Think North Korea: Help build the bridge


Photo credit Mattie Usey

Seniors Catherine Zhang, Michael He, and Dillon Hall seek to raise awareness for North Korea.

The high school student body received a rude awakening about the deplorable conditions in North Korea on Oct. 3 during the assembly led by Think North Korea, a school organization created by Dillon Hall, Michael He, and Catherine Zhang. The group holds presentations and assemblies at schools in the Atlanta area to raise awareness about the North Korean human rights crisis.

The presenters showed that national media coverage of North Korea has been extremely skewed. To demonstrate how little attention generally is directed towards the North Korea issue, they surveyed students asking for one word to describe the country. The results indicated that the focus was primarily on nuclear weapons and the military regime, with responses such as “axis of evil,” “Dennis Rodman,” and “that little, angry, ‘emperor’.”

Zhang, He and Hall also demonstrated how the public’s perception of a country or certain issue is highly influenced by what newspapers and news networks have to say.

“The North Korean refugees are facing what we call ‘an invisible crisis’,” said co-president Michael He. “It’s because of the information blockade; there’s no access to things like radio or Internet. But it’s also about the lack of media coverage on this issue, and the strong propaganda that the regime uses toward countries like the United States.”

An interview between Anderson Cooper and an escaped North Korean refugee, Shin Dong-Hyuk, was shown as well to outline the inherent ignorance of the North Korean people. Viewers learned that the refugee was not aware of the benefits of the outside world, how the conventional family was supposed to operate, or even what love might be.

The presentation, which introduced a variety of information ranging from hilarious to shocking, was received positively among the student body.

“A lot of people didn’t know about a lot of human rights violations in North Korea and only perceive North Korea as kind of like, that little evil country the dictatorship,” said sophomore Colesy Cotter. “They opened a lot of people’s eyes, and I think it made a really big impact.”

The following week after the full school assembly at Westminster, the three seniors travelled to Pace Academy to have yet another full school assembly. Next up will be a table at the Alternative Gift Fair, and the organization is currently coordinating presentations with administrators from other schools.

“The topic was appropriate;” said history teacher John Monahan. “Not a lot of high schoolers dabble in North Korea reading in their free time.” Despite the sensationalist tendencies to lean towards nuclear issues or Kim Jong-un’s 2012 “sexiest man alive” status according to The Onion, the assembly was geared more toward the humanitarian cause.

“Certainly from a policy point of view,” said Monahan, “I think recalibrating the focus to be on the people’s needs as opposed to the nuclear weapons or democratization is the morally better thing to focus on…the more grassroots support that a movement like that gains, the more likely all of our desired outcomes are.”

Many remained skeptical, however, that raising awareness can change the situation, but the presenters urged the student body to help transition the media and social perspective of North Korea away from issues of nuclear weapons towards the ongoing human rights crisis. Students can also share the Liberty in North Korea website and online pledge.

Liberty in North Korea stickers, which can now be found on classroom walls, teachers’ doors, and the backs of computers, are another way to raise awareness.

Think North Korea is young compared to many other high school clubs; it was created a few years back by He’s older brother Daniel (now at Princeton). Zhang and Michael He reinvigorated it this past spring, holding a smaller presentation on the bottom floor of Campbell, attracting dozens of students. The organization has received a myriad of emails and messages of interest and is on its way to becoming a full-force voice and advocate for the North Korean people, who don’t have the privilege of speaking for themselves.

Think North Korea seeks to educate everyone starting in the Atlanta area about something that the news does not frequently cover. Through providing opportunities to present at full school assemblies, it allows the members and supporters to learn public speaking skills. Meanwhile, the leaders operate an active WordPress blog ( to update the student body and public about the impact the group makes on Atlanta.

The assembly was just the beginning; it served as a starting point of a conversation that will hopefully continue for many years into the future. Introducing pertinent and crucial information is the first step in making social change, and the group aims to do just that by starting locally and expanding as the group gains more influence and support.