On Friday, Feb. 24, the Vassar chapter of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) put together its annual benefit concert at Vassar’s Aula theater. The event, as it has in previous years, featured performances from musical duos, a capella groups and other entertainers from the Vassar community. The concert went from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday evening.
New to this year’s LiNK benefit concert was the addition of a flea market. Student organizers accepted donations of new and gently used clothing to be sold at the concert. Concert-goers raided the tables, off to the right of the concert stage, sorting through heaps of clothes for hidden gems to take home. Individual items were available for $2, small bags for $5 and large bags for $10.
LiNK raises funds to provide aid for and help with the resettlement of refugees from North Korea. It also coordinates efforts to raise awareness of the ongoing human rights violations in that country. The members of LiNK wish to not only fund liberation of North Koreans, but also to reframe the crisis in North Korea from a political crisis to a humanitarian one. All of the money raised by LiNK goes directly to North Korean liberation and resettlement efforts.
President of Vassar’s LiNK chapter Kevin Lee ’17 helped to organize the event and emceed Friday evening. Lee, who has been involved in LiNK his entire college career, said, “Our annual concert is one of our favorite events, because not only does it raise money, but it brings together all different groups of people from different parts of campus in support for North Korean refugees.”
Having grown up in a South Korean family, Lee said he feels a personal connection to the goal of liberty in North Korea. “Countless times I have seen or heard stories of the conditions in North Korea, and felt utterly helpless,” he reflected. “LiNK offers an outlet for me and many others on this campus to make a small positive impact.”
Lee hoped that the concert would serve another important purpose as well. “In our current campus climate with the recent acts of hatred and racism, as well as the larger political climate full of xenophobia, it’s nice to have a night full of fun, compassion and hope,” he said. Friday night’s performers seemed to share Lee’s vision, providing a night of uplifting songs, poems and comedy acts.
A diverse assortment of performers came together to echo Lee’s desire for fun, compassion and hope. Whether or not performers shared such a personal connection to the humanitarian crisis in North Korea, each used their own voice to make a difference.
Eric Yoon ’17 sought to challenge hatred in his act, the second of the night. Yoon has performed at the last three LiNK benefit concerts. This year he performed a portion of Beethoven’s “Appassionata,” a fast-paced and jarring classical piano piece. “You can consider it a manifestation of the frustration and anger we feel toward injustice,” Yoon commented.
Taking a brief break from music, spoken word poet Brandon Small ’19 added his voice to those combating hatred. As the night’s fourth act, Small directly addressed the racist messages left on campus last week. Reflecting on what impact the greater phenomenon of racism has had on him, Small read three of his original poems. “Are white people afraid of the word Black?” he asked, reading from his second poem, a piece called “Surprise,” in which he scrutinized the campus’s response to the anti-Black messages last week. “It’s as though they’re afraid to blacken their hands,” Small said of administrators who tiptoed around the content of the anti-Black hate speech messages. All three of his poems touched on what it means to be Black at Vassar.
With Serena Lee ’18 and Grace Bae ’18, the evening’s music resumed. The duo, both hailing from South Korea, sang in their native language, enchanting those gathered with uplifting Korean tunes.
Next, LiNK members Sandy Jiang ’19 and Elba Pascual ’19 talked briefly about LiNK’s goals. They presented a letter from a refugee named Shin Ae who was rescued using funds raised at Vassar. The letter thanked students at Vassar for their efforts and support. Shin Ae wrote in her letter, “It’s all thanks to you that I can go to South Korea. Thank you much for your help. I won’t forget you.”
The next performer was Evelyn Frick ’19. [Full Disclosure: Evelyn Frick is the Humor and Satire Editor of The Miscellany News]. Frick, a member of Indecent Exposure, who showcased her comedic skills with an unapologetically funny stand up set. Though she is not a member of LiNK, Frick was enthusiastic about performing at the concert. “Contributing to their work, even in a small way, was wonderful,” she said. “The work they do in supporting Korean refugees is important, and I was especially glad to be a part of it.”
Francis Kundi ’18, a member of LiNK, performed a rendition of Frank Ocean’s song “Ivy.” Kundi’s thought-provoking and emotive performance gave rise to one of the most enthusiastic ovations of the night. Kundi said, “I wanted nothing more than to perform at this LiNK event.” He expressed that he was happy to be able to make a difference for those suffering in North Korea, with the added bonus of getting his cover of “Ivy”—a recording of which he anticipates releasing in the coming weeks—in people’s heads.
Other performers included Andrew Wang ’17, Jana Chiu ‘17, Eunbee Kim ’19, Bianca Barragan ’19, the a cappella groups Home Brewed and BAM and the K-Pop Dance group KoDC (pronounced “ko-deece”).
Once the performances were over, Lee took the stage one last time to thank everyone for coming. With the help of Vassar College Refugee Solidarity, LiNk will be donating clothing left over from its flea market to various other causes, reflecting LiNK’s greater goal of not only helping the people of North Korea, but also bringing people together to help those in need, wherever they may be.