Michael Park, President of Korean American Coalition, Metro Atlanta Chapter
As the Asian American community’s presence grows around Georgia, we all recognize the need to continue building bridges between various community groups. We are fortunate to have numerous Korean American organizationsto serve as conduits that continually encourage civic participation and provide community service. In recent years, we also see a focus and commitment to the next generation as these future young women and men become leaders of our respective communities for years to come. Thus, one area upon which I wish to focus is mentorship. I firmly believe that the key to promoting Korean American issues for our community’s advancement lies in tightly knit mentor/mentee interpersonal relationships.
As a young man, I was blessed with a range of mentors who provided advice and guidance to a young, Korean American growing up in South Carolina. At the time, I was unfamiliar with the term, “mentor” but I now realize that many of my key decisions and experiences were thanks to mentors in my life. I should mention that a mentor does not need to be an individual from a specific university or someone working in a professional field. Among my mentors, I count my Boy Scout troop leader, an assistant basketball coach, and a retired Army general. The only thing that these gentlemen had in common was an active interest in my personal development. They encouraged me to partake in community service and civic activities that at times pushed me out of my comfort zone. It is these combined experiences that helped to form my identity and provides me with the desire to continue to serve, even when it is sometimes difficult and uncomfortable.
For the past seven years, I have been fortunate to mentor several young men. I feel that it is my duty to convey a strong sense of participation within the community, but also to serve as a conduit that helps them to establish their own identities amid the cultural and generational gaps that exist today. Over the years, what my mentees taught me was that they needed guidance beyond the classroom. I realized that my generation is in a unique position to assist youth, many from immigrant families, by sharing our own American life experiences. One menteeis an excellent student with a loving family, but as recent immigrants, he and his family lack a full understanding of high school life and the college entrance process. I try to work closely with them on the importance of life balance including academics, extracurricular activities, and community service. I want to ensure that he will have a chance to attend the college of his dreams, but more importantly that he will grow into a conscientious young man whose life will be that of a servant leader.
Over the years, I am sure that there are many stories like ours. There is no feeling of achievement like watching a young person grow and succeed. As mentors, our greatest achievement, however, is not the numbers of graduates or the acceptances to prestigious universities. Instead, I feel that the greatest testament to our work is that we are currently witnessing a new generation of educated, selfless, and confident young women and men who serve their community on many levels. I am especially grateful that the future of Korean American community inGeorgia lies in good hands.