Education Week - June 17, 2020 - 11
Photos Courtesy of Amee Xiong
Marny Xiong, School Board Chair
and Social Justice Champion,
Dies at 31 of COVID-19
The daughter of Hmong refugees was an outspoken
advocate for minority communities.
ways been,'" said Harding High
School principal Be Vang, one of the
women picked to sit next to Xiong.
"But Marny didn't care. I had never
seen that before. It was quite empowering."
By Daarel Burnette II
When Marny Xiong saw an injustice, she was usually among the first
When the multicultural center at
the University of Minnesota-Duluth
campus was vandalized in 2006, she
organized black, Asian, Latino, and
LGBTQ students to convince administrators to conduct one of its first
campus climate surveys and start a
black studies degree program. She
later got a minor in black studies.
In 2008, when Minneapolis' police
department rewarded officer Jason
Anderson the medal of valor after he
shot 19-year-old Fong Lee three times
in the back and then five times on the
ground during a foot chase, Xiong
helped stage a series of rallies until
the department rescinded the award.
And last month, amid a spike in
anti-Asian hate crimes after President Donald Trump dubbed the coronavirus the "Chinese virus," Xiong, a
Minneapolis school administrator and
member of the St. Paul school board,
gathered for the first time all of Minnesota's Asian-American elected officials to author a letter denouncing
"The forces of white supremacy
will continue trying to scapegoat and
divide us to distract from the massive
gaps in social safety nets and worker
protections, a broken healthcare system, longstanding structural racism
and more," read the widely distributed letter. "While they brew hate,
we're building a powerful movement
Xiong died from complications of
the coronavirus June 7. She was 31
A 'Beautiful Story of St. Paul'
Xiong held a deep, resonating sense
of empathy, family and friends said,
and an unusual ability to bridge divides between oppressed communities in the Twin Cities, the epicenter
of today's interracial Black Lives Matter movement against police violence.
In the final months of her life, as
the chair of St. Paul's school board,
Xiong led the financially strapped
district through a historical teacher's
strike over pay and classroom practices. Throughout the negotiations,
administrators said, Xiong held true
to her convictions that every child in
St. Paul deserves access to a quality
"Marny is just a beautiful story
of St. Paul," said Joe Gothard, the
superintendent of St. Paul's school
district. "She grew up as a child who
didn't have much, but she had such a
A Fighter for Students
love and determination for a quality
education. Her legacy will be that all
educators can see that same potential
in every child in our school district. "
Xiong was the daughter of Zahoua
and See Xiong, two Hmong refugees
who, in a harrowing act, narrowly
escaped the CIA's secret war in Laos.
Zahoua Xiong's brother was shot and
killed as the family fled to the United
The couple and their infant daughter Amee, Marny Xiong's eldest sister, landed in St. Paul's public housing units. Zahoua Xiong got a job as a
dishwasher. After receiving a technical certification, he eventually began
working at a manufacturing plant
making hearing aids, and, in 2011,
managed to buy a home for his family.
An Awakening of Identity
Growing up, Xiong, along with her
clan of eight siblings often debated
local, state, and national politics.
"Marny saw that the American
dream can mean different things to
different communities," Amee Xiong
said. "She saw that many of America's policies weren't created to support communities of color."
When Xiong was 17, Amee Xiong
scrounged up $450 to fly her sister
to California to participate in a weeklong program at the University of California, Berkeley for Southeast AsianAmerican high school students. It was
there, Amee Xiong said, that her sister gained a sense of her identity as a
Hmong, Asian, and American woman
and decided to commit her life to activism, politics, and public education.
In the decade that followed that
experience, Xiong led a series of
efforts to tackle white supremacy,
throwing herself in local races,
showing up to city council meetings
and organizing minority community members to vote. She quickly
gained recognition as the outspoken
Hmong woman who could explain
to the general public how a wonky
policy was harming minority communities and offer up solutions for
During her day job as an operations manager at Hmong International Academy, a school in Minneapolis, she served as the "backbone"
of the school, coordinating student
transportation, organizing the
school calendar, and scheduling
"She was so proud of her Hmong
heritage and what it meant to be
a Hmong woman and a Hmong
leader," Principal Jamil Payton said
in a letter to his staff. "She felt it
was important to share the Hmong
language, culture, and heritage with
our non-Hmong students."
