Growing Opportunities: Will Funding Follow the Rise in Foundation Assets and Growth of AAPI populations?
report by AAPIP
June 21, 2007
(NAKASEC featured on page 19. Please use the link at the bottom of article to view the full report)
National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC): Los Angeles, California
NAKASEC’s story illustrates the potential of AAPI-led organizations to mobilize for powerful social change and to amplify their successes by allying with peer organizations, given the availability of long-term sustained support.
Founded in 1994 by three local community centers, the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC) is committed to ensuring that Korean Americans can participate fully in the nation’s civic infrastructure. It achieves this goal by working at six levels:
1. Education and research, focused on youth leadership and development;
2. Immigrants Rights Project, which incorporates grassroots organizing, coalition-building and issues promotion through the media to educate, mobilize and advocate for immigrant rights and reform;
3. Civil Rights Advocacy Program, which educates Korean Americans about civil rights history, issues and legislation;
4. Civic Engagement and Voter Empowerment, a program that has grown since 1996 and incorporates voter education, registration, mobilization, assistance, research and voter rights advocacy;
5. Social Services, the bedrock of NAKASEC’s “Empowerment Model,” which seeks to meet critical human needs, build trust in the community, keep current on issues/concerns facing the community and develop grassroots leadership; and
6. Culture, especially the “poongmul” (Korean percussion ensemble) to promote the Korean culture for cultural exchanges and continue to build identity and history in the community.
Much of this work is done at three local community centers located in Chicago, Los Angeles and Queens. These centers were originally formed in the early 1980s to meet the needs of the growing Korean American community, and were united through identity work and homeland politics and issues. Their focus changed in the 1990s after the civil unrest in Los Angeles, which Eun Sook Lee, Executive Director of NAKASEC, describes as a “wake up call to the community.” Community members recognized the need to participate more fully in shaping policies that affected their lives. Since that time, NAKASEC has won substantial victories including achieving legislative victories such as the restoration of SSI and Food Stamps for immigrants; strengthening the community’s understanding and work on civil and immigrant rights issues; deepening the organization’s roots, trust and accountability in the community in order to provide an authentic voice for Korean Americans; and working on the regional and national level.
A major factor to NAKASEC’s success has been its ability to develop strong coalition partnerships with other communities of color, Asian American and Pacific Islander populations, and immigrant groups. According to Lee, “The Korean American community comprises less than 1% of the population, therefore it is incumbent that they work together with other communities to build power for change.” However, she is concerned that many funders and policy makers compare and contrast different communities of color and at worse force them to compete against each other, which often hurts these groups working together.
A second critical factor in NAKASEC’s success has been its ability to develop strong multigenerational leadership. For example, Lee notes that many Korean American seniors have been very active in fighting for the rights of undocumented immigrants, including young people, though the majority are documented immigrants.
A central challenge the organization has faced and has witnessed across AAPI groups is that many foundations support immigrant rights but seem less willing to support immigrant leadership. Lee is concerned that by overlooking AAPI-led organizations’ work on immigrant leadership, funders may not see the incredible potential in the community.