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Charlotte Yeung

Charlotte Yeung

Forgive Charlotte Yeung if she talks a bit fast. In rapid succession she recounts a list of accomplishments, aspirations, and honors that seem possible only when fueled with such enthusiasm and boundless energy. Somehow, she’s never breathless. 

The sophomore is already a published author, arts activist, museum board member, and the Indiana Youth Poet Laureate. She has traveled to Hiroshima with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and is working on an invited research paper for the Federation of American Scientists. She has advocated on behalf of the American Battlefield Trust to preserve history and learn from its lessons. This summer in Hawaii, she will compete for the title of National Youth Poet Laureate (think Amanda Gorman) in a program sponsored by Urban Word. Every year for the holidays, she bakes a bûche de noël. 

And all of that is without mentioning her most recent honor, being named a Frederick Douglass Fellow, through a program of the Center for International Educational Exchange (CIEE). Yeung is one of twelve student leaders of color who will participate in the four-week summer program. It will include stops in Washington, D.C., Cape Town, South Africa, and Dublin, Ireland, to explore social justice leadership and to study the legacies of Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Daniel O’Connell, and John Hume, among others.  

The Douglass Fellows are chosen based on their demonstrated commitment to advancing peace and building bridges between people with different viewpoints. In her somehow not breathless autobiographical foray, Yeung embodies those criteria. 

It was Indianapolis-based Voices that introduced the young environmentalist to the notion of arts advocacy. A writer since the eighth grade, Yeung has only written poetry for two years. At Voices,” she says, I learned about civic activism and how to combine my art with civic practice. I learned to use poetry more to help participate in the collective liberation of censored voices.” That understanding led to her political science focus, her major within the College of Liberal Arts. 

She talks about a friend from Afghanistan and the change in her life after America withdrew from the country. After they left, she couldn’t go to school. She couldn’t go outside alone.” Not one to sit idly by (it’s hard to imagine her ever idle), Yeung founded a poetry workshop for girls and women in Afghanistan. She is now in the process of pulling excerpts from the works to be printed on postcards for exhibitions. One will be in the STEAM lab at Purdue. The second will be at the Vonnegut Museum in Indianapolis. (That’s where the 20-year-old is a board member. After a performance of her poetry at the museum, she says they asked her to join the board on the spot.) 

Yeung is proud to compete this summer for the title of National Youth Poet Laureate, proud to be the first Asian American and the first Hong Kongese to vie for that title. It’s also about giving back to the Voices community. Regardless of whether she is selected, Yeung welcomes the chance to use her artistic platform to advocate for issues that she cares about. 

While environmentalism and conservation still matter to Yeung, her focus pivoted last summer. I spent a week in Hiroshima, and it changed my entire life. I came back and wrote 30 poems,” she says of her participation in the 2022 Hiroshima ICAN Academy on Nuclear Weapons and Global Security. Before, my focus was on the environment. Now, I am interested in nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction, and what they mean to people. It’s an intersection of environmentalism and an anti-nuclear activism that are the focus of my academic life.” 

Before her four weeks with the Douglass Fellows, Yeung will write a paper on civics education and public views of nuclear weapons for the American Federation of Scientists. She concedes she was surprised at the invitation from the group given her modest experience. She has begun to turn her attention to it as part of her early summer work. 

Yeung laughs and concedes her work is very intense.” In her free time, she loves to watch baking shows. Baking with friends is my favorite activity,” she says. Then, she excitedly lists the international baking inspirations she has made, sharing images of her picture-perfect bakes on her phone, always rapid fire but never breathless.