Hyepin Im – Week 1: 30-in-30 honoree

I want to thank SCLN for this tremendous award. Through SCLN’s Leadership Southern California (LSC) program, I had the opportunity gain important skills and insights that influence me as a leader today.

First, I was educated on many issues that I would not have bothered to think of, such as water. I learned how interdependent we are on this and so many other issues that directly impact our lives.

Second, I saw that politics are everywhere.  I was assigned a city to investigate, and thought to myself sarcastically, “How interesting could this quiet suburban city be?” Well, surprise, surprise — there were a lot of politics and interpersonal drama preventing the city from making the best choices for its residents.

Another takeaway had a profound impact on my life – a game called King of the Hill. We were divided into three groups and given bags of different colored chips that we were to trade with one another in successive rounds. Unbeknownst to us, each group was intentionally given a different mix of colored chips to simulate low income, middle class and upper class. Within 30 minutes of starting the game, I saw society recreated in that room.

Well, sad to sayly, I was in the low income-group and soon came to realize that no matter how hard I tried, I would never “win.”  What I decided to do next gave me a profound and unsettling lesson which I keep with me today. The minute I realized I had no chance of “winning,” I immediately went into thinking of sabotaging the upper class’ gains to keep the game interesting for me. At this moment, I realized how important it is to give everyone in society a sense of hope, or else everyone becomes at risk.

In 2001, when I started Korean Churches for Community Development (KCCD), I carried these lessons with me.  KCCD (soon to be FACE, Faith and Community Empowerment) focuses on advocacy, partnership and empowerment, with the lessons I learned in LSC of interconnectedness, the importance of healthy relationships and strong leadership, and equity at the forefront.

All communities and individuals have inherent worth and must be empowered to thrive and be a blessing to the world. As an Asian American, a woman, and a person of faith, I often see forces at work to keep people in my community invisible, marginalized or demonized. It is my hope that through the work of KCCD/FACE, the voice, contribution and influence of marginalized communities will be welcomed and valued and invited to the decision making table.

I am grateful to my parents, who were my first examples of leadership and service.  I witnessed how their response to the overwhelming needs of their immigrant congregation members turned them into essentially unpaid social workers, and planted the seed in me for KCCD/FACE.

Today, KCCD/FACE has over 500 partners, from the White House to Fortune 500 companies to grassroots organizations and local churches. We have established new initiatives for the Asian American community, including a $5 million historic grant to help at risk and adjudicated youth. We have also become a successful advocate for award-winning housing initiatives in the Asian American community, as well as championing many other firsts.

This April 29th marks the 25th anniversary of the L.A. Riots, which in many ways birthed KCCD nine years later.  Korean Americans suffered over $400 million in losses during the riots, and through partnerships with organizations like the First AME Church, I came to realize the importance of building good relationships across all communities and sectors to ensure we all have a political voice. When one community is hurting and without hope, we are all vulnerable.

I invite you to join us as we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the L.A. Riots on Saturday, April 29th in an interfaith, cross cultural event. This campaign strengthens our voices and unites our communities against the assaults that prevent us from being the best America was intended to be, and gives all communities hope. For priority seating and to get involved, visit www.saigu429.org.

Learn more about Leadership Southern California. 
Learn more about SCLN’s 30th Anniversary and our 30-in-30 campaign.