“[Going to an all-girls school, my peers and I] never thought of ourselves as the weaker sex…there was no such thing as ‘oh because I’m a woman I’m not going to do that, I’ll let a man do that. This had a big influence on me…I am going to do [the things I want] and so what.” — Grace Cheung-Schulman
Grace Cheung-Schulman is a soft-spoken woman, but don’t let her gentle demeanor fool you. After all, traveling across the world and cultures is not an experience for the weak. As a young adult, Grace left her home and learned the importance of finding and building community. Her experiences and passions are vast and diverse. From her love of geography, music, visual arts, and most recently - Aikido, to being a community activist, teacher, and volunteer, Grace is creative, strong, and caring. Now a well-known and involved member of our local Sonoma County community, she had quite the journey before calling the beautiful North Bay home.
Born and raised in Hong Kong to two loving parents and three older brothers when it was still a British colony, Grace Cheung-Schulman recalls her childhood fondly. In her youth, Grace attended an all-girls school from kindergarten to high school, and she said this experience was extremely impactful for her during her formative years. “We never thought of ourselves as the weaker sex…there was no such thing as ‘oh because I’m a woman I’m not going to do that, I’ll let a man do that.” Grace always had powerful working women as role models to look up to. It empowered her to always have confidence in herself and do whatever she set her mind to.
When Grace graduated from high school, the world was her oyster. She had been exposed to strong women doing great things and making a place for themselves in the world, so she decided to follow in their footsteps. Grace chose a college education and enrolled at the University of Hong Kong. There, she majored in Geography, her decision was greatly influenced by her favorite teacher who happened to teach geography. Once she graduated with her Bachelor's degree, Grace went on to become a high school teacher at the school that she had gone to all her life. She taught at the same school for two years before moving on to her next adventure: Canada.
Grace says that many things drew her to Canada. She affectionately recalls seeing an old photo of her father who passed away when she was only seven. After her father graduated from medical school in Hong Kong, he began working as a doctor on a freight ship that would sail to Canada. In addition, Grace says she’d simply always wanted to travel overseas, it was a dream of hers. In 1972, Grace’s lifelong dream of traveling across the sea came true when she went on vacation to Canada. While on this trip one of her friends urged her to go to a music audition at a university. This was another lifelong dream of Grace’s: to study music. She had been playing the piano since the age of 4, so it was always a part of her life. Despite being on vacation and unprepared for an audition, Grace went and was successfully offered admission. From there, she went on to earn her degrees in music and education.
Now with multiple degrees under her belt, Grace decided to stay in Canada after graduation. She got another teaching job, this time as a high school music teacher at Geraldton Composite High School in Geraldton, Ontario. It was an extremely cold and remote place far up north of Lake Superior, but it was a new experience that Grace happily embraced. She taught there for two years before being laid off due to declining enrollment caused by population shrinkage of school age children all over Canada at the time. This career change sent Grace back to Hong Kong.
Once in Hong Kong, Grace went on to hold various positions in the art and music administration, working at the Hong Kong Arts Centre as a performing arts manager, and eventually went on to work for the Composers and Authors Society of Hong Kong (CASH) in music copyright administration. Grace enjoyed her work, but always craved a challenge and loved to learn. It gave her the opportunity to travel to many parts of Europe and Asia for work and pleasure. After being established in her career for several years she decided to go back to school for a higher degree. When an opportunity presented itself in New York at Binghamton University, Grace readily accepted it. She moved to New York and enrolled in the University’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) program. After graduating, Grace worked at the university as the Executive Administrator at their Center on Democratic Performance, Research Foundation.
Tragically, during this time Grace suffered a great loss when her husband Professor Martin Schulman passed away. With no family or deep roots tying her to New York, Grace decided to leave. She knew she didn’t want to go back to Hong Kong and was craving a fresh start in the United States. She was interested in living in a co-housing community since she had no family here and a sense of community was important to her. While traveling to see her brother in Australia, Grace made a stop in California to check out two co-housing communities she had been researching in Santa Rosa and Cotati. This visit solidified that California was the place for her.
Grace packed up her life in New York and with her dog Toshi, drove for 7 days across the country to the sunny West Coast. Upon her arrival, Grace moved into an apartment in Rohnert Park. Knowing no one and having no job, Grace started from scratch. This excited her; she was ready to make a place for herself in her newfound home. Grace joined a church and its choir and quickly found community. After a few years and a short move north to Santa Rosa, her Church’s choir director stepped down and Grace became the music director for the following 4 ½ years.
By this time, Grace was technically retired, but she never stopped working. She decided to pursue a new profession as a photographer, another lifelong dream of hers since she was 16. To establish her portfolio, she travelled nationally and internationally extensively to go on photoshoots and attend workshops. At the same time, she invested all her free time back into her community through volunteerism. For Grace, volunteering was a way to get over her shyness and to find and foster community. Her volunteerism in Sonoma County is a lengthy list including her church, Canine Companions for Independence, North Coast Mac Users Group, Southeast Greenway Campaign, Homeless Action! of Sonoma County, Redwood Empire Chinese Association, and Sonoma Valley Museum of Art. “In many ways, volunteering has been my career in California.” She not only volunteers her time but also often her creativity, volunteering to take photos for events.
Now, Grace is dedicating much of her time to the Asian American Pacific Islander Coalition of the North Bay (AAPIC North Bay) and is a Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the coalition. During COVID, with the rise in anti-Asian hate, Grace and many other Asian residents throughout Sonoma County gathered and discussed the issues their communities were facing and how to go about supporting one another through these trying times. In June of 2021, Grace along with many others decided to create AAPIC to unify against the harassment and violence their community was facing.
In November 2021, they were able to have their first in-person event, which was a gathering that celebrated and honored Asian cultural wealth, including a Japanese Shakuhachi player, the Tenten Taiko drummers, and Youth Lion Dancers from the Redwood Empire Chinese Association. The coalition is now thriving, having elected an Advocacy Chair, Events Chair (Grace), Secretary, Treasurer, and a Board of Directors. For Grace, the AAPI Coalition and its mission is very near and dear to her heart, “I feel we must find a way to build community…we should help support each other… the bigger more cohesive the group, the stronger your voice.”
In honor of Women’s History month Grace wanted to share some words she lives by for her fellow women, “work hard, be self-reliant, be generous to others, and [most of all] don’t be afraid to learn and try new things. Be brave and seek knowledge.”
Grace Cheung-Schulman exudes warmth and wisdom. She is a woman who is unafraid of change and embraces the beauty of the unknown. Thank you, Grace, for bringing the knowledge you have gathered from all across the world and for sharing it here with us to help better and strengthen our community in the North Bay.
If you are interested in joining the AAPI Coalition of the North Bay, please visit the following links:
View the visual story of Grace’s life created for the MCRP here:
To learn more about this story and the important work of Grace Cheung-Schulman, visit the links below.
Grace Cheung-Schulman Photography / Shop Fine Art Photographs
About The Artist | Grace Cheung-Schulman
Grace Cheung-Schulman was interviewed by Daniel Chaparro, Community Outreach Specialist, and Madelynn Cox, Community Engagement AmeriCorps VISTA.