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California dance hall hero wants to use his platform to help his community heal

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Brandon Tsay is now a national hero.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Brandon. Brandon. Brandon. Brandon.

FADEL: He's the young man you've probably seen in surveillance video wrestling a semiautomatic weapon away from a gunman. At the time, Tsay didn't know that man had already shot and ultimately killed 11 people at the Star Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif., before heading to his family's dance studio Lai Lai in nearby Alhambra. Tsay was working.

BRANDON TSAY: It just felt like another regular night. Then, like, I heard the sound of a - this metal object rub against another metal object. And I just turned around, and that's when I saw the gun. At this moment, I was just so frightened and so scared and contemplating my life. Like, it's going to end here. This is the end of my life. It's over. I'm going to die here. And at that moment, my body actually, you know, surrendered to the situation. But something happened there. I was able to gather this courage that I didn't know I had. I was able to come to conclusion that I had to do something in this situation. I had to take the gun away from him or a lot of people would have been hurt.

FADEL: Tsay's actions that night likely saved many lives, including his own. And that's gotten him praise and support from across the country. So now he wants to use this sudden platform born from tragedy to help his community heal. He's teamed up with a local charity, the Asian Pacific Community Fund, to do just that. I spoke with Tsay and Chun-Yen Chen, the executive director of the APCF, about how they're moving forward.

TSAY: With this image and with this voice, I should use this opportunity to send a good message and hopefully do some good in this world.

FADEL: You've decided that you want this money to go to the Asian Pacific Community Fund. Chun-Yen Chen, the executive director of that fund, I'd love to talk to you about what your organization does and what this money will go towards in healing after this tragedy.

CHUN-YEN CHEN: We do have a GoFundMe. It's specifically for the Lunar New Year Victims' Fund, which was launched right on the Sunday after we learned the news. So all there were 10,000 individual donor who really feel need to come together with our impacted community member. So we as - now we have over $1 million in the victim fund. It's particularly for the victim.

FADEL: So there's been this outpouring of support, people wanting to help. You mentioned 10,000 individual donors that have given, right? So over a million to the victims fund. And then there is another fund that is being raised. If you could talk to me about that money and where it's going.

TSAY: People have actually been reaching out to me, you know, asking me how they can contribute, how they can help me and, you know, sponsor the community. I want to be responsible with this money. I don't want to casually use this money for myself. I want to have this money go to a good cause, you know, support the community effort. Money that comes from community should be used for the community.

FADEL: What do you hope that the fund will do, that this partnership will do?

TSAY: So my family has been discussing with me, and we have a few ideas that we're considering. The top considerations are, you know, mental health, educational fund and single child care parenting. But we have been just throwing out ideas, currently. We're not too sure what we want to specifically use this money for because we need to see how much support we're getting from the community and what their needs are.

FADEL: It's been a tough time for Asian Americans in this country generally because of the rise of hate, especially during COVID. And then on top of that, there's been this very direct attack within your community from somebody that was known in the community. And I'm just wondering when you thought about how do I use this platform that I suddenly have, this attention that I'm getting, was that in your mind?

TSAY: Everything is still so new to me. So I don't have experience in this sort of a platform and intention. So right now, I'm just working through it as it goes. But, you know, now that I am part of this, I need to process what am I going to do next?

FADEL: What are the things that are going through your mind right now as something your community needs to heal, that your friends need, that your family needs, that your community needs?

TSAY: One of the things that I experienced after the incident is that I was feeling fragile and vulnerable. I needed to vent it somewhere, you know? I needed to let myself know I'm not alone in this, you know? What I just experienced, I'm not alone. And I'm sure that the victims in this incident are feeling the same way. They're feeling the same way. They're vulnerable. They're scared. They're fragile. And even the victims in Half Moon Bay need help. And I think that I want to have efforts in supporting people that go through a traumatic experience. I want to support people who are going through a rough time in this country. I just want people know that they have people looking out for them.

FADEL: Incredible. Brandon Tsay and Chun-Yen Chen, thank you so much for your time.

CHEN: Thank you.

TSAY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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