Cinda Thi Danh grew up in a fun-filled and loving household. Her parents, who survived the Cambodian genocide, settled in Lynn, Massachusetts. Similar to many immigrant stories, Danh’s father worked hard to ensure security for the family, and eventually they bought a house of their own. Until one day, an eviction notice on the door shuttered everything.
“When your house is foreclosed, they send someone to plaster bright red paper that says you need to vacate the premises in 72 hours,” Danh said. “If English isn’t your first language and you don’t know how to navigate the system or call your elected officials, you’d feel pretty powerless.”
A community college student with a part-time job at the Gap, Danh was scared of what would happen next.
“Luckily, a local housing advocate group found us,” Danh said. “They informed us of our rights as homeowners and told us that we don’t have to leave. The only person who can evict you is the judge himself.”
Her firsthand encounter of foreclosure sparked Danh’s interest on learning about effective advocacy. She became involved with community organizations. One day, she found herself protesting in front of the Statehouse.
“If you understand that these problems aren’t unique and they’re systemically unjust, you can do something about it by drafting legislation, empowering the community and advocating,” Danh said. “For that reason, I became curious about the legislative process and I knew I wanted to work there one day.”
In 2012, Danh became a fellow of Asian American Women Political Initiative (AAWPI) program. Upon graduation, she worked her way up from a Statehouse internship to a legislative aide for state Rep. Steve Walsh and then became staff director for state Rep. Jim O’Day.
In a written statement, O’Day praised Danh’s ability to be “a champion for diversity and inclusion and the bridge of opportunity for people of color who are interested in politics and government.”
O’Day added, “As an alumna of AAWPI, she’s made it a point to mentor and guide young AAPI women from the same initiative who are interning in the State House.”
Simone Ngongi-Lukula was an intern at the Statehouse when she met Danh in 2016. Danh encouraged her to attend Statehouse events, and introduced her to how policies were implemented on the state and local levels.
“Personally, Cinda and I connected through our love for photography and the arts,” said Ngongi-Lukula. “We often discussed the importance of storytelling and how much we both enjoyed getting to know individuals interpersonally.”
Back home in Lynn, Danh always wanted to integrate her passion for arts into community engagement. In 2018, she launched the “Faces of Lynn” magazine series. The photo project features the daily lives, dreams and ambitions of Lynn residents.
“I love the City of Lynn so much. I was really inspired by ‘Humans of New York’ but I wanted to make it something more centered around Lynn,” Danh said. “Lynn has such a bad reputation, so I wanted to create something that spotlights it in a positive way.”
As part of the Voices of Lynn Festival, the ongoing photo project seeks to engage people from every part of the community.
“Cinda Danh would be extensively involved with multiple random groups of people, from artists to politicians to philanthropists to kids like me, who did not completely fit in anywhere,” said Chrisna Chan Khuon, Voices of Lynn Festival cofounder.
“I highlight individuals that either have compelling stories or are actively creating positive changes,” said Danh. “I really wanted to feel the community gather together and celebrate each other that we had all the vendors, artists and performers all from Lynn, because you don’t need to travel anywhere. Lynn has it all.”
Khuon added Danh “has shown profound strength in learning and supporting the community with us. Cinda’s exemplified the importance of having big heart and a quick thoughtful mind in understanding how our community identifies and subsequently what they need of our festival.”
Richard Valentine, a Lynn community activist, said he finds solace in Danh. Her commitment to help those around her is seen through hard work and compassion.
He said, “There is a need for new leadership like her. There is a need for new energy and a new way of thinking.”
On Feb. 15, Cinda Danh announced her candidacy for the Ward 6 seat on the Lynn City Council. She is running for a seat vacated by Peter Capano, who was elected as state representative for the 11th Essex district.
“I’m running for city council because I care deeply about our community. I want to be the voice to ensure government is working for all of us,” said Danh. “I will work hard to make city government accessible to every single resident.”
“Cinda Danh will find a way to capture you, whether it be your face in a candid photo or your attention during a meeting of minds.” Valentine said. “She’s got an eye for detail and understands why every little part matters. We need more Cindas in the world.”
“I’m so lucky I had her vision, voice and advocacy for three years,” said O’Day. “I’m so proud and happy to see her bring her passion to her community. Lynn is truly lucky to have her.”
This post is also available in: Chinese