FBI St. Louis
St. Louis Press Office
(314) 589-2500
April 3, 2023

FBI Surprises 'Very Asian Foundation' President and Co-Founder

ST. LOUIS, MO—The FBI surprised Michelle Li, president and co-founder of the “Very Asian Foundation,” on today’s morning news. With help from KSDK-TV, Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Jay Greenberg appeared on the morning show under the guise of being interviewed about diversity recruitment for the FBI. When Ms. Li, who co-anchors KSDK’s morning show, started the live interview, SAC Greenberg made the surprise announcement and presented Ms. Li with the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award (DCLA).

Ms. Li turned a racist voice-mail into nationwide pride for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) amid a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes. During a live interview, Ms. Li said she and most Koreans eat dumpling soup for New Year’s. A viewer criticized her of “being very Asian” and to “keep her Korean to herself.” Instead of clapping back, Li took the high road which resulted in the launch of the “Very Asian Foundation.” Ellen DeGeneres donated $15,000 in seed money towards the foundation.

SAC Greenberg of the FBI St. Louis Division said, “By being mature in response to hate, Michelle Li turned ignorance into a celebration of diversity.” Ms. Li’s effort proved critical for some young people. During a panel discussion with AAPI students nationwide, some revealed they or their peers created suicide plans because they felt unseen and afraid of being attacked and blamed for COVID-19.

The foundation established “The May Book Project” where experts compiled a list of AAPI books as a resource for libraries. Previously a student group asked St. Louis schools to buy AAPI books for their libraries. Only one school responded.

The continuous increase in hate crimes nationwide has led the FBI to elevate hate crimes investigations. This means each of the 56 FBI field offices across the country has been allocated more resources to conduct such investigations.

On May 5, 2023, there will be a national ceremony at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. FBI Director Christopher Wray will personally present the award to Ms. Li and the other honorees selected by FBI field offices across the country.

The FBI formally created the DCLA in 1990 as the principle means to honor individuals or organizations for their outstanding service to the local community and enduring contributions to the advancement of justice.

Past St. Louis DCLA Honorees*

  • 1990 Joseph Cunningham, former St. Louis Cardinals baseball player
  • 1991 Martin Mathews, Mathews-Dickey Boys’ & Girls’ Club
  • 1993 The late Jean Leible, Neighborhood Activist
  • 1995 Pastor Harry Douma, Camp Penuel
  • 2005 Martin Mathews (two-time honoree)
  • 2006 Karen Aroesty, Anti-Defamation League
  • 2007 Pastor B. T. Rice, New Horizon Seventh Day Christian Church
  • 2008 Dave Sinclair, Dave Sinclair Auto Group
  • 2009 Bill Wilkerson, “Reach Out St. Louis!"
  • 2010 Dr. Stephen Bander, Bander Center for Medical Business Ethics
  • 2011 Anthony Thompson, Kwame Building Group – Mentor at Carnahan HS Gentlemen’s Club
  • 2012 Kimberly Ritter, Nix Conference & Meeting Management—Child sex trafficking prevention
  • 2013 Angel Baked—Social enterprise empowering inner city teens with jobs
  • 2014 Wehrenberg Theatres – Publicizing FBI safety messages during movie previews
  • 2015 Emerson’s Ferguson Forward Initiative
  • 2016 Shubert Design Furniture (in conjunction with Gary Sinise Foundation honored by FBI HQ)
  • 2017 Danny Ludeman, President & CEO, Concordance Academy of Leadership
  • 2018 National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse—St. Louis Area – Opioid misuse
  • 2019 Missouri Masonic Children’s Foundation—MoCHIP
  • 2020 No honoree due to COVID-19 Pandemic
  • 2021 No honoree due to COVID-19 Pandemic

*Unlisted years did not have a recipient

Michelle Li, president and co-founder of the “Very Asian Foundation”

Special Agent in Charge Jay Greenberg (R) surprises Co-anchor Michelle Li during today’s live interview. Co-anchor Rene Knott (L) congratulates her.

Michelle Li, president and co-founder of the “Very Asian Foundation”

Photo Courtesy: Michelle Li