Our Founder, Yoon Han Bong (1947-2007)
The late Mr. Yoon Han Bong was an activist who dedicated his life to democratization and unification of his homeland and the struggle for justice abroad.
Born in 1947 in Gangjin, South Jeolla Province, in Korea, Mr. Yoon enrolled in the College of Agriculture at the Chonnam National University in 1971 after finishing his mandatory military service. As a student activist, he opposed the implementation of the undemocratic Yushin Constitution, and as a result he was imprisoned multiple times. Undeterred, Mr. Yoon grew into a champion for democracy, and built coalitions with farmers and started night schools to educate the community.
As a leader in the movement to call for an end to dictatorships, the restoration of democracy, and reunification, the May 18th People’s Uprising was a turning point for Mr. Yoon. Pinpointed as one of the main instigators of the uprising, he became a wanted man and spent a year as a fugitive in hiding as he would be sentenced to death upon capture. At the strong urging of his supporters, he sought political asylum in the United States in 1981.
People’s Uprising, Mr. Yoon paved a way for himself as an activist in exile. Touring all over North America, he met with Korean youth, educated them on Korean history and the democracy movement, and built a base of Korean-Americans. As a result of his hard work, the Young Koreans United was started in 1984 with more than ten chapters all across North America. Until its disbandment, the Young Koreans United and its partner affiliate Korean Americans for Peace and Justice actively worked towards democratization and the reunification of Korea.
Mr. Yoon also founded madangjips, community centers for Korean Americans to educate and serve in communities all across North America. Starting with the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles in 1983, Mr. Yoon founded the Korean American Community Center in Philadelphia, the Korean American Resource and Cultural Center in Chicago, and the Korean Canadian Education Centre in Toronto. He established the Young Korean American Service and Education Center in New York in 1984, the forerunner to the MinKwon Center today. Since then, the MinKwon Center has grown into a key community-based organization for the Korean American, Asian American, and immigrant communities focusing on advocacy & community organizing, civic participation, social services, youth, and culture.
With democracy blossoming in South Korea, Mr. Yoon returned to Korea for good in 1993. He led efforts to establish the May 18 Memorial Foundation, founded the Korea Future Research Center, and formed the Korea Memorial Foundation. His health eventually deteriorated, and he passed away in 2007 at the age of 60. Recognizing his life’s work, the South Korean government posthumously conferred the Camellia Medal, Order of Civil Merit.
A true activist, Mr. Yoon fought on the side of justice with all his heart and soul, never concerned with honor or glory. His teachings live on in the MinKwon Center’s three mottos, which he penned himself: “live righteously, know your roots, and live in harmony.” At the MinKwon Center, we reflect upon Mr. Yoon’s life and our past thirty years for our voyage ahead.