By: Patricia Kaowthumrong

Whether she’s putting together a fundraiser for a local cause or connecting with the hip-hop community, 20-year-old Joie Ha is not afraid to step outside her comfort zone.

“I really believe in altruism and family, as well as personal growth and consistently putting yourself out of your comfort zones,” Ha says. “I feel that being uncomfortable is a way to explore new aspects of yourself that you never have before.”

Ha is the recipient of the Aspiring Hero Award—awarded to individuals under the age of 35. She is majoring in anthropology and international studies at the University of Denver. A proud Aurora native, she is a graduate of Smoky Hill High School.

“Joie was born to be a leader. She is quite an inspiration to many people—young and old,” says Eve Chan, Ha’s colleague who nominated Ha for the Asian American Hero award. “Joie’s humility, kind and caring heart, positive outlook on life and ability to direct groups of people should be recognized as a young Asian American hero of Colorado.”

At Smoky Hill, Ha founded the The Original Expression (T.O.E.) Jam, a state-wide hip-hop dance competition. She says her greatest achievement so far is starting the program without any previous hip-hop knowledge and selling out the school auditorium for the second annual competition.

Her connection to the hip-hop community has allowed her to become co-chair of Cultural Unity at the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival, bringing in dancers like Korean Bboy Taiyo and Dance2Live, according to Chan.

After the Aurora movie theatre shooting in 2012, Ha collaborated with Next Generation Voices, Gamma Gallery, LG Eventos, Asian Student Alliance and Enovishun Graffiks to establish Art4 Aurora, a benefit arts show to raise funds for the victims and their families. The event raised more than $4,500 for the cause.

“The community has given me so much,” Ha says. “I am who I am because of the community, my family and the way I grew up. I think it’s important for anyone to give back to the community to create a better place for all of us to live together.”

Additionally, Ha served as the director of Project Renew, a benefit that raised funds for the Lao Buddhist Temple that burned down in 2011. She is also an adviser of Next Generation Voices, a student-run organization that unites young people to be socially aware, culturally competent and future leaders.

Ha’s other roles include public relations chair for the Asian Student Alliance at DU, public relations chair for Miss Asian American Colorado 2012, president of DU’s Pioneer Breakers and member of DU’s Diversity Committee.

Ha’s advice to others is, “You do what you want to do. Don’t let anyone tell you who you are and don’t be afraid to give back. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and take on a huge project.”

Joie Ha (right) receives Aspiring Hero Award for an Asian American community leader (under the age of 35). She is awarded along with Kimiko Side, Angela Cho, Namita Khanna Nariani, Jie Zheng and Clarence Low (not pictured).