fight to have. I mean, we are a very privileged community here, just overall living in the United States. When I traveled around the world, I worked in rural Thailand. It's about six hours northeast of Bangkok and it’s a small village. Just looking at that and seeing what students can do there every time I led a program abroad, my thought process was, “Wow, this is so cool!” But if I can take it back to my town where I live, where my community is, the kids are just gonna take off.
We tell them, you can't do this, you can't do that, don't touch the scissors, you're gonna get cut, blah, blah, blah. And the truth is, you give them the scissors and they make clothes. They make anything that they want. It's just giving them that power to believe in themselves.
DOYLE: What's the most difficult or challenging part of your fight?
ALICE: The most difficult and challenging part of my fight is myself. And I think part of it is the expectations I have for myself and where I see myself, and how do I continue to inspire myself. Because...being a teacher, you kind of fight against the system a lot, of what do you want to teach, how do you want to teach, and teaching 17, 18 year olds every day is almost like a fight going in. But it's how do you keep yourself going?
DOYLE: When you have those moments of sort of self-doubt or questioning yourself, what motivates you to keep going? What forces you through to keep on with the fight?
ALICE: It's a lot of self-reflection. I think all of us have room to grow, and in a world of chaos, how do you find joy? How do you slow down a little bit? And to know that, what can you actually work on? It's not something that's big, it's not something that can be changed in a single day. It's mindfully, every day, thinking about what is it that I can do to be just a little bit better or to challenge myself and make myself a little bit more uncomfortable.
DOYLE: Why is it important for you to find those moments, where you can find a little bit of joy in the day?
ALICE: Because I love laughter. And the youth need to know that adults can have fun. And that we're not just serious politicians and have jobs and just work and make money. It's about being present and enjoying our lives, and more importantly, it's about believing in each other.
DOYLE: There's a tangible benefit to you finding that sort of joy and positivity, but you also think it's important that the kids can also see that. So it's sort of reflective in that way?
DOYLE: How does positivity play a role in your day-to-day? In your daily fight, how do you use positivity?
ALICE: I'm laughing and smiling because people describe me being like a sunflower, really big and in your face, and I'm kind of like, "Hi, how's it going? What did you do today? Blah blah blah blah." But positivity, for me, sometimes is just--you have those moments in teaching, and it's chaos, you're grading, and you're stressed, and you have like ten minutes to go eat lunch and go to the bathroom. And the kids say something to you, and your heart just melts. You're like, "This is worth it." And it's why we do what we do.
DOYLE: Those moments are why your fight is worth it. When you see some sort of tangible recognition of your efforts from these kids that you spend so much time working with, right?
DOYLE: Is there a particular moment or instance that you can think of?
ALICE: I used to coach volleyball. I nominated a student for athlete of the week. We nominate athletes every week, just like highlights. And I nominated this kid, actually had him in eighth grade, and then coached him again in high school. He came in, running into my room one day, and was like, "Coach, coach, you see the article that they wrote about me?" And I'm like, "No. I didn't, sorry, it's not at the top of my priority list." He's like, "Oh, well, they wrote what I said about you." I was like, "What, that I'm a raging bi$*ch during practice?" He was like, "No. The fact that you told us that playing volleyball is about heart. It's about who's gonna be there, who's gonna show up first and who's gonna be the last to leave." And in that moment, I kind of just shriveled up and inside I was like, "Okay." And it's one of those moments that will always stick with me. This six-foot-five kid literally running into my room, just so excited to tell me that. And I would have never thought that would happen.
DOYLE: We talked positivity and that's all beautiful, but hard work, putting in the effort, putting in the time, taking time out of your schedule to coach these kids, to be there, to teach them, to work after school, to...you know, just to be you. It takes a lot of hard work, right? What role does hard work play in your sort of drive to help provide better things for these kids? How does hard work play into your life?
ALICE: You can't half-ass anything. You half-ass something, it's not gonna turn out. You have to full-ass it. Right? Yeah, okay, nobody laughed. I teach high school, come on! You know, you gotta full-ass everything. That's like part of it. And it's just true. The hard work comes with it. Every time I've ever succeeded, it's because I've put in hard work. And it's not about luck, it's not about, "Oh, she's Asian, she's a minority, she's a female," none of that bullshit.
Yes, that's a part of it, but you know what? That's f%&*!ng hard work, because coaching, especially men's volleyball--no one ever knew that I was the coach. They always assumed I was a trainer or assistant coach and part of it is just showing up. I love when people have underestimated me. I'm never going to boast about it, but I think part of it is I'm just going to quietly stand there because I know my students, my players, believe in me for a reason. And it's about respect. They respect me and I respect them. And that part is that hard work of getting to know people.
And that's something that is more meaningful than just showing up and teaching every day. Because it's about the nitty-gritty of getting to know you, getting to know yourself, and that hard work comes from within, of what you want to get out of it.
DOYLE: Can you tell us about what you did with your Henry Mid Canvas?
ALICE: I am a classic Virgo, which means I'm very compartmentalized and neat. I kind of like it clean. I like to wear my laces tucked in. But, if you look right here, I actually wrote this, and it says, gypsy soul. And part of why I did that is, to me, my soul feels fulfilled the most when I'm sitting on a plane. And part of that is knowing that you're going on an adventure. And it's about what you choose to see, and what you want to see, and what you want to learn. Because every time you go somewhere, it's a learning opportunity, it's whether or not you want to see it that way. And so this unknown kind of gypsy soul of going around and learning from everyone and everything is something that I believe in and how I want to live my life.
Alice Liao is a second-generation Asian American teacher, coach, education enthusiast with two Master’s degrees in Teaching and Public Policy and Administration. She's also an amateur fighter, a fitness enthusiast that firmly believes in the mind, body, spirit connection, and a friend of the YORK Athletics brand. Since this interview, Alice has taken her passion and enthusiasm for empowering youth into a new venture as a Project-Based Learning Coach and Designer out of the Scheller Teacher Education Program at MIT. The partnership with MIT and the XQ Super School Project allows Alice to continue working with High School educators across the U.S by providing coaching and design support for interdisciplinary project-based learning (PBL).
To learn more about this inspiring woman, check her out on the Gram or read this previous article about her:
Alice is wearing the Henry Mid Canvas, which she personalized by writing 'Gypsy Soul' on the upper. GET YOURSELF A PAIR, customize them with your story, and share it with us @yorkathleticsmfg #worththefight.
📸 cred: http://www.bucksquibb.com/