By Thomas Kim
For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
— Nelson Mandela
Since participating as a NetKAL IV Fellow in 2008, the community project component of the program has been particularly meaningful for me. From the development of youth mentorship programs to the Korean Foster Family Initiative to proposals that assist communities outside of the Korean-American sphere — the projects incubated by Fellows have been relevant and inspiring. Projects being developed by the recent NetKAL VIII class, presented at last month’s NetKAL Homecoming event in New York, are no exception. These efforts resonate with me because they represent opportunities to invest in something bigger than ourselves — a hallmark of the Network of Korean American Leaders and one of the many reasons I support the NetKAL Fellows Leadership Program.
In my own experience, my volunteer role with Justice Ventures International has helped me to understand and engage in work to combat serious issues in our world today: Human trafficking, systemic injustice and extreme poverty. JVI’s staff, volunteers and partner organizations are bringing tangible justice to those without access to recourse or relief, through legal intervention work, rescue operations in partnership with local authorities, and support of freedom businesses that provide jobs and dignity to victims of trafficking and modern forms of slavery. This work is difficult — painstaking, intellectually vexing and, at times, emotionally overwhelming. However, since experiencing the excitement of working for a cause greater than ourselves, few things have brought me more joy.
My wife Anna and I, along with our 13- and 10-year-old sons, traveled to India last year and experienced this firsthand in the very poor villages of West Bengal. Being part of a community that tackles social injustice head on reminds us of the immense freedom that we have. Recalling how our boys played with the children in the Indian villages prompts me to think of the vast gulf between the opportunities available to our kids relative to those of the children who are vulnerable to being trafficked into horrific situations.
I tend to view freedom as something that goes beyond the ability to express individual choice, but also as an asset that can be invested for broader purposes. The efforts and endeavors of those associated with NetKAL demonstrate how this is actionable, through our vocations or as volunteers, collectively or as individuals, making a difference in the communities we serve. A reference point that hits even closer to home is my own experience growing up in a Korean-American immigrant family, where my parents and others invested their own freedom (sometimes at great cost) for my benefit.
As a parent today, I believe that my freedom can be invested to broaden the worldview of my children and plant seeds that encourage them toward goals greater than themselves. Fundamentally, freedom begets freedom when it is deployed to “enhance the freedom of others” — including assisting those suffering from dire poverty, abuse and injustice. And as we engage in and support this work, we find that we can become beneficiaries of a greater freedom ourselves.
Thomas Kim is a co-founder and board member of Justice Ventures International (www.justiceventures.org). He is also a senior vice president at the Mortgage Bankers Association in Washington, DC. Kim was part of the NetKAL IV class and can be reached at email@example.com.