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|01-09-2011, 10:45 AM||#1|
A Son of Martha
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Helping others to catch on
Helping others to catch on
By: Ed Kracz
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward and Pearl S. Buck International are working to make things better for biracial children in South Korea.
After the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers conclude their opening-round NFL playoff game tonight, the field of teams vying to play in Super Bowl XLV next month will be trimmed to eight.
A player from one those teams ultimately will be named this year's most valuable player, but it is difficult to imagine that he will have the international impact of the player who received that distinction five years earlier.
Back then, Hines Ward had just been named the most valuable player of Super Bowl XL in Detroit.
Instead of heading to Disney World, the dynamic wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers went to South Korea to investigate his roots. Ward had earlier researched ways he could help kids coping with the same insults and discrimination he endured as a boy.
He found Pearl S. Buck International, headquartered in Hilltown.
Ward and PSBI have since become such an effective team that change, ever so slowly, is coming in the way biracial children are viewed in South Korea.
Because the U.S. has a large presence of servicemen and women stationed in South Korea, a large segment of biracial children are known as Amerasian.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1976, Ward has a black father and Korean mother.
"He knew that when you are biracial in Korea, you face discrimination," said Janet L. Mintzer, president and CEO of PSBI. "Because of all the Japanese invasions of Korea, they put value in being pure-blooded Korean. If you are not, you face a lot of discrimination. You are a sort of a second-class citizen."
Ward moved to the Atlanta area when he was a year old and was raised by his single mother, Young-He Ward. That did not put an end to the discrimination and taunting Ward faced.
"I faced discrimination every day," he said. "When friends would come over they would have to take off their shoes. They didn't understand I was different. I was always teased about being Korean."
"When you're constantly getting teased and ridiculed, it makes it hard, especially during your adolescent years when you're trying to find an identity yourself and to fit in. Black kids don't want to play with you because you're Korean and the Korean kids don't want to play with you because you're black; it was tough growing up like that. I was trying to be something I wasn't and that made me resent my own culture because of the teasing I got."
It took Ward some time to come to grips with who he was and where he was from, but once he did, he decided to journey to his native country.
For his efforts to change the cultural attitude toward biracial children in his native land, he recently received the inaugural United Nations NGO Positive Peace Award for professional athletes.
"I think what set Hines Ward apart from the other nominees is his commitment not only to the Pittsburgh community, but his willingness to use his influence to positively affect the international community as well," said Scott Pederson, president and CEO of Celebrate Positive.
The other finalists for the award were professional golfer Ernie Els, women