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Meet NAKASEC – Kat Choi

By October 21, 2011No Comments

Do you ever wonder who the people at NAKASEC and our affiliate centers, KRC and KRCC, are? Not just the staff, but the community members, volunteers, interns and board members? Well they are the ones who keep us grounded, help drive our campaigns and keep us motivated. You may have seen our seniors on the State Capitol fighting against budget cuts, our young people dancing, singing and shouting out for youth rights or our children playing poongmul (Korean drums) at rallies and marches.

Well, in order for you to get to know us better, we are rolling out our #meetNAKASEC Fridays where we will profile one person within our network.

Today, we’re featuring Kat Choi, Associate Director at KRCC! We hope you enjoy!


Q: What’s your name?  
A: Kat Kwihyang Choi. My Korean name is rare and means “precious fragrance” in its combination of Chinese characters. But it is pretty hard to pronounce, so my father’s friend in Canada gave me the name Kat (from Kaitlyn I don’t think I was ever known as that).

Q: Where are you from?  Seoul, South Korea
A: Seoul, South Korea.

Q: How did you get involved with KRC, KRCC and/or NAKASEC?
A: I went to do graduate work at UCSD and graduated with the concentration on nonprofit management. A friend of mine forwarded me the job posting from KRCC and I applied for the job without realizing that it was located 2,000 miles away!  I only found that out when I received the request for a phone interview from KRCC. Long story short, I switched my residence from sunny SoCal to chilly and windy Chicago in 2003 and been here ever since!

Q: What was one of the first actions or campaigns you remember being involved in?
A: I vividly remember the Dollar-A-Person Campaign for Immigration Reform NAKASEC and all its affiliates were involved in; it was the second of its kind NAKASEC led after its 1996 success for the restoration of welfare benefits to immigrants.  We went to Lawrence & Kimball – the Koreatown area in Chicago – with a box to ask for $1 donations and entered a jewelry shop run by a Middle Eastern immigrant. I started to do my pitch, but he stopped me and asked the youngest one – one of our high school youth- to speak up.  She mumbled a bit, but with encouragement from the owner, managed to communicate clearly why we were asking for donations, how we would use the money, etc.  He made a big smile, gave $20 to the donation box and commented, “I am glad to see a smart youth like you are working for the community!”  It made her day as well as ours. 

Q: Why do you do the work that you do with KRC, KRCC and/or NAKASEC?
As the staff with most seniority, I literally grew up with KRCC and our sister organizations for the past seven years. With KRCC’s growing pains, I also struggled to adjust and expand my capacity to do what is needed.  Then and now, it is always the people I interact with every day – coworkers, clients, youth, board, volunteers, and broader community members – that give me inspiration and excitement to continue my work.

Q: Tell us of a memorable moment with KRC, KRCC and/or NAKASEC
I remember massive rallies for immigrant rights (which began as the protest against the Real ID act, unprecedented anti-immigrant bill), in which over millions of people nationwide came out to support immigrant rights and civil liberties in 2006.  Everyone we met while marching on the streets of Chicago were so proud and hopeful for the better future for our families, communities and the country. Mothers and sons marched hand in hand and we had small colorful signs for kids that said “me, too”. It felt not so much like protesting but much more like celebrating our heritage and strength in unity. Hence, it is one of my favorite memories.

Q: What hope do you see for the Korean American community?
Active and engaged youth that I see from our youth program and elsewhere.

Q: If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional, with whom would it be and why?
Ella Baker, no, rather students who worked with her in the summer of 1960-66.  I once talked to a veteran of the civil rights movement who worked with Ms. Baker and he told me about how amazing she was in asking the right questions.  She didn’t offer answers to questions asked nor preached to people. Rather she enabled others to learn from their own questions and come up with solutions.  I hope I can learn that from her.

Q: What is your comfort food and why?
Any type of Asian noodle soup – mandooguk, wonton soup or tom yum etc – makes me feel better instantly!



Meet other folks at KRC, KRCC and NAKASEC!