Founder, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Los Angeles
Stewart Kwoh was the founding President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (Advancing Justice – LA).
Kwoh is a nationally recognized leader and expert in race relations, Asian American studies, nonprofit organizations and philanthropies, civil rights, and legal services. He was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow in 1998, becoming the first Asian American attorney and community leader to receive this highly prestigious recognition, often referred to as the “genius grant.”
Kwoh earned his bachelor’s degree from University of California, Los Angeles and his J.D. from the UCLA School of Law. He teaches at the university’s Asian American Studies Department, and has been an instructor at UCLA School of Law. He is a past expert in residence at UC Berkeley School of Law, and has two honorary doctorates from Williams College and Suffolk School of Law.
In 1983, Kwoh co-founded Advancing Justice – LA now, the nation’s largest Asian American legal and civil rights organization that serves more than 15,000 individuals and organizations every year. Advancing Justice – LA’s mission is to advocate for civil rights, provide legal services and education, and build coalitions to positively influence and impact Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (NHPI) and to create a more equitable and harmonious society. Advancing Justice – LA has a diverse and multilingual staff, as well as a broad-based board of directors that includes law firm partners, corporate executives, and nonprofit community leaders. The organization provides direct services to individual clients; engages in policy advocacy, research and analysis; litigates impact lawsuits; and provides social change-based leadership training. The organization has successfully challenged garment sweatshops, English-only workplace policies, racially discriminatory employment practices and unfair immigration laws as well as advocated for stronger protections for low-wage workers, limited English speaking immigrants, and hate crime victims.
Under Kwoh’s leadership, Advancing Justice – LA became a leading advocate for Asian American and NHPI communities while working to build bridges with African American, Latino, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Kwoh founded Advancing Justice – LA’s Leadership Development in Interethnic Relations (LDIR) program, which has trained more than 1,000 community leaders and activists in the past decade.
Kwoh has been called a “bridge-builder” and “visionary” in the Los Angeles Times:
“Those who know Kwoh and have worked with him most often use two words – visionary and bridge builder to describe him. Unlike many Asian American leaders, his approach is pan Asian. He has tried to balance his Asian Pacific interests with the broader interests of other minorities and the city as a whole,” according to a January 1996 Los Angeles Times article.
Kwoh has received numerous awards recognizing his efforts to build coalitions across communities of color, including recognition from: the L.A. City and County Human Relations Commissions, California Association of Human Relations Organizations, ACLU, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Coalition for Humane Immigrants Rights of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Urban League, the Martin Luther King Legacy Association and many other Asian American, civil rights, academic, and legal organizations.
Other award highlights include the Civic Medal of Honor from the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce in 2010; the Loren Miller Legal Services Award by the California State Bar in 2007 and Top Alumni of the Year for Public and Community Service from UCLA Law School in 2001 and UCLA Alumni 2016 Community Service Award.
“The judicial branch for several years has placed improving access to justice at the top of our list of priorities,” said then-California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George upon awarding Kwoh the Loren Miller award. “He has opened the doors to justice for thousands, making the justice system work for them and giving substance to the concept of justice for all.”
Kwoh has written extensively and has co-authored two books: Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America’s Future and Untold Civil Rights Stories. Untold Civil Rights Stories has been described by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as: “a social milestone that recognizes the unsung contributions of Asian Americans to America’s Civil Rights Movement.”
In addition to his contributions in academia, Kwoh is active with foundations and other philanthropic organizations. He was one of the first Asian Americans to chair the board of a large U.S. foundation when he was Chair of the Board of Directors of The California Endowment, which is the largest health foundation in California. Kwoh has also been chair of the Methodist Urban Foundation, vice-chair of the California Wellness Foundation, and a trustee of the California Consumer Protection Foundation, the Tang Family Foundation and the Fannie Mae Foundation. He has also served on the Bank of America National Advisory Council.
Kwoh also participates in civic engagement on a broader level. He has served on several commissions and non-profit organization boards, including: President of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission; Vice Chair of the El Pueblo Historical Monument Commission; Commissioner of the LA Charter Reform Commission; president of the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association; member of the Future of the Courts Commission; board member of the Asian American and Pacific Islander for Philanthropy and board member on the Committee of 100.
Kwoh’s mother, Beulah Kwoh (stage name Beulah Quo), was a film and television actress whose trailblazing 50-year career included co-founding the Asian American theatre organization East West Players in 1965 as well as becoming the first Asian American woman to win a local Emmy. Stewart Kwoh’s father, Edwin Kwoh, was a businessman who was involved in several non-profits, including the Los Angeles chapter of Volunteers of America. Edwin Kwoh served as a local board member and helped develop the organization’s China Project, which led to a number of U.S. volunteers training individuals in China on topics ranging from policing to accounting.
Stewart is married to Pat Lee and has two sons, Steven and Nathan.