By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
She is among the friendliest of young Asian American community leaders: a college graduate, the beneficiary of a close mentorship, 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, continuing the important work of her predecessors in the Asian Pacific Islander (API) American community. Her dedication paid off when, last May, she was selected as Inter*Im Community Development Association’s (ICDA) new executive director, succeeding Elaine Ko.
In December, she will be honored as a “Top Contributor to the Asian Community” by the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation.
A former volunteer at the 2005 National Asian Pacific American Caucus of State Legislators in Seattle, she admitted after a couple of months of making the transition from being a staff member to her new job in management, “It’s a challenge I welcome. I’m really glad I took this opportunity.”
Prior to her top job at ICDA, she worked for about two years as a senior policy analyst for the Washington State House Democratic Caucus in Olympia.
Kim grew up in Federal Way, graduating 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.
She said 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 the Seattle political scene, attending community gatherings and meeting other key community leaders. Summing it up as “an incredibly positive, warm and very inviting experience,” she learned the most important lesson: 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, is 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 — 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, non-profit organization that encourages civic participation of APIs in the electoral and public policy processes at the national, state and local levels.
She admits 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 points out. “Making that one-on-one connection with people, that was hard for me.”
Becoming less shy didn’t happen in a single “Ah-ha!” moment. She said, “It was definitely a process of learning for me, figuring out how to overcome my shyness in a political environment.”
Normal self-growth over time helped change things around. “I look at who I was 10 years ago, and I think anyone could probably say the same,” said Kim.
For young people who may feel a sense of entitlement that comes from civil rights activists in the 1960s, she advises, “Take initiative and be proactive. You can’t sit back on your haunches and expect anyone to do everything for you.” ♦