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Star-Powered Lunar New Year Concert Gives Back Through Music, Food

Taiwanese rapper Softlipa, who will be performing at the 2016 Lunar New Year Festival. Courtesy of Jason Wang

Every Lunar New Year, Jason Wang, CEO of Xi’an Famous Foods, hosts a private dinner for his staff. But as the team grew, Wang noticed an issue with venues and generational differences between his employees.

“There’s such a diversity in age in our employees that it may be a bit awkward for the older employees to celebrate Chinese New Year the same way as younger employees,” Wang told NBC News. “I wanted to put together an event that our employees would be proud to tell their friends about, so I started thinking about having a music and food festival, and from that came LNYF (Lunar New Year Festival)!”

The 2016 Lunar New Year Festival (LNYF), scheduled for Feb. 20 at Terminal 5 in New York City, will bring together internationally acclaimed hip-hop EDM group Far East Movement and singer-songwriter Kina Grannis as well as Taiwan-based artists Kimberley Chen and Soft Lipa, in a concert benefiting Apex for Youth, a non-profit organization that provides tutoring and mentoring services to Asian youth in the New York City area.

“[Jason] came to me with the idea since he believes in our cause and wanted to partner with an organization in the community,” Anne Lee, director of development at Apex for Youth, told NBC News. “Jason comes from a background similar to our youth, and his restaurants started in our communities, so there are a lot of synergies.”

Wang said he had a personal connection with Apex for Youth's mission, which is why he decided to donate 100 percent of the event's proceeds to the organization. He described moving from China to the United States at a young age with no knowledge of English or American culture as challenging.

“Racist jokes and violence against me just because of my race became such a daily routine at school that I believed something’s wrong with me,” Wang said. “I think Apex for Youth is able to provide this type of support to kids that can steer them clear of a lot of headaches that may negatively impact them.”

According to Lee, Apex for Youth strives to support a community that they say is not only underserved, but also under acknowledged.

“The biggest hurdle is that so many people think Asian youth don’t need help,” she said. “In the media, we often only see and hear about the Asian kids who attend Ivy League schools and have successful careers, and too many people don’t realize that there is actually a large population of low-income Asian and immigrant families, especially in [New York].”

An Apex for Youth tutor works with a student. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the 2016 Lunar New Year Festival will benefit the organization. Photo by Phillip Nondorf / Apex for Youth

According to the Asian American Federation, between 2006 and 2010, the Asian population in New York City reported a 17.9 percent poverty rate. In 2006, about three-quarters of Asian New Yorkers were immigrants, with a poverty rate of 28 percent, higher than the poverty rate of all city immigrants arriving at that time.

Wang can relate to these numbers. “While my father was working out-of-state in restaurants and providing little help to my schooling and social development in my youth years, it was a lot of figuring things out on my own, which worked out OK for me,” he said. “But I’d imagine with an organization like Apex behind my back (which I did not have), I would’ve been able to achieve even more.”

Apex for Youth staff, mentors, and mentees at the organization's holiday party. Photo by Phillip Nondorf / Apex for Youth

Wang’s commitment for community empowerment extends to his involvement with Taiwanese American Professionals New York (TAP-NY), whom he recruited to help advise on and plan the event.

“Due to politics, immigrants are also a group of people that are easily stepped on as they often lack the political voice or understanding of the U.S. systems to empower themselves,” Wang said. He believes it’s important to work with organizations such as TAP-NY and Apex for Youth to give a voice to underserved Asian communities and help address unmet needs.

Far East Movement shares the passion for paying it forward. “We’re a product of people who helped us along he way, so we definitely support Apex and their mission to mentor the youth … Asian or non-Asian, documented or otherwise,” Kevin "Kev Nish" Nishimura told NBC News on behalf of the group.

Nishimura noted the challenges Far East Movement had forging a new path in the music entry as three Asian Americans. “You always hear Asian Americans in entertainment saying they wish they had more Asian Americans in the industry to look up to when they first started,” he said. “We felt the same, and those ideas inspired us to work with the community through education with our non-profit … Since Apex for Youth brings the same positive movement, doing a show to support that was a no-brainer.”

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In addition to music, Wang has curated vendors and food purveyors for the 2016 LNYF, including Otafuku, Yonekichi, Korilla BBQ, Mokbar, and Nom Wah Tea Parlor. “Our vendors for the event are my good friends, and many of them ... [were] just a text message away,” Wang said.

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Wang says his long-term goal for betterment of American society is “to make things Asian not seem so foreign, but approachable and enjoyable.” Empowering the youth while bridging communities, audiences, and generations is one place to start.

“It’s a powerful thing to have someone to look up to, whether it is a family member, a mentor with Apex, or a pop star who you can relate to,” Wang said.

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Update:Wilson Tang of Nom Wah Tea Parlor, who mentioned as a vendor in an earlier version of this article, was originally scheduled to attend the event but had to cancel. He is still making a donation.