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Yin Yu was bobbing on Puget Sound in a kayak, tongs in one hand and a plastic bag in the other, when she found her passion.

She was an undergrad at the time, taking a class in environmental anthropology. Yu and her classmates were collecting trash in South Lake Union. It was her first time in a kayak. It was also the first time she’d ever gotten hands-on with environmental activism.

She never stopped. During office hours, Yu works as referral manager for UW Neighborhood Clinics, where she’s been employed since 2006. She spends a good chunk of the rest of her time fighting for climate and social justice, most recently as a co-founder of Women of Color Speak Out.

The Huddle caught up with Yu to find out more about her life in and out of the office.

Q: How did Women of Color Speak Out get started?

A: It began during the ”Shell No” campaign, which protested plans for drilling in the Arctic. At the time I met some of the very few women of color involved in the climate justice movement. They are brilliant, powerful people, and I said hey, we should share our stories about how we got into the movement. That led to an event at Town Hall Seattle, and we’ve maintained this platform for ourselves and our voices.

Q: What does the group do?

A: We’ve traveled all around the Pacific Northwest, from Bellingham to Portland. During our first year, we spoke at universities, high schools, nonprofits, prisons and churches. We discuss how the climate justice movement is an umbrella for how other movements – food justice, gender, race – can intersect.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: We are less visible these days as we work in the movement to address patriarchy, the core in systems of oppression. We have been supporting a small collective of white men and men of color doing this work.

Q: What’s the best way for people to get involved in the environmental movement?

A: I’d say that you should find a collective that aligns with your values and passion. Groups like 350 Seattle address a variety of issues, and they also have lots of committees and other ways for members to get involved.

Q: With so many grim environmental headlines, is it hard to be an optimist?

A: Not at all! We’ve had so many wins, like with the Shell rig. It didn’t happen instantly, but it happened. It’s a beautiful thing when you witness how powerful people can be in a collective.

Yin Yu assists a young patient at the Shoreline clinic

Q: What does a referral manager do?

I am managing a centralized referral and prescription prior authorization team for eight UWNC clinics with six more clinics phasing in. This team interacts with all areas of UW Medicine, insurance providers and external specialty partners – they are on the front line assisting patients with barriers they encounter. I become a funnel for all changes that occur in relation to a referral (insurance, specialists, Epic) and distributing information.

Q: What about UWNC makes it a place to spend 10 years?

A: I’ve always felt supported by leadership and management. I started as a student, and every quarter when my schedule would change my manager was so accommodating. They’ve watched me grow and evolve as I finished grad school a couple of years ago. They’ve been supportive of my passion. For example, back when I was at UWNC Shoreline, the clinic started recycling and even trialed a CSA (community supported agriculture) subscription. Everyone is driven by making sure our patients receive timely and quality care. It’s been great being here for the past decade.

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