Editor’s Note: This is our first installment in 2022 of our ‘Community Leaders’ series, where we highlight notable community leaders, businesses, and organizations making a difference in the Bay Area. We welcome all recommendations to be sent to editor@sftimes.com.

As Asian-American residents throughout the Bay Area stand and mourn in solidarity for 40 year old Michelle Alyssa Go, who was killed after being pushed in front of an incoming train, the community is reeling in shock and a sense of deja vu.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, verbal and physical attacks against Asian Americans have increased dramatically. Many believe it’s because some people blame Asians for the virus, which originated in China and has often been nicknamed “the China virus”.

Although many hoped such discrimination was a thing of the past, the incident with Go brings a stark reminder to all that the fight for safety for many Asian-Americans is not yet over.

Starting in 2021, a nonprofit group is offering a way for people to defend themselves. It’s free and open to everyone.

Taekwondo instructor Katarina Buenviaje says she created the class so people don’t have to live in fear when they leave the house. She was horrified as she saw the dramatic increase in crimes targeting Asian Americans across the nation over the past year.

Her nonprofit, called KiX, teaches the basics of self-defense, beginning with being aware of your surroundings and avoiding potentially dangerous situations like walking alone in a deserted area. She recommends getting the attention of other people if a threat is imminent. For instance, by screaming, or trying to de-escalate the threat by talking to the potential attacker.

If none of that works, her training prepares people to defend against an assault.

“You want to make sure your hands are up; your hands are covering the most vulnerable parts of your body, your face included,” Buenviaje said.

Buenviaje explained the goal of the classes is to help people “feel safe when they go out and leave their houses, that they’re able to carry out their daily lives not in fear. And if there is a threat that comes their way to have the proper resources and be equipped to act in those kinds of situations.”

The free classes are offered online, with more classes expected to be added soon.