YHB/Founding a School—Community Center

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Overcome with grief and guilt, Yoon began to fast. Hong fasted alongside him. The two endured ten days of fasting, which they dedicated to their fallen comrade. During their fast, Yoon committed to becoming more proactive in the fight for democracy.

Incidentally, around this time, events in Korea freed Yoon from the need to hide his identity. In Korea, a group of teachers had been arrested under the suspicion that they were trying to overthrow the regime. During the investigation, the police learned that these teachers had met with Yoon Han-bong. Under torture, the teachers confessed that Yoon had escaped to America. This fact became public knowledge. Yoon’s cover was blown. Yoon actually welcomed this change – now there was no need to use an alias, no need to lay low, and he could come out of hiding and organize.

Yoon immediately launched an organization in December. His vision for the organization spanned ten years. First, he wanted to organize the local young adult youth organizations for Korean immigrants and form a local grassroots organization. Then, he would unite these local grassroots organizations to establish a nation-wide youth organization. He envisioned having a Korean young adult and youth organization not only in America but also in Europe, Australia, Canada, and Japan. It was an ambitious plan.

The first step was to secure a home base, a place that could accommodate all the members. Yoon envisioned a community center where Korean immigrants could gather and learn about their common heritage. For the community center in Los Angeles, he proposed the title, “Korean Resource Center” – a school that would become a resource center for Korean culture, history and activism.

Yoon had saved a little less than 2,000 dollars, which was an emergency fund, in case he needed to escape. The hope of having his own room in America was entirely out of his reach. Yet he was able to found the Korean Resource Center (called “Min Jok Hak Gyo” in Korean meaning “Korean National School”) which opened on February 5, 1983.

No one had managed to establish a Korean institute in America before – not Seo Jae-phil nor Lee Syngman. Yoon registered the school as a nonprofit organization and received tax exemption status from the government. Choi Jin-hwan was the chairman of the board of directors of the school and Jeon Jin-ho became its first the principal. Hong Ki-wan quit his job and worked at the school full-time.

Live righteously
Know your roots
Live with integrity

This was written in Hangul on the placard inside the school. These three mantras were the living tenets of the school.

Yoon was the “keeper” of the school – he was literally the janitor. Yoon polished every inch of the school. He scrubbed the floors on his knees and cleaned every inch of the window frames with a rag. There was not an opportunity for dust to settle anywhere.

In two months, Yoon decided to move into the school. He was living in extreme poverty by this time – for meals he made do with rice and water, and a few dried anchovies dipped in pepper sauce. When someone bought him a meal, he would wrap up any leftovers so he could eat them later. Those who pitied him occasionally brought him something to eat - Lee Kil-ju, a vocal performer, had especially cared for Yoon and other people working for the school. Once, Yoon said to her, “I think you must have been a bird in your former life. A bird who sings on tree tops all day long.”

Yoon washed dishes in the bathroom. Because it was forbidden to live in the office, he had to hide himself whenever he heard anyone walk past. He slept on the floor of building and smoked the butts of cigarettes thrown away on the streets. He wore whatever hand-me-downs he could get his hands on.

Despite the difficulties, Yoon and his colleagues lived happily by caring for one another. They helped each other endure days of hunger, of loneliness, of darkness.