YHB/Founding the YKU

This page was last edited on 6 July 2019, at 10:56.

By August, 1986, branches of the YKU along with their respective community centers had been founded in L.A., Seattle, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. YKU branches were also founded in New England, Dallas, and Denver, but they were dismantled soon after due to difficulty in management.

The requirements to becoming an official YKU member were strict. There were about 300 members in total. In order to start a new branch, the YKU members had to establish their own community center in the area. In theory, only seven or eight members were needed for a new branch, but it was difficult to run a functioning community center with so few people.

Yoon visited Philadelphia for a few months in the hopes of establishing a branch there. This was difficult, however, due to the small Korean population in Philadelphia. There were only about a thousand Korean immigrants, and not many of them were students. Jang Kwang-seon, who was managing a laundromat, played an important role in organizing the Philadelphia branch. He and Im Yong-cheon had been leading a study group, where a few students met to read Korean newspapers. This became the foundation of the YKU branch. Jang Kwang-seon also persuaded the elders of the community, who were distrustful of Yoon at first. He convinced his two younger brothers to join the YKU as well.

Jang Maeng-dan, Im Yong-cheon, Lee Chong-kook, Shin Kyung-hee, and Cheong Seung-jin began fundraising to build the community center. For these YKU members, fundraising was not about receiving donations but contributing their own earnings, even if it meant taking on side jobs. They collected cans and sold second-hand clothes or flowers. In just half a year, they successfully built a community center.

The situation in New England was even worse than in Philadelphia, as there were scarcely any Korean immigrants. However, there was a bigger population of students. A group of fifteen students were already meeting regularly in a study group before Yoon came along, including Jeong Ki-yeol, Jeong Min, Choi Kwan-ho, Seo Hyuk-kyo, Lee Ji-hoon, Kim Hee-sang, Lee Seong-dan, Ryu Cheong-hae, and Kwon Hyeok-beom.

The members of the study group were already aware of the massacre of Gwangju and they knew they had to do something. When Yoon proposed setting up a YKU branch, the students were quick to organize. Ryu Cheong-hae, who was working as a staff at the University of Massachusetts, recollects the day she met Yoon:

I was shocked. This country boy came out of nowhere, but he had a way with words. It was incredible. He was unlike anyone I’d ever met.

In New York as well, there was already a group of students in a study group. After meeting Yoon, these students joined the YKU. The core members were Kang Wan-mo, Kwon Hyuk-beom, Han Ho-seok, and Kim Nan-won. Kang Wan-mo recollects his meeting with Yoon:

I was a student then. I met Yoon for the first time in New York. I was expecting a well-dressed gentleman. When I met him, he was nothing like my expectations. He looked like some laborer, like maybe he should be handling luggage at a bus station. We kept looking around to see if anyone else would show up. We couldn’t believe that that was Yoon. But he continued to upturn our expectations. He changed us. He was a Jesus that walked among us, the Lenin of Korea. Within a year, we set up a YKU branch in New York.