Every summer, The K.W. Lee Center sponsors an exciting leadership development initiative for high school students through a program called the Korean American Leadership in Training (KAYLT). The foundation of this program rests on the historical phenomenon “Saigu”, which exposed many social problems in the Korean American community. KAYLT enlightens interns of the deep-rooted history of Korean Americans and trains individuals to become active members of the community. Students involved in this program identify pressing issues and acquire the resources and partnerships to bring about a fundamental change. During an 8-week period, students will meet 5 days a week, learning many paramount aspects of the Korean American society such as civil justice, saigu riot, gang violence, Christianity, mental health, homelessness, workers’ rights, and finances. As a culmination project, students accomplish a final community project, which can have a direct impact on the society. Students collaborate as a team to choose a topic of their inclination and work toward the goal of social betterment. Not only do these high school interns build exclusive leadership skills that cannot be built anywhere else, but the interns also build a special and genuine camaraderie among each other, making their summer valuable.
The topic picked for the summer 2019 KAYLT was a success. This year, our KALYT group, consisting of approximately 20 students from diverse schools, set our resolute mission on the protection of workers’ rights. Upon learning about the harsh inhumane treatment of some workers, as well as wage theft, which are both prevalent in our community, we stepped up to bring a substantial change.
The popularity of fast fashion has been negatively impacting garment workers. Through investigation, it was shown that they work in dangerous environments for unjustifiably low wages, in essence, without human rights. KAYLT students came up with a strategic plan to organize a movement, partnering with the Garment Worker Center, against Ross, one of the many companies who mistreats garment workers. In July 2019, KAYLT students visited one of Ross’s biggest shareholders, Black rock Inc. to submit a delegation letter acquiring justice for the garment workers.
Another campaign, carried out by the same group of phenomenal high school students of KAYLT, was a direct-action movement against Genwa, a Korean BBQ restaurant convicted of alleged tip theft and lack of worker support. We met with the owner to demand changes in the management, which would provide proper breaks and split shift pays. As a result of this action, the owner met with the workers to offer them the equal wages that we had demanded. We also joined with KIWA Workers for Justice in hopes of spreading more awareness as well as securing better rights for workers regarding wage theft.
As one of the participants of the summer 2019 KAYLT program, I would like to give my special appreciation to Do Kim, the president of KW Leadership Center who made this remarkable program possible, Elisa Park, the high school instructor who made our experience an unforgettable one, and other interns who made my summer into a precious and enlightening one. Since 2003, the K. W. Lee Center for Leadership has been empowering the Korean American Community, building outstanding leaders for the future
Goeun Lee, Grade 10
Larchmont Charter School