Get to know NAAAP leader Kimberly Carlson and what her perfect day in KC looks like

Photo by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden

What doesn’t Kimberly Carlson do?

The Topeka native has lived in Kansas City since 2008. She began her career as a vaccine scientist, then spent a decade overseeing training programs at four-thousand federally funded clinics. Today, she manages the nation’s longest-running HIV study. It’s a busy and fulfilling professional life, and Carlson enriches it further with her involvement in the Kansas City chapter of the National Association of Asian American Professionals.

The NAAAP is a nonprofit organization that empowers Asian and Pacific Islander leaders. It was founded in 1982 after the racially motivated murder of Vincent Chin—something that’s been on Carlson’s mind lately given the rise in hate crimes and coronavirus-related anti-Asian sentiment. “Events like that trigger the community to come together, and NAAAP is a safe space to do that.”

What does NAAAP do and how did you get involved?

When Crazy Rich Asians came out [in 2018], that’s when I first heard about NAAAP, and I couldn’t believe it. NAAAP had rented out a theater at the Alamo Drafthouse and hosted a dress-up gala to celebrate the movie, and I knew that these were my people. I learned about their mission and decided to get involved. We offer professional development programs on a local and national level, give back through community service and have monthly networking events that celebrate culture and community.

Our NAAAP Pride program engages the Asian American LGBTQ+ community, and NAAAP Self-Care and Wellness focuses on holistic well-being. A lot of that is designed to break through and talk about things that may not have been discussed in an Asian family because of cultural beliefs or traditions.

What do you think makes NAAAP special?

NAAAP is pan-Asian, intergenerational and it immediately felt like a family to me. It allows me to embrace my Filipino heritage. It’s positive and inspiring and inclusive, no matter what industry you work in. If you ever need guidance or mentoring, you can reach out to members and say, “I’m in NAAAP,” and they will help. We provide people with tools and resources that can empower Asian and Pacific Islanders to become leaders and impactful employees. It’s not dry lectures about business. It takes a cultural lens to help people break through “the bamboo ceiling.” Although Asians are a highly skilled and highly educated workforce, they’re greatly underrepresented in the C-suite, and there are barriers to getting promoted beyond middle management. We address those challenges in our professional development, including the myth of the “model minority,” which is how Asians are often seen.

A Perfect Day

A Running Start: “I start with a two-mile run. I live in the Westside, so I run to Union Hill. My turnaround spot is Case Park, which has a beautiful overlook of the downtown airport and the West Bottoms. Afterward, I go to Yoli Tortilleria for their horchata and café de olla and combine them over ice.”

Comfort in a Bowl: “I love the posole from Los Alamos. It’s just comfort in a bowl. You can order it by the scoop—one scoop serves about two persons—and neighborhood families will bring their own pot. Los Alamos puts the posole right in your pot and you walk home.”

Hidden Gem: “At noon on Saturdays and Sundays, Hung Vuong, an Asian grocer in the City Market, serves freshly baked sesame balls filled with sweet white bean paste. I think a lot of people are intimidated by Asian grocery stores and don’t know how to navigate them. But you have to talk to people and just take a chance on something new.”

Whatsabi: “My all-time favorite dish is the chirashi from Bob Wasabi. It’s the best value and variety. You’re getting a bowl of sushi rice and, like, thirty pieces of raw fish. I save the tamagoyaki, the egg omelet, for my last bite.

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