Johng Ho has been the Executive Director of KYCC since 1999. He started his career at KYCC as a counselor after graduating from UCLA with a degree in Psychology in 1985. Under Johng Ho’s leadership, KYCC’s programs have expanded to six different sites across central Los Angeles, and its annual operating budget has grown to more than $7.5 million. Currently, Johng Ho is a recipient of the Durfee Foundation’s Stanton Fellowship, for which he will create and implement a Koreatown Community Plan.
Where is your hometown?:
Seoul, South Korea. When I was four years old, we moved to one of the first apartment buildings in Korea in Dongbu-Ichon-dong in the late 1960s. There was a lot of apartment building development in that neighborhood at the time, which resulted in a lot of wealthy families moving in. So my newly-built grammar school in that neighborhood was home to a lot of different economic classes coming together. How does that relate to what I’m doing in Koreatown? Different socioeconomic classes live in Koreatown. I like to create programs that can be shared by all of them.
How are you involved with Koreatown?
We immigrated to Koreatown when I was 11. I went to UCLA, but I came back to Koreatown to eat food or come to gatherings two or three times a week. I came to work here straight after I graduated from college. Although I moved my residence away from here, I’ve worked in Koreatown my entire adult life.
My leadership at KYCC continued Jane’s vision of serving Korean American youth and families, and Bong Hwan’s desire to become more multicultural and multiethnic. We brought childcare, four more housing developments, real cultural diversity and credibility for the organization as a whole. My role was really embracing and implementing the vision of becoming multicultural. Not just internally, but externally, to build our capacity to serve diverse Koreatown residents.
You can separate Koreatown from Before the Riots and After the Riots. Before, Korean American organizations focused on defining “Korean Americanism.” And before we could define that, the Riots took place. And then, there was a sense of urgency and purpose in what Koreatown should look like or should be in the future.
I make a conscious effort to visit different neighborhoods across the U.S. and make note of their growth and changes so that I can objectively make Koreatown a better place.
Even though these are my opinions about Koreatown, I was able to build at KYCC the capacity to serve non-Koreans, a multicultural staff, small business assistance and programs that serve all—primarily disadvantaged youth and families, but we also have programs for different socioeconomic classes. In other words, we’re building community.
What was your experience during the Riots?
At the time, our executive director called me and said, “Hey Johng Ho, I’m listening to the radio and it sounds pretty bad out there. Can you go check it out and see what’s really going on?” So I went with one other staff member in the graffiti removal truck that said ‘Korean Youth Center” on the side and we went down Western all the way south of the 10 Freeway. And the neighborhood kids threw rocks at us. It was a very racialized moment—there’s no other way of putting it.
What are your thoughts on Koreatown today?
Koreatown today is very diverse and ever-changing. Before, in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, you would just refer to residents as Koreans and Koreatown as a place where Korean Americans gathered. Koreatown is very different now. It has gone through a huge transformation. Koreatown today is not just for Korean Americans. It developed and emerged as a mixture of different cultures. People can feel comfortable coming here and get a taste of what Koreans are about, but the strength of Koreatown is that it is comprised of many different cultures and that it is a place for many others.
I want Koreatown to continue the effort of making Koreatown a better place for everyone, not just Korean Americans, to live. We have done some, but we need to do more.
What is your favorite part of Koreatown?
Every side street, every little corner is special to me. But one of my favorite places is the whole street of Olympic from Western to Vermont. When I was in elementary school, just strolling along with my family members, I saw a Korean parade there. Over the years there have been many different shops and restaurants, but back when Koreatown was first starting, Olympic was where all the Korean Americans would come to visit.