Jonathan Truong has had a lot of successes in his life. He grew up in Minneapolis, the son of Vietnamese refugees, and made a name for himself on the break-dancing and hip-hop scenes. An alumnus of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, he now has a career with one of the most influential social media companies in the country.
But Truong says none of his success would have been possible without the inspiration and support of his father, who “always supported and encouraged me to get an education.”
Although Truong’s father, Loc Hoang Truong, died recently, their connection remains strong. So much so that Truong, who earned his Master of Public Policy in 2013, has set up a new fellowship at the Humphrey School in his father’s name, to support first-generation college students and those interested in improving opportunities for refugee communities.
“My father was such an influential part of my life,” says Truong. “We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and we experienced a lot of adversity simply because of how we looked. But he encouraged me to do my best to get an education because he believed it was the greatest equalizer. And then I could make a positive impact on my community while creating my own legacy.”
Loc Hoang Truong and his four brothers were among the first refugees to flee Vietnam as the war ended in 1975. A local church sponsored their relocation to Minneapolis; theirs was the fifth family to settle here. Jonathan’s mother, Julie, escaped Vietnam as a boat person in 1980 and also came to Minneapolis. She and Loc were married in 1984.
Loc Hoang Truong was a teacher back in Vietnam. When he moved to Minnesota he first worked at a car wash, then took a job in the mail room at Pillsbury where he taught himself English and computer programming by studying the manuals they had available there. Over the next 30 years he became an accomplished information technology specialist, working at Pillsbury, General Mills, Cargill, and Target. He died last September of complications from diabetes, at the age of 64.
Jonathan Truong took his father’s belief in education seriously, but as a first-generation college student he needed financial assistance. He received a substantial scholarship from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Southeast Asian Studies in 2008. Truong was awarded the James Lyday Fellowship at the Humphrey School.
Two Passions: Dance and Social Justice
In between degrees, Truong followed his dad’s footsteps by teaching after-school programs for low-income youth, one of which was a breakdancing class. He also became a popular presence in breaking and hip-hop culture locally and globally, under the name Minhzy, which is also his Vietnamese nickname.
"I took an unusual path to the Humphrey School. I had a dream to start a breaking nonprofit,” Truong says. “Breaking was created by poor black and Latino youths in the south Bronx. So I thought, why not use this art form to do some good here in Minnesota? I saw breaking as a healthy, fun, and empowering vehicle for kids, especially in areas where parents struggled to afford after-school programs.”
Midway through graduate school, Truong fulfilled that dream, establishing House of Dance: Twin Cities, the metro area’s first breaking-focused after-school program for at-risk and low-income youth.
Truong also deepened his passion for social justice and diversity issues, thanks to the influence of Humphrey School Professor Samuel Myers Jr., director of the Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice. Truong became a teaching assistant for Myers, and helped him develop a course on Diversity and Public Policy.
He also was president of the Humphrey Students of Color Association (HSOCA), and a member of the School’s Diversity Committee.
“Professor Myers re-ignited my fire for advancing social justice and diversity, and I wanted to do my part,” Truong says. “Also, the folks I worked with in HSOCA became some of my best friends during that time. Having that network was and still is invaluable.”
Truong left House of Dance in 2013 to work for Yelp, the social networking site that lets users post reviews and rate businesses. Currently he works as an associate regional lead—managing, training, and hiring staff in 15 cities across North America. He returned to the Twin Cities a few months ago after living in Atlanta.
Fellowship Will be the Legacy of Father and Son
"There are students whose passion for making the world a better place impact the spirit of the Humphrey School for years after they graduate,” says Humphrey School Dean Laura Bloomberg. “Jonathan was just such a student. He was—and is—a leader with heart and with exceptional creativity. He has managed to blend his focus on public policy with his talent for dance, his kindness, and his passion for supporting young people.”
Truong wants to continue his support for the School through the Loc Hoang Truong Fellowship, which will support Humphrey School students who were first in their family to attend college. Special consideration is given to students who demonstrate an interest in improving opportunities for refugee communities.
“My father always fought for refugee rights, especially after 9/11, when there was a lot of hysteria over refugees from Arab countries. As a refugee from Vietnam, he knew what it was like to be discriminated against,” Truong says. “A lot of my dad's values align with those of Hubert Humphrey, who fought for advancement, equality, and kindness for all people.”
“We are so fortunate that Jonathan stays engaged with the School,” Bloomberg says. “I am honored that we will establish a student scholarship in memory of his late father, a refugee to this country who, I can only imagine, was very, very proud of his accomplished son."
Truong will speak about the importance of student scholarships at the Hubert H. Humphrey Public Leadership Awards dinner on April 23. He’ll talk about how the James Lyday Fellowship gave him the opportunity to attend the Humphrey School, and how he hopes the Loc Hoang Truong Fellowship will give others that same opportunity. The first fellowship will be awarded to an incoming student this fall.