On July 6th to July 8th, 2016, Korean American Civic Empowerment (KACE) hosted a 3-day “Korean American Grassroots Conference” in Washington, D.C. at the Holiday Inn Washington-Capitol. With the theme “Local Action, National Impact” the 3rd annual Korean American Grassroots Conference aimed to educate the attendees on the importance of grassroots activism and to strengthen the Korean American community’s political footing, especially in light of the upcoming elections. Over 400 Korean American community leaders from across the nation convened to engage members of Congress on community issues, participate in education sessions for grassroots leadership development, and keynote addresses by the country’s leaders.

This year’s Korean American Grassroots Conference was piloted simultaneously with a college student program entitled KAGC U. First ever national conference for Korean American students, KAGC U seeks to develop the students’ civic leadership on campus and support their civic engagement initiatives in universities across the United States. 250 high school and college students gathered from over 60 schools throughout the nation for a unique opportunity to network, develop leadership skills in an effort to lead change, and directly engage with young civic leaders and elected officials.

Furthermore, on the night of July 7th, a gala dinner was hosted at Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill to celebrate the 3rd annual Korean American Grassroots Conference, joined by 10 members of Congress, 500 community leaders and students, 1 member of South Korea’s National Assembly, and Ambassador Ahn Ho-Young, South Korean Ambassador to the United States. The U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, Ambassador Mark Lippert also delivered remarks via video.

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[July 6th, 2016: KAGC U attendees on first night of training seminar]

The 2016 KAGC and KAGC U drew Korean American activists from 23 states, including New York, New Jersey, Texas, California, Washington, Colorado, Florida, Alaska, and Georgia. They joined the Grassroots Conference to maximize Korean American representation in politics and to deliver pressing issues of the Korean American community on Capitol Hill.

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[July 6th, 2016: KAGC participants receive a briefing on the upcoming presidential elections]

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[July 6th, 2016: Roy D. Cho shares his experience running for the U.S. Congress with KAGC U attendees]

On July 6th, the first day of KAGC, attendees participated in a 2016 Presidential Election Briefing to better inform their local communities on the upcoming presidential elections. This discussion was followed by an 8080 Campaign education session. The 8080 Campaign is a year-round effort initiated by KACE, which aims to accomplish 80% voter registration and 80% voter turnout rates in the Korean American community. Throughout the sessions, the role of grassroots activism and proactiveness in addressing public concerns were highlighted.

On the other hand, the first day of KAGC U consisted of engagement with Korean American civic leaders such as, Dr. Paul Y. Song (physician, biotech executive, healthcare activist), Roy D. Cho (attorney, 2014 Democratic nominee for U.S. Congress in NJ-5), Yong Jung Cho (climate activist), Hannah Kim (Communications Director for Rep. Charles Rangel), and Grace Choi (Policy Advisor at the U.S. Department of State’s Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues). Speakers shared their personal and professional experiences as a Korean American in their respective fields. KAGC U participants then discussed the challenges of the second-generation Korean Americans and ways to overcome these challenges.

In the evening of the first day, both KAGC and KAGC U participants assembled into 14 different groups, divided by district and state origins, in preparation for the meeting with their members of Congress on Capitol Hill. Groups deliberated on how to effectively express their concerns and the top policy priorities concerning the Korean American community.

On July 7th, the second day, all KAGC and KAGC U participants worked in small groups on Capitol Hill. The visit to the Hill kicked off with a remarks by Representative Charles B. Rangel (NY-13), who encouraged the Korean American grassroots activism and applauded our community’s active civic engagement. KAGC and KAGC U attendees visited a total of 170 congressional offices, including direct meetings with 20 Representatives and 1 Senator. In these meeting, the attendees called for comprehensive immigration reform, a stronger U.S.-Korea military alliance, reunion of separated Korean families in the United States and North Korea, resolving issues on comfort women, and creating a dedicated visa category for high-skilled workers of Korean nationality. The visit on Capitol Hill allowed attendees to put to work their skills on grassroots lobbying and demonstrate to the members of Congress the organization of Korean American voters.

