Growing up as an immigrant child, she witnessed the struggles faced by her parents and the marginalized communities around her.
Esther’s journey led her to work with Liberty in North Korea, a non-profit organization that rescues refugees and advocates for their rights. She passionately believes in the inherent value of every human being, regardless of their background. Esther’s commitment to social justice extends beyond her work at Liberty in North Korea.
As a content creator, she has built a community of over 150,000 parents, using her platform to share knowledge and inspire others. Despite the challenges of balancing her various roles, Esther’s dedication to her daughter, her faith, and her mission remain unwavering. She aims to harness the power of social media to drive positive change, advocating for dignity, equality, and the betterment of society.
Through her journey and her inspiring message, Esther encourages everyone to embrace their influence and use it to uplift others, spreading love and serving those in need. Read through as Esther shares with us her experiences growing up as a Korean American, her work at Liberty in North Korea, her role in the church, and her journey as a social media influencer advocating for marginalized communities and giving a voice to the voiceless.
GROWING UP AS A KOREAN AMERICAN
Growing up in Seattle, Washington, a predominate majority culture city, I was the “popular Asian kid.” My friends would say things like “Oh but you’re the cool Asian.” There were some ways I clung to that. But it also unsettled me. A lot. It bothered me that certain people were determined as “in” and accepted or not by the color of their skin. But I never spoke up. Since then, I’ve witnessed many horrors of racism. And I truly believe in the need for racial reconciliation. Especially now, living as an Asian American through Covid-19, I’ve realized that I need to raise my voice.
MANY ASK IF I GOT INVOLVED BECAUSE I’M KOREAN, BUT MY ANSWER HAS BEEN AND ALWAYS WILL BE: “NO, I’M INVOLVED BECAUSE I’M HUMAN”
Growing up our family didn’t have much but I know that my mom always worked hard and tirelessly to make sure we had the best childhood growing up. We were fortunate enough that our hard-working immigrant parents could make just enough, but I knew early on that it wasn’t the case for everyone. I went to school with friends who simply couldn’t get good grades or make it to all of their classes because they were busy working part-time jobs while going to school to support their families from an early age. It was so heartbreaking for me. The experience as an immigrant child is unique yet unsettling. We see our parents working harder than most yet they struggle to even reach the middle class because of language barriers and learning to assimilate to a new culture. I always knew growing up that I’d want to make sure that I could do everything in my power to help minorities and help those that didn’t have a voice.
I’ve also spent almost my whole life in the church during ministry and mostly my focus has been on local outreach and missions. I currently oversee our City Partnerships ministry which is where me and my team are able to give our church members an opportunity to serve the city of Los Angeles that may be living under the poverty line. A few of the organizations that we work with are LA Mission, which is a non-profit that works with the houseless population in Los Angeles to empower them to get back up on their feet, and also with a non-profit called Lincoln Heights Tutorial program that is a non-profit with a mission to serve underserved and overlooked youth of East Los Angeles. They focus on making a local and significant community impact. They do this through a combination of tutoring services to close the academic gap, and youth programs to prepare teens for life after high school.
THE ROLE MY FAMILY PLAYS IN SHAPING MY VALUES, PASSIONS, AND WORK
My mom immigrated to the States when she was in High School, as the eldest she was busy helping my grandparents with language barriers, and she and my aunts and uncles all helped with their gas station. My dad came sometime after college, he started off as a dishwasher at a Sushi restaurant and eventually made his way up and now is a Sushi Chef and restaurant owner that is well known for some of his rolls on menus at different Sushi restaurants. He is also known for making Sushi for some of the top Major League Baseball players and South Korean baseball teams. My family came with absolutely nothing besides the thought of raising their families to achieve the “American dream”. I’m sure their eyes were opened to the brokenness of this country, but they worked hard to give their children everything.
In many ways, my family and a lot of immigrant families were looked down on, this from an early age made me realize that I would never look down on someone for being different. I believe that we are all threaded together as humanity and that we all must work together in helping this world become a better and brighter place.
WORK AT LIBERTY IN NORTH KOREA
I’ve spent most of my late 20s working with Liberty in North Korea – a non-profit that rescues North Korean refugees hiding in China. Many ask if I got involved because I’m Korean, but my answer has been and always will be: “No, I’m involved because I’m human”. What first sparked my interest in this issue was that I saw other human beings being treated less than just based on the circumstance or situation they were placed in. I hope that helping people dwelling in the margins, living every day in fear and helplessness, will never come with a condition. We’ll continue to feel the tug to love and serve those in need. After all, we’re all human.
Liberty in North Korea is a non-profit organization that believes that one day every North Korean man, woman, and child will be free. We believe that every human being believes to have their basic human rights and dignities. We’re helping North Koreans escape a brutal regime through a 3,000-mile secret rescue route to freedom. It’s illegal for North Koreans to leave their country yet thousands of North Koreans risk their lives to reach freedom. Once they get into China, they are still not free. Because of the relationship that China has with North Korea, if North Koreans are caught by Chinese authorities they can be sent back to North Korea where they can face harsh punishments and imprisonment. 70% of women that are hiding in China are trafficked or sold as sex brides because of their difficult situations. This is where we come in to help them reach freedom through our rescue routes.
