Korean American leader shapes her own legacy

Hyeok Kim

By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly

She is among the friendliest of young Asian American community leaders. She is a college graduate, the beneficiary of a close mentorship and a Korean American woman dedicated to public service.

Hyeok Kim, 32, has taken an active role in the local political scene for the last nine years by continuing the important work of her predecessors in the Asian Pacific Islander American community. Her dedication paid off last May when she was selected as the Inter*Im Community Development Association’s (ICDA) new executive director, succeeding Elaine Ko.

In December, the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation will honor Kim as a “Top Contributor to the Asian Community.”

Kim is a former volunteer at the 2005 National Asian Pacific American Caucus of State Legislators in Seattle. After a couple months of making the transition from staff member to management, Kim said, “It’s a challenge I welcome. I’m really glad I took this opportunity.”

Prior to her top position at ICDA, she worked for two years as a senior policy analyst for the Washington State House Democratic Caucus in Olympia.

Kim grew up in Federal Way and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1994. In 1998, she graduated from Hobart and William Smith Colleges (summa cum laude) in Geneva, N.Y. She also graduated Phi Beta Kappa and earned a Bachelor of Arts in history.

Kim says she’s very lucky to have started her professional career in 1999 as a legislative assistant for Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle.

“It’s one thing to find your first job out of college, I think, and find something that you are passionate about and that you really enjoy,” said Kim, “but it’s another thing to really be able to, especially your first job out of college, connect with someone who — I didn’t know this at the time — would end up being your career mentor as well as personal mentor. Sharon has been that for me for this past decade.”

Working with Santos that first year, she learned about the API community as well as Seattle’s political scene. She attended community gatherings and met with other key community leaders. Summing it up as “an incredibly positive, warm and very inviting experience,” she learned an important lesson: that more young people of color need to develop themselves in the political arena and professionally.

“I’ve seen that sense of needing to mentor younger people within the API community in lots of different sectors,” she said. King County Superior Court Judge Mary Yu cited Kim, as one of many in the field of law who values serving as a mentor.

According to Kim, the Executive Development Institute and the Asian Pacific Islander Community Leadership Foundation (where she served as its president in 2004) both want to see the next generation of young people “continue to take advantage of where the previous generation left off.”

Last summer, she volunteered as a trainer for APIAVote, a national, nonprofit organization that encourages civic participation of APIs in the electoral and public policy processes at the national, state and local levels.

She admits that one of her biggest struggles is overcoming shyness, which may surprise many who know her. “I’ve never been shy about speaking my mind, but I have been shy,” Kim said. “Making that one-on-one connection with people, that was hard for me.”

Becoming less shy didn’t happen in a single moment. “It was definitely a process of learning for me,” Kim said, “figuring out how to overcome my shyness in a political environment.”

For young people who may feel a sense of entitlement that comes from civil rights activists in the 1960s, Kim advises them to “take initiative and be proactive. You can’t sit back on your haunches and expect anyone to do everything for you.” ♦

For more information about the Inter*Im Community Development Association, visit www.interimicda.org.

James Tabafunda can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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