Community pays tribute to honor life of New York City advocate Don Lee

CeFaan Kim Image
Wednesday, May 22, 2024
Community pays tribute to honor life of advocate Don Lee
CeFaan Kim has more on the memorial to honor Don Lee.

LOWER MANHATTAN (WABC) -- A memorial was held Wednesday for a man who was a fixture and a powerful force in the Asian community of New York City and in the battle against hate.

Friends, loved ones and community members gathered at Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan to honor the life of Don Lee who died earlier this month at the age of 65.

His impact was felt from the City Council chamber in New York to the state Senate in Albany to the House floor in Washington.

Lee fought tirelessly for the AAPI community in New York. He connected Chinatown businesses with FEMA during 9/11 and led protests against then-Mayor Bill de Blasio's effort to eliminate admissions tests for the city's elite public high schools.

In 2020 he advocated for an 89-year-old Chinese grandmother set on fire by two suspects in Brooklyn. It was a heinous incident that would go on to spark the creation of the NYPD's Asian Hate Crimes Task Force.

In March of 2021 he rallied outside the Manhattan DA's office, demanding the suspect who plunged an 8-inch kitchen knife into an Asian man's back be prosecuted for a hate crime.

In April he gave a voice to two brothers charged in a raucous brawl in Chinatown.

He was also the board chair of Homecrest Community Services, a social service center in South Brooklyn.

He worked for four New York City mayors in various capacities, from Ed Koch to David Dinkins to Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg.

Victoria Lee is his daughter. She says even at 20 years old, he made sure he was always present in her life.

"Him picking me up and driving me to ballet class when he did not need to do that, I was old enough to go by myself but he still wanted to drive me," Lee said.

Others remembered him for who he was as a person.

"I would call him sometimes, not government related, not social services related, and would ask him how do I make winter melon soup, and he would spend time with me, and that's him as a person, no matter what it was, he gave you his knowledge," said community advocate Jan Lee.

Long-time broadcast journalist Ti-Hua Chang was a lifelong friend.

"During the pandemic he paid $50,000 of his own money to feed thousands of seniors," Chang said. "And he also supported BLM, Black Lives Matter... He felt it was important for all people of color to unite."

Lee died suddenly on May 6 while on vacation with family in South America.


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