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Last week Councilman David Ryu, 4th District, addressed the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s general membership for the first time, and told the story of his childhood. He said that improving access to higher education can be achieved by changing culture and conversation around learning within students’ families.
Ryu told the story of his mother, and how, as a progressive college graduate, she “didn’t always agree with societal norms in South Korea.”
“Life wasn’t easy living in a male-dominated world, and my mother quickly learned that there were few opportunities for upward mobility,” Ryu explained. “She simply wanted the option to choose her own destiny. So, my mother took a leap of faith and left South Korea for America to pursue her dreams. At 6 years old, I immigrated to the states and joined her.”
Ryu’s parents’ occupations didn’t translate to the American job market very easily, so they opened a toy store in Koreatown. Ryu remembered translating for his parents at the cash register at 10 years old. He said his parents made sure he attended the best public schools. With help from social programs like Cal Grants, federal student loans and small scholarships, he attended UCLA to study pre-med.
“But, a majority of kids on my block were not as lucky,” Ryu said.
Ryu said his friends and neighbors didn’t think about college, while his grandmother and mother encouraged him to focus on his education.
“It wasn’t that (the other students) weren’t smart enough,” he said. “It was because it was never a reality.”
Ryu said Los Angeles has one of the highest concentrations of low-income students in the state – many of whom are English learners living at or below the poverty line.
“I believe that it’s the job of the city to create the environment for families to attain the unattainable – by building affordable housing, securing paid sick leave, raising the wage and creating an economy that will provide good paying jobs to hardworking Angelenos,” Ryu said. “All of these factors impact the likelihood of a child pursuing their dreams.”
Ryu said the city of Los Angeles should serve as a partner to LAUSD, which is why he introduced legislation with the goal of providing every child who enrolls in a LAUSD kindergarten program with a college savings account.
“We already know that students with savings accounts are more likely to attend college,” Ryu explained. “That’s because someone is investing in them, and they in return become invested in college. To address barriers to higher education, we must create an environment that fosters economic growth and provides good-paying jobs to support all families in Los Angeles.”
Ryu also explained how he was set on the path to become a councilman when working for former Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Burke.
“I witnessed the severity of homelessness, poverty and health care issues that impacted the lives of millions across this county,” he said. “I became frustrated watching hard-working Angelenos getting the short end of the stick. I was driven to advocate on their behalf.”
Ryu has been the councilman for the 4th District for more than one year.
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