Once they have been rescued and resettled in South Korea and America, we also work with them in their resettlement journey to help them build self-efficacy and reach success in their new lives. We also have a program called “Changing the Narrative”, unfortunately, most of the world knows and sees North Korea based on what we see on the news which is about the Kim Regime or their nuclear missiles but we want to shift the focus to the 25 million innocent and real lives of the North Korean people, people who are just like you and I.
I got involved with Liberty in North Korea when I went to UCLA, I helped start the chapter there and started having fundraisers very regularly and got involved with our headquarters that way. The summer of my senior year of college I went on a Christian mission trip to the border of China and North Korea that was life-changing. I was able to hear from and befriend many North Koreans that were hiding in China and hear their stories. We would have to go to their homes at 3 AM and turn off the lights and whisper to hear their stories. Right after that, I interned with Liberty in North Korea where I traveled around the East Coast for 3 months sharing the stories of the North Korean people for hundreds of people. During that internship the HR manager called me and asked if I wanted to apply for a position and working at Liberty in North Korea was my first full-time job after graduating at UCLA.
BUILDING A COMMUNITY OF OVER 150K PARENTS AND PARENTS-TO-BE
During my maternity leave when I was able to step away from my day jobs to recover and to take care of my newborn, I was able to find a way to do something fun and meaningful. I spent a lot of time when my newborn was napping learning about parenting and different methods and ways to ensure that my daughter was getting the best rest and care possible. I started posting my journey on Instagram and was able to build a following on Instagram and Tiktok of over 150,000 parents and parents-to-be in a matter of 3 months. It was an innovative way of creating value based on my circumstance. I’ve always believed that people come first, so this new venture I’ve entered into has always been about my community. I love being able to engage with them and share what I’ve experienced and learned so that they can learn from my mistakes and so that I can learn from them as well.
BALANCING WORK AT LIBERTY IN NORTH KOREA, CHURCH, AND SOCIAL MEDIA
To be honest, it’s been hard. But I try to focus on my work at Liberty in North Korea from 9-5 and focus on Church ministry and content creation during the evenings or on weekends when Shiloh is asleep. But when Shiloh is awake I try to interact with her and spend as much time with her as possible. It’s important to me that she sees a mom that isn’t always working and on her screen but that is interacting with her and always putting her first. To be honest, a lot of this is of course because I am passionate about the work that I do but it’s also a means to a way to provide a life to Shiloh where she can flourish and grow in some ways that I may not have been able to. She is my ultimate motivation.
CHALLENGES FACED IN VARIOUS ROLES, AND HOW I’VE WORKED TO OVERCOME THEM
I think the work I’ve done at non-profits isn’t very “cool” or “flashy”, it’s hard to get people to care about these issues, so that has always been very difficult. I love that there has been a huge movement of young individuals that have risen up to use their voices. For example, there was so much attention around the Black Lives Matters movement and the Stop AAPI Hate movement, which is so encouraging to me. It made me so happy to know that this type of awareness could be made. But it’s been heartbreaking to see that so few people in the world know about what’s going on in North Korea. The UN has deemed North Korea as one of the greatest human rights crises in the world, yet I feel that there is little to almost no focus in the media on North Korea.
I know that it’s a complicated issue but they need our help. I oversee the grassroots movements of students and supporters at Liberty in North Korea and although it’s been discouraging at times, I am so grateful for the consistent supporters that we have all over the world. We have over 100 students and community-led LiNK Teams all over the world that I have the privilege to lead and oversee. They are the ones that are showing up and helping to change the narrative to focus on the North Korean people.
HARNESSING SOCIAL MEDIA TO DRIVE POSITIVE CHANGE TO ADVOCATE FOR DIGNITY AND EQUALITY
I think what I’m passionate about is twofold:
- When people are not treated with dignity and care, I believe that all human beings deserve this.
- When people are suffering because of the lack of resources that they have when there is an abundance in the world that ought to be shared.
So when it comes to these two areas, I want to be able to use my platform to share what’s going on in the world and how we can help. For example, sharing different go fund me’s and fundraisers, sharing opportunities to help a specific person or community in need, starting my own fundraiser, sharing ways to contact your congressman or senator to push for change, etc. I have been able to raise over $40,000 holding fundraisers for Liberty in North Korea and other charities that I’ve mostly been able to leverage through my social media channels.
ADVICE TO MOM CONTENT CREATORS LOOKING TO MAKE A POSITIVE IMPACT THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA
I really don’t like the word “influencer”, but what I do want to share is that we indeed are all influencers whether small or big your following. There will always be someone that is influenced by you. You may be influencing your child every day because they look up to you and learn from you just by watching you. You may have watched a good Netflix show that you’ve told all of your friends about. You may have taught your mom and dad how to use the latest app on their smartphones. We are all influencing others in some way or another, but whether we are influencing people to do good or to do bad, is the choice that we get to make every day. My faith is very important to me and something that I have always lived by is to love God and to love others.
I know that God has placed me on this earth to love others and to always put others before myself. But whether you believe in God or not, I’d want to encourage other moms that want to make a positive impact in the world to always think of the others and to always look at everything they do (including social media and content creation) with the lens of “how can I love or serve the other today”. I know that everyone is fighting their own battles and struggling so I try to find ways to make people smile through my content and if that’s the way that God is using me as a channel of His love and blessing, then I’m grateful for that opportunity.
CONNECT WITH ESTHER
Youtube: Esther Soyun Park