While the exact number of Koreans and Korean-Americans living in Atlanta is only an estimate, there is no questioning their influence on Georgia‘s economic growth.
It also is increasingly evident that they have become a catalyst for the development of the state’s cultural diversity and cosmopolitanism.
Young-jun Kim, South Korea’s consul general based in Atlanta, estimates that the Korean community in metro Atlanta is as large as “120,000 strong,” and his consulate is celebrating the community’s growth over the past 50 years with a concert at the Infinite Energy Center Arena in Duluth, the evening of Thursday, Oct. 11.
The consul general’s goal is to have several thousand Georgians attend the celebratory event by distributing free tickets to the concert among the Koreans and their acquaintances living here including native Georgians and new arrivals to the metro area primarily from California, New York, New Jersey and, additionally, from all corners of the world.
To reach his ambitious goal, he has organized the Korean American Symphony Orchestra and Chorus which is composed of five local orchestras and four choruses.
As the highlight of the program, he has invited the internationally recognized violinist Jihae Park, who served as the honorary ambassador for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Ms. Park is used to performing for large audiences such as the more than 3,000 attendees who came to see her when she played at the Sejong Art Center, South Korea‘s largest concert hall in Seoul, the country’s capital.
Her fame has been stoked globally by the success of her double Gold Disks of DECCA labeled albums. The first is of a solo classical CD recorded in England and the other titled “Baroque in Rock” on the same label. The Oct. 11 concert is to include an eclectic collection ranging from Paganini and Mussorgsky pieces to opera selections from Aida and the William Tell Overture.
Aside from sellout performances in the U.S. at Washington‘s Kennedy Center and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in addition to acclaimed performances in Europe, she has received accolades for her willingness to perform in churches, prisons, hospitals and leprosy clinics.
During a “TED talk” she explains how her love of music enabled her to restore her health after experiencing acute depression that she endured as a child prodigy and her desire to spread the joy of music to as many people and in as many locations as she can.
The recipient of many honors such as “Most Respected Korean 2010” for having shown “great leadership and integration for the benefit of the nation,” she currently is adapting Korean traditional melodies to her violin performances as part of a personal campaign for Korea’s peaceful unification.
To make certain that everyone is welcome — both young and older — the concert also is to include a performance by Bigman, a South Korean beatboxer who gained recognition last year on Beatbox Korean TV for his version of Despacio with fellow beatboxer Hiss. He also has appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Korean roots in Atlanta go deep. For instance Emory University’s engagement with South Korea dates back to 1893 when Korean educator and activist Yun Chi-ho attended the university as Emory’s first international student.
According to Sarah Park, community outreach director for the Korean American Coalition, a non-profit, non-partisan community advocacy organization dedicated to service for the enhancement and benefit of the Korean-American community in Georgia, the origins of the Korean presence in Atlanta date back to 1891 when the first Korean doctors and Methodist ministers arrived, who were followed by scholars.
The period from the 1890s until the 1950s saw only the limited growth of the community but by 1968 it was organized to the point of creating the Korean Atlanta Association of Greater Atlanta, which was led by its first president Dr. Soon Eung Kim.
At the time, Ms. Park told Global Atlanta, there were about 250 Korean-Americans living in the metro area. The friendship concert is to focus on the creation of the association as the landmark to be celebrated at the Infinite Energy Center.
The Korean Atlanta Association of Greater Atlanta first located in a community center in Doraville on Buford Highway, which burned down and was resurrected in Norcross in 2015.
By the mid 1970s, the community had grown enough that the Korean government opened a Consulate General in 1976.
Today there are many Korean organizations that have grown under the umbrella of the Korean American Association of Greater Atlanta. These include a scholarship foundation, a coalition of young professionals, a reunification council and several chambers of commerce.
In 1991, the number of companies involved in trade and investment between Korea and the Southeast U.S. led to the creation of a chamber that has grown into the Southeast U.S. Korean Chamber of Commerce.
In the late 1990s, the chamber entered into a strategic partnership with the Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) as a means of helping chamber members interested in doing business in Korea.
Atlanta’s KOTRA Club eventually moved to Miami, but has recently returned to Atlanta as the metro area has become such a magnet for Korean-Americans and Korean-owned businesses.
Ms. Park, who also works for Explore Gwinnett, which is affiliated with the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, said that in the past many Korean graduates of local universities would move out of state, but that today they are looking to stay. “I have friends from all over who are coming to Atlanta. They feel welcome here and see that there is a large Korean community,” she said.
She also cited the many activities at the Korean Community Center where almost on a daily basis, community events are taking place ranging from continuing education classes, small business counseling, even a K-Pop regional contest and formal celebrations of such as those on behalf of U.S. and Korean independence days.
Ms. Park encouraged Global Atlanta readers who may want to connect with Georgia’s Korean communities to attend the Korean American Friendship Concert.
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