Meet Inja & James Yates. Beachwood Canyon Homeowners now for the past 11 years. Married for 47 years they have 3 children and 7 grandchildren. Their oldest son is the owner of Mortgage Banking Co., their daughter a Medical Doctor for 12 years and a son who’s a math teacher back east.
Inja was born in Japan to Korean parents. If you ask her how she identifies herself, she says she’s “a country hick, an American through and through with Korean heritage. A true world citizen.” She says her best job in life is being with her grandchildren and helping to enrich their lives with swimming, soccer, tennis, you name it.
James was born in Philadelphia, PA. He is of African & American Indian heritage and has traveled extensively throughout Asia. He currently teaches math for the Los Angeles Unified School Disstrict and is the Chairman of Soul 2 Seoul.
Inja & Jim say their public supported, non-profit organization Soul 2 Seoul is a dream of many years come true. It all started in 1960 with a promise to a young boy in Korea to help him find his father. A promise they were not sure they could keep. They knew at this moment that they would do something one day to help mixed race kids.
A young military father had left Korea without knowing he had fathered a son. This young boy of mixed race, Korean and African-American, and his mother traveled far to meet with Inja and Jim in Korea. The mother had heard of this interracial couple (unusual in Korea). It so happened that Jim had been in the military with the boy’s father. As a young couple Inja and Jim moved to the States and shortly after and began their own family. With the birth of their son the promise of finding the boy’s father still had not been forgotten. A few years later at a farmer’s Market in Rochester, New York, Jim ran into the man (who was originally from Texas). When Jim told him that he had a son in Korea he wanted to re-enlist in the service to go back and get his son. A week later Inja and Jim read of his murder by his common law wife in the newspaper.
Years passed and the devastating event faded but still the thought of the promise and it’s intent lingered. “We knew it would be extremely difficult for a mixed race kid to grow up in a monolithic society such as Korea. They don’t get equal opportunity and they get really mistreated.”
In 1987 they went back for a week long family visit. The 40 year old cabdriver who took them to the airport was of mixed race. He told them of his father who was also from Texas. He also told them of his life in Korea. With tears in his eyes he asked them not to forget about him. They knew they had to do something and remembered their promise long ago as young couple. With the young boy and the 40 year old cabdriver in mind Soul 2 Seoul was created. The first two recipients were a young woman of African-American and Latina heritage and young man of Japanese and African-American heritage.
“As survivors of 40 years of marriage as an interracial couple we’ve come to see that mixed race kids are bright with big warm hearts but the emotional burdens put on them by society are tremendous. They throw bricks at them no matter what community they live in. Mixed race kids face the chaos of a statistically unusual high divorce rate that brings on emotional problems. They can’t identify who they are and aren’t always sure where they fit in. We are fortunate to be able to bring our kids up in an educationally and emotionally supportive environment. At the time there was no support from the African-American or Korean community. It was us against the world. Soul 2 Seoul wants to help give mixed-race kids a chance.”
Soul 2 Seoul raises scholarship money from the public sector, to which they match, sending kids to college. Soul 2 Seoul’s racially, as well as geographically, diverse Board of Directors’ goal for the future is “To provide as much assistance and options for deserving students of mixed race as is possible.” Originally they started out to help students of Black & Korean descent. They quickly expanded that to include “all kids of mixed race who are working to build unity among the different races.” This is the number one requirement. Grade point average consideration is secondary to need and the working commitment to promote unity among humanity. It just so happens that the candidates have all been excellent students. In most cases they also hold jobs and are excellent school athletes. Two are chosen per year primarily on the basis of what they are doing to promote the unity amongst all people.
“What is the future of our kids? By cutting them out we cut ourselves short. They then run more of a risk of being burdens to society rather than productive citizens. Who loses? We all do.”
“What we’ve learned is how to keep a promise and that the promises you make to yourself are the most important,” says Inja.
For Jim, “Going through the interview process with these young people and seeing the promise and hope they have for the future is in itself a tremendous reward. If we can impact these young people to the extent that they realize that they will be looked upon to be contributors and guardians of the future, that they are, in turn, role models and helpers for the next generation in similar circumstances . . . then we have succeeded.”