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[July 7th, 2016: Rep. Charles B. Rangel (NY-13) shares remarks with the attendees before the groups separate to make rounds on the Hill]

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[July 7th, 2016: Rep. Mike Honda (CA-17) discusses the top policy priorities with KAGC & KAGC U attendees]

The meetings were held with the following members of Congress or the staff members of:

  • Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK)
  • Senator Pat Murray (WA)
  • Representative Adam Schiff (CA-28)
  • Representative Mike Honda (CA-17)
  • Representative Gerald E. Connolly (VA-11)
  • Representative Rob Woodall (GA-07)
  • Representative Scott Garrett (NJ-05)
  • Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27)
  • Representative Don Young (AK-0)
  • Representative Mike Coffman (CO-06)
  • Representative Adam Smith (WA-09)
  • Representative John Culberson (TX-07)
  • Representative Robert A. Brady (PA-01)
  • Representative Leonard Lance (NJ-07)
  • Representative Jim McDermott (WA-07)
  • Representative Ed Royce (CA-39)
  • Representative Xavier Beccera (CA-34)
  • Representative Bill Pascrell (NJ-09)
  • Representative Ted Poe (TX-02)
  • Representative Anna Eshoo (CA-18)
  • Representative Patrick J. Tiberi (OH-12)

The Hill visit was followed by a policy forum for KAGC and KAGC U participants with a focus on the Presidential Campaigns. A surrogate from both Hilary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s presidential campaigns were given the opportunity to address and appeal to the Korean American community by discussing the major policies of their candidates. Dr. Bel Leong-Hong (DNC AAPI Caucus Chair) spoke on behalf of the Democratic Party and Dr. Walid Phares (foreign policy advisor for Mr. Trump) spoke on behalf of the Republican Party. The ultimate goal of this forum was to better inform our community on the presidential candidates and on the wider spectrum of the political ideology.

On the night of July 7th, KACE hosted a gala dinner in celebration of the 3rd annual Korean American Grassroots Conference. Over 500 Korean Americans and 10 members of congress attended and celebrated the political empowerment of the Korean American community.

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[2016 KAGC Gala held at Hyatt Regency]

The gala dinner was joined and addressed by:

  • Representative Mike Honda (CA-17)
  • Representative Don Young (AK-0)
  • Representative Mike Coffman (CO-06)
  • Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27)
  • Representative Bill Pascrell (NJ-09)
  • Representative Charles B. Rangel (NY-13)
  • Representative Judy Chu (CA-27)
  • Representative Gerald E. Connolly (VA-11)
  • Representative Bob Dold (IL-10).
  • Representative Ed Royce (CA-39), Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee
  • Assemblyman Shim Jaekwon, Chair of the Foreign Affairs and Reunification Committee, the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea
  • His Excellency Ahn Ho-Young, Ambassador of Republic of Korea to the U.S.
  • Ambassador Mark W. Lippert, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (via video)

The dignitaries emphasized the importance of civic engagement and the contribution of the Korean American community to our nation. Throughout the night, awards were presented to select individuals in honor of their leadership in our community’s civic engagement initiatives.

The recipients of the awards included:

  • 2016 Grassroots Champion Award: Representative Mike Honda (CA-17)
  • 2016 Hero of Korean Americans Award: Representative Charles B. Rangel (NY-13)
  • 2016 Campus Leadership Award: Joseph Choe (Harvard), Jenny Choi (Harvard), and Timothy Kim (UC Berkeley)

On the morning July 8th, the third and final day of the grassroots conference, KAGC concluded with an evaluation and closing session. Attendees were presented with the opportunity to assess the conference and share with KACE their thoughts on the 2016 Korean American Grassroots Conference.

KAGC U’s final day commenced with a keynote address by Representative Grace Meng (NY-06). Representative Meng’s district, according to the 2010 Census, is home to 43,730 Korean Americans, one of the highest Korean American-populated districts across the nation. Representative Meng discussed the importance of having the Asian American voice heard and the impact the Korean American community has had within her district. The address was followed by a meet-and-greet with Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) and Ms. Diana Yu, Chief of Staff for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI).

These sessions introduced participants to different organizations that work to empower the Asian American community and to career opportunities the students may pursue. To conclude KAGC U’s final day, Ms. Ann Woo, director of corporate citizenship for Samsung Electronics in North America met with attendees to share the impact Samsung has had in the United States as a Korean multinational company.

This year’s Korean American Grassroots Conference was a step forward from the past year’s. Its significance stood out even more in light of the 2016 Presidential Election. The launch of the KAGC U also proved to be a remarkable success with over 200 students representing more than 60 schools from across the nation.

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