Dinner Remarks 4-23-12
Richard Boas, MD
Welcome everyone, and good evening. Thank you for being here at this special occasion. This is a time to look back—and look forward.
After my first visit to Korea in 2006, I resolved to do what I could to help Korea address the difficult, painful situation of unwed pregnant women, mothers and their children. When, with Ms. Furnari’s help, early in 2007, I founded what would become the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network, I had no idea whether we would be successful, or even how we would be received. And I certainly did not envision being here, a little over five years later, speaking to all of you.
In short, I am amazed and humbled by what has happened, through our efforts and those of every person in this room—and what I expect will continue to happen—to ensure that all pregnant women, mothers and children, in the interest of social justice and equality, are embraced by all of Korea, and able to fulfill their potential to live satisfying, productive lives. A “respectful outsider,” as I like to call myself, it moves me greatly to know that there are so many Koreans committed to social justice.
And yes, we have made many friends along the way, pursuing a common cause.
The road to justice for the moms is not an easy one. In fact, I had a dream, a couple of years ago, about a mom who was pushing a child in a stroller. She was in the bumpy far left lane—the passing lane--of a highway, about to cross the RFK Bridge in New York City.
I awoke recalling that the bridge I had dreamed about had recently been renamed in memory of Robert F. Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy’s brother and his Attorney General. He was a crusader for social justice and later a respected senator. And just a few kilometers from the bridge is a large Korean American community, in a part of the city that is the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world.
This mom and her child were going to make it!
There are many people whom I deeply appreciate for helping to validate my mission, who have been of inestimable help in aiding me in my work, and have made KUMSN what it has become, and what it will become. I wish to recognize several of them.
For over five years, Ms. Ellen Furnari has been my right hand person, consultant, advisor, observer and thought partner. She has been with me on every trip to Korea since my first, and was invaluable in the creation of KUMSN, and now its transition. Ellen, please know how much I appreciate everything you have done.
Mr. Ryu Minwoo and Ms. Shin Yoonkyung, our first coordinators and translators, quickly recognized the importance of our mission. Together, they helped Ms. Furnari and myself realize the validity of our work, leading to the decision to grow the organization.
It has been a huge help to have a keen observer of Korean NGO’s, government and changes in Korean society. Mr. Moon Chun Sang has been a most articulate, knowledgeable advisor. Chun, it is a pleasure to privilege to know you, and I thank you deeply.
After speaking with many of you—moms, researchers, ministers, legislator, reporters, adoptees, advocates---I made the decision to hire (what I thought would be) a part-time coordinator, in August 2008.
Since that time, Ms. Kwon Hee Jung, who quickly became KUMSN’s full-time coordinator, later executive director, has worked indefatigably, and become an instrument for social change in her own right, through her teaching, advocacy and writing. She is probably the single most knowledgeable person on the issue of unwed moms in this country. Working from our office in Seoul, she and her very capable staff, Kang Eun Joo, Han Seung Hee, Yoo JiYoung (Jerri) and Lee Seulgi, as well as over 100 volunteers, have worked as a team and made a strong, respected and influential organization.
Dr. Lee Mijeong and Dr. Kim Hyeyoung, whom Ellen and I have known and worked with for nearly five years, presented and published research which has been instrumental in helping to bring Korea past the tipping point of change on the unwed mom issue. It has been a pleasure and privilege to support your essential research. You have done KWDI, the moms, and Korea, proud.
It has been a distinct pleasure and privilege to work with Dr. Cho Hyoung of Korea Foundation for Women, and Ms. Angela Kang, formerly of KFW! Please know how much I respect you and value your wisdom and advice, your tolerance and patience. I am moved by your belief in the cause of the moms, and KFW’s work on their behalf. My deepest thanks for working with us.
While has been most meaningful to work on behalf of the moms, this issue is at its core a Korean one—and a solvable one at that. From an early time, my vision has been that of developing and building an organization that would be effective and respected, and eventually turned over to and run by a group of Koreans committed to continuing its work, funded by Koreans, with the potential for which would be even more effective. My deepest thanks to Dr. Cho Hyoung and the preparatory committee: Ms. Angela Kang, Dr. Lee Mijeong, Rev. Kim Do Hyun and Ms. Kim In Sook, who have wisely overseen the transition to a Korean entity. They are now all members of the new KUMSN board of directors, and I am delighted that Ms. Kang is the chair.
I wish to recognize all Korean unwed moms, not only for your bravery and determination in raising your children under adverse circumstances, and making meaningful lives for yourselves, but also for your advocacy on your own behalf. Self-advocacy is a powerful tool for social change. You are doing what my daughter’s mother could not, and I deeply respect you. And like the mom on the bridge, you will succeed!
My biggest supporter is not at the dinner tonight, though she is with us in spirit. Someone who believed in me, the unusual project I undertook, and has been there for me every step of the way. She has proofread for me, double-checked emails, provided second opinions for my ideas (not always agreeing), given me great ideas, put up with my complaints, at all hours of the day, and night, accompanied me to Korea, and joined our study trip to Vermont and New York. She has inspired me, been my thought partner, and my soul mate. Carol, I love you and thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I would vastly exceed my allotted time to thank individually everyone in this room. Suffice it to say that I am deeply moved to have known and worked with you. I also wish to recognize those who have worked behind the scenes, and those friends in other countries, who have helped us reach this place. This is, and will continue to be, very much a group effort.
True social justice benefits marginalized groups—and society, everywhere. This not a matter of helping mothers adopt out their children; it is a matter of doing the right thing, with integrity, by these moms and kids, so they can lead happy and productive lives. This is the right of mothers (and fathers) and children, everywhere.
Unwed moms are asking to be equals in society, with assistance as necessary. They are motivated, loving, capable. They do not want someone fishing for them; they want to learn to fish well. And, to paraphrase Mr. Bill Drayton, President of Ashoka, a social entrepreneur-promoting organization, together we will revolutionize the fishing industry!
Progress on the unwed mom issue is not only gaining speed, I have every confidence that the day will come soon when Korea treats all citizens equally. Every person in this room has played a part in solving this issue. The force for change is in this room! I am so proud of what we have all accomplished, and honored to have been a part. Thank you for all you are doing. Please give yourselves a hand!
Thank you for welcoming Ms. Furnari and myself, and recognizing and embracing what we believed in, and taking action. Things sure happen quickly in this country! I am confident of continued success, not only by the new KUMSN, but by the organizations represented by everyone in this room. I am so proud of you, on behalf of the moms and their kids, social justice, and a fair and just Korea. Ms. Furnari and I will soon be leaving, knowing the future of this work is in highly capable hands.
When I was closing my medical practice, I had the wonderful opportunity, with my patients and staff, for the great meaning to have known one another and to have passed through one another’s lives. That time has again arrived. Thank you for letting us into your lives, for your friendship, your willingness to work together, and your commitment to a just cause.
As with my patients, I sought to make a difference in peoples’ lives; you have made a difference in mine, and I am richer for the experience. I feel blessed.
I will think of you often, and wish you the best.