By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
A talented photographer, fierce advocate, and incredible soul.
Those are among the words used to describe Jin-Ah Kim, 30, as condolences and heartfelt messages pour in. Kim, who used they/them pronouns, was killed shortly after celebrating their 30th birthday on July 24, in what their family describes as “a tragic car accident.”
On Facebook, their brother Stefan Kim wrote, “Jin-Ah was given their name by their father, which means ‘True Self.’ Jin-Ah would go on to make their namesake a living mantra, wearing their heart on their sleeve and touching countless lives on a daily basis, as they worked to become the beautiful soul you all know and love.”
Kim was recruited by Pramila Jayapal for her 2016 campaign for Congress as a communications intern.
“Jin-Ah was an invaluable member of the Seattle community, bringing a sparkling light and joy to their photography and all of their interactions,” said Rep. Jayapal.
“It was an honor to have the opportunity to work with such a very special person, to support their art and causes, and to watch their radiating smile touch everyone they came into contact with. We will honor Jin-Ah’s life by continuing to live strong for justice, speak out for what is right, and fiercely stand up for the most vulnerable in our community.”
Northwest Asian Weekly publisher Assunta Ng met Kim in 2017 when Kim ran for Shoreline City Council. Although Kim didn’t win, they told the Asian Weekly, “I made history as the first long-term opioid recovering addict to run and hopefully, it will inspire other former addicts to come out and not be fearful.”
“The first and only time I met them, I was impressed,” said Ng. “Kim was fearless, bold, and honest, and spoke about their opioid addiction … it’s sad and shocking to learn that their life was cut short.”
State Sen. Bob Hasegawa hired Kim, who he had first met as a staff photographer in the Legislature, as his session staff during the 2018 Legislative session.
“During that session, amongst their other duties, Jin-Ah chose to focus on behavioral health and recovery issues because they carried a passion in those areas based on personal experience. I listened to their passionate and well reasoned policy positions in support of those who were really suffering and consulted them for guidance and thoughts as those issues came up during session.”
Hasegawa called Kim “a model of fierce advocacy to do what’s right for people and to not let past practices and business as usual stand in the way. Jin-Ah was a walking testimony that personal experiences are an undeniable and indisputable reality and that we cannot dismiss people’s solutions, which are based on those realities.”
Kim became hooked in high school after being prescribed painkillers, and their goal was to remove society’s stigma towards drug addicts. Friend Joseph Lachman said Kim went through a long journey with recovery.
When speaking about safe injection or consumption sites, Lachman said, “Jin-Ah was always very adamant in calling them community health engagement locations. It wasn’t just about consumption or injection, it was about reframing it as sites where you have engagement with folks at all kinds of stages of recovery.”
Lachman said there’s a lot of misunderstanding within the Asian American Pacific Islander community about community health engagement locations—that they only encourage drug use, and don’t improve communities.
“Jin-Ah always very fiercely pushed back against that narrative and talked about how incredibly important they’ve been … in saving [addicts’] lives. Jin-Ah helped educate so many people on that issue.”
“There are few individuals who are active in more than one circle and are able to touch lives and contribute across many sectors of society,” said SeaTac Deputy Mayor Peter Kwon. “[Kim’s] support for the API community never wavered, serving on the APACE board while also contributing to the Korean American Coalition, collaborating with elected leaders, community leaders, and the community itself. What is really incredible is all this spanned only around four short years, and Jin-Ah was just getting started. “
Zoe McMahon organized a fundraiser in Kim’s memory. On a GoFundMe page, McMahon wrote, “This is our chance to give back to an individual who gave so much to so many. All proceeds will be turned over to their family to assist in covering all related expenses toward her care. Any contributions exceeding said expenses will be used to set up a memorial fund to be donated to the primary causes Jin-Ah spent their life contributing towards.”
When asked how to best honor Kim’s memory, Lachman said, “Listen to stories and experiences of people in recovery. Don’t dismiss their narratives, their truth.”
Hasegawa said, “I will miss Jin-Ah’s energy, expertise, knowledge, smile, energy, and audacity… Rest in peace, you powerful spirit.”
On Facebook, Stefan Kim wrote, “While Jin-Ah may no longer be with us in a physical sense, their legacy lives on in all of us who work to live our best lives, give hope to the hopeless, and work to stay true to ourselves. Please honor Jin-Ah’s memory by taking time today and every day to tell your loved ones how much they mean to you.”
Messages to the Kim family may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Please feel free to share stories and memories so that their parents are able to read through them for encouragement as they grieve,” Stefan Kim said.
To donate to Kim’s fundraiser, go to gofundme.com/f/in-memory-of-jinah-kim.