In 2017, Xiong successfully ran for
St. Paul's school board.
The Hmong community, elated to
see one of their own in a position of
power, held a traditional animism
ceremony for her. In the middle
of the ceremony, Xiong asked two
other women to sit at the head of
the table with her, a place usually
reserved for men.
"Women would stand in line and
not challenge cultural norms because the elders would get upset
and say, 'This is the way it's al-
From top: Marny Xiong,
center, was the daughter
of Hmong refugees and an
activist in St. Paul, Minn.'s
large Hmong community.
Marny Xiong, at left, is sworn
in as a member of the school
board in St. Paul, Minn., in
2018, as her mother See
Xiong, and father, Zahoua
Remembering some of
the teachers, principals,
coaches, and other school
staff we've lost to the
On the school board, Xiong worked
to mend the often fraught relationship between the city's black, Latino,
and Asian communities and the district's majority white teaching staff,
administration, and school board.
O n e t h i rd o f t h e d i s t r i c t's
37,000-students are English-language learners and community activists for years have accused the district
of fostering a racist environment
within schools. Students of color are
suspended and expelled at disproportionate rates and score much lower
than white students on standardized
tests, one of the largest disparities in
the nation, according to the district's
In January, Xiong was elected to
serve as chair of the board. Two
months later, the St. Paul teacher's
union went on strike.
Throughout the negotiations, she
held true to her convictions that students of color deserve access to a
high quality, diverse teaching force,
even after the union, who endorsed
her campaign, turned against her.
"She refused to hide her values and
compromise on what she believes is
best for the community," Gothard
In May, Xiong and her father were
both diagnosed with the coronavirus.
Her bout was swift and unrelenting. Her family knew of no preexisting conditions.
One morning, while taking a shower,
she ran out of breath and, in a panic,
opened her window to get some fresh
air. She called her sister, Amee.
"She said, 'I'm really nervous
for dad because I can see that he's
scared about going to the hospital. I
want to encourage him by going to
the hospital with him. We can both
be admitted together,'" Amee Xiong
said. "To me, now that I'm thinking back to that moment, she was
sick herself, but she wasn't thinking
about herself. She was thinking about
my dad. That's just the type of person
Xiong died a month later.
Xiong is survived by her parents,
Zahoua and See Xiong, and her siblings, Amee, Pao, Mary, Kong Pheng,
Tom, John and Mong Zong Xiong.
Her family will hold services on
June 26. The family has set up a Go
Fund Me page for donations.
EDUCATION WEEK | June 17, 2020 | www.edweek.org | 11
Education Week - June 17, 2020
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - June 17, 2020
Education Week - June 17, 2020
Are America’s Schools Ready For Tough Talk on Racism?
Q&A: What’s Next for School Policing in Minneapolis
Schools Left Hanging as States Dither on Budget Cuts
The Socially Distanced School Day
Marny Xiong, School Board Chair and Social Justice Champion, Dies at 31 of COVID-19
Catholic School Closures Rise Amid Pandemic, Recession
Summer School Learning Plans On Shaky Ground
COVID-19 Forces the Question: Should the Youngest Learners Have Devices?
I Need More From Schools Than Lip Service About Racism
School Closures Always Hurt. They Hurt Even More Now
EdWeek Top School Jobs
For Teachers Who Understand Racism Is Real
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - Are America’s Schools Ready For Tough Talk on Racism?
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - Briefly Stated
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - 3
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - Q&A: What’s Next for School Policing in Minneapolis
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - 5
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - 6
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - Schools Left Hanging as States Dither on Budget Cuts
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - 8
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - 9
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - The Socially Distanced School Day
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - Marny Xiong, School Board Chair and Social Justice Champion, Dies at 31 of COVID-19
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - Catholic School Closures Rise Amid Pandemic, Recession
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - 13
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - Summer School Learning Plans On Shaky Ground
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - 15
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - COVID-19 Forces the Question: Should the Youngest Learners Have Devices?
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - 17
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - I Need More From Schools Than Lip Service About Racism
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - School Closures Always Hurt. They Hurt Even More Now
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - 20
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - 21
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - 22
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - EdWeek Top School Jobs
Education Week - June 17, 2020 - For Teachers Who Understand Racism Is Real