By Libby Hobbs
Buckhead, June 18, 2022 – After two years, the New American Hero Award Dinner made an anticipated return on June 18, 2022. Around 220 guests gathered at Cherokee Town Club to honor and celebrate Korean leaders in American culture: Dr. Victor Cha, Henry Cho, and Baik Kyu Kim. All united to eat and celebrate what it means to be both Korean and American.
Sunny Park, President of the American Korean Friendship Society, organized the dinner and gave opening remarks. He’s been involved since its establishment in 2000 and as a member of the board, helps decide who embodies the sentiment of a New American Hero.
“American hero means whoever, as an Asian American, is a Korean American, that both contributes [to] the country and neighborhood outside of your own ethnic community significantly,” Park said.
Park saw these qualities in 2020 Hero, Cho, 2022 Hero, Dr. Cha, and 2022 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, Kim. While winners also receive $10,000, Park recognizes this dinner as an opportunity to do much more.
The Honorable Andrew Young was keynote speaker and shared that Korea and America intersected in his life at the age of four with a broken arm. Because the injury was not treated properly, he could not fight in the Korean War and has always felt guilty for “dodging his duty to help Korea.”
However, with both Korean and White guests present in the same room, he was able to see a special unity formed.
“Together, we can find a way to make the world as happy, as prosperous, and as free as we are in this room this evening,” Young said.
Park also notes the one of a kind intersection between Korea and America and wants to make sure people know “Asian Americans are not guests or foreigners, but they are an integral part of the United States and our neighbors.”
Park believes future generations will struggle if Asian Americans continue to carry the nickname of foreigners. He says children and young people need to be taught and encouraged to volunteer because when they do this, they are the ones who will become leaders in the country.
As an example of those leaders, Cha, Cho, and Kim were all very grateful to be recognized for their achievements.
“[It feels] undeserved, [I’m] flattered, humbled beyond words,” Cho said. “I need to strive and go a little bit further outside the box and get out of my comfort zone.”
Cho is one of the few Asian Americans featured on television. He had never considered the impact of young Asian Americans seeing him and thinking they finally had someone to identify with. Cha also considered the impact he could have on young Korean Americans who want to become the next generation of “New American Heroes.”
“Really follow your heart and figure out what you believe in and stick to it. If you stick to what you believe in, you always know where you're headed. If you don't stick to what you believe in and you just take the flavor of the day, you don't know where you'll end up,” Cha advises.
A unique community was formed on Saturday as Korean War veterans, military officers, sponsors, and friends gathered to celebrate Korean American achievements. With performances of the Korean Drum Show by the Korean Culture Center and Korean folk music on the plucked string instrument, Gayageum, by Soon-Hyung Ryu, this event did more than just hand out shiny awards and eat delicious food; it proved Asian culture was something to be appreciated by all.