The MinKwon Center for Community Action empowers the Korean American community and works with the wider Asian American and immigrant communities to achieve economic and social justice for all. We envision a just and equitable society where all people can live in harmony, dream and achieve their full potential.
The MinKwon Center is a community-based organization founded in 1984 by lifelong political activist Yoon Han Bong (1947-2007), then under the name Young Korean American Service and Education Center. In 2009, as we entered our 25th anniversary, we relaunched as the MinKwon Center for Community Action. Since our founding, we have focused on Advocacy and Community Organizing, Civic Participation, Social Services, and the Youth Empowerment Program for low-income and marginalized Korean and Asian Americans to achieve economic and social justice for our immigrant communities.
A More Multicultural Society
In the wake of the civil rights movement and major reforms in immigration law, US. society underwent drastic changes. While the Korean American population in New York grew rapidly, it lacked a sense of unity and connection. Many were first-generation immigrants who faced racial discrimination, poverty and language barriers. The founders of the MinKwon Center first immigrated to the United States during this time, and their experiences led them to establish an organization that prioritized the needs of marginalized members with less access to resources.
Our Early Work
The MinKwon Center officially opened in 1984 and focused our efforts on education for young Korean-Americans and social services for Korean families and elders. Educational programs included preschool care for working parents, after-school activities and classes, a summer youth program, monthly political forums, and a community library consisting of 3,000 books on civil rights and social issues. Social services included applying for government benefits, registering for senior housing, obtaining citizenship, and resolving debt.
Creation of Binari -- Korean-American Cultural Troupe
MinKwon Center created a Korean-American cultural troupe, Binari, that is best known for its performance of poongmul, a band of traditional Korean percussion instruments symbolizing the elements of the universe. By revitalizing Korean traditions at cultural festivals, with one performance bringing over 2,500 people across New England, Binari combatted the cultural isolation and loss of identity many Koreans were experiencing. MinKwon Center also began to expand its mission for all immigrants by embracing the inclusive philosophy of multicultural, multiracial solidarity.
Growing Anti-Immigrant Sentiment
Korean Americans began becoming more politically and socially active in the 1990s. Anti-immigrant politicians swept into power during this time; they began to blame immigrants and pushed for policies like California’s Proposition 187, which would sharply cut back public benefits for both undocumented and legal immigrants and increase deportations, with similar laws cropping up across the country.
Washington Post Ad Campaign
MinKwon Center helped launch the Washington Post ad campaign, which placed two full-page advertisements in The Washington Post, a newspaper of choice for policymakers. We brought together communities to highlight immigrants’ contributions to American society, and the destructive nature of anti-immigration policies. Staff and volunteers worked for two months on the “One Person, One Dollar” fundraising drive, bringing together more than 300 organizations to raise money for the ads.
Fix ‘96 Campaign
Congress passed an immigration law that made it more difficult for documented immigrants to reunite with their families who lived abroad. The new policies emphasized expelling undocumented immigrants, and established a 3- or 10-year bar on allowing them re-entry into the country. MinKwon Center led the Fix ’96 campaign with civil rights and legal organizations to roll back and amend these laws.
DREAM Act Launch
The first major push for a comprehensive DREAM Act for undocumented youth began in 2001. The September 11 tragedy delayed a hearing on the DREAM Act and brought forth drastic change in the direction of US. foreign and domestic policy with heavy emphasis on national security. Not only were civil and human rights of immigrant communities violated, but the rights of the general American public were at stake. MinKwon Center continued to work for immigrants’ rights including the passage of the DREAM Act, which would allow immigrant youth to gain legal immigration status, but also advocated against budget cuts on the city, state, and federal levels, and for improvements in the education system.
New York Times Ad Campaign
Inspired by the success of the 1995 Washington Post ad campaign, MinKwon Center led the New York Times ad campaign to stop drastic anti-immigrant legislation that was supported under “national security” rhetoric. The ad was targeted to NY local and state officials to pass laws that would declare the city and state as sanctuaries for all immigrant residents.
“We Are America” Immigrant Rights March
In response to H.R. 4437, which would raise penalties for illegal entry and criminalize all undocumented immigrants and their supporters as “felons”, MinKwon Center participated in “We Are America” protest movement that swept across the country, with the largest protest in Los Angeles that brought nearly 1.5 million people. MinKwon marched with Latino, Black, Southeast Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern immigrants to say no to H.R. 4437 and yes to a just path to citizenship. H.R. 4437 failed in the Senate, but left a trail of consequences for community members, including heightened raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during the final years of the Bush administration.
Immigrant Rights Legal Clinic & Launch of our New Name
MinKwon Center is proud to be one of the first organizations in New York City to establish a pro bono legal clinic for the Korean-American community, and we expanded our services to serve more documented and undocumented immigrants in our communities. In celebration of our 25th anniversary, we re-launched as the MinKwon Center for Community Action, MinKwon meaning “civil rights” in the Korean language.
Washington D.C. Rally for Immigration Reform
MinKwon Center converged with hundreds of immigrant rights organizations from nearly every state in the country at the “March for America” in Washington DC., drawing an estimated 200,000 people demanding comprehensive immigration reform.
Launch of Legal Services for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals)
When the Obama administration instituted the DACA program, MinKwon Center promptly began providing legal help and services for eligible immigrant youth to apply for protected status, receive confirmation, and renew their status every 12-18 months. This growth in support and engagement enabled MinKwon to launch its DREAMer group, comprised of DACA recipients and undocumented immigrant youth advocating for the rights of all immigrant youth and their families.
60,000 New Immigrant Voters Registered
Ten years after MinKwon started its New Immigrant Voter Registration Drive, we have registered over 60,000 new immigrant voters in NY state. Week in and week out, staff and volunteers engaged in street outreach, events, and registration drives at the Brooklyn courthouse. This massive registration drive continues to be the cornerstone of MinKwon’s activities for civic participation.
Equitable Rezoning Campaign
MinKwon Center joined the Flushing Rezoning Community Alliance and co-hosted town halls, rallies and marches to educate the Flushing, Queens residents about the city’s current plans to rezone the streets of downtown Flushing and demand equitable rezoning that is responsive to the community’s needs. Demands included real affordable housing, anti-displacement and anti-harassment policies for low-income tenants and small businesses, and good jobs and local hire with local and long-term neighbors.
MinKwon Center participated in a rally in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, calling on the end to systemic racism in law enforcement and the criminal justice system, and highlighting the need for immigrant rights and racial justice organizations to work together for collective goals.
Here to Stay
As the Trump administration pushes one disastrous anti-immigrant policy after another, these past years have been one of the most difficult for immigrants in recent memory. MinKwon Center has been on the ground leading rallies, protests, Know Your Rights workshops, legal clinics, town halls and canvassing to empower DREAMers, refugees and asylum seekers, Muslims and members of other marginalized religious groups, and all immigrant communities. Together, we are working to build a more prosperous and just America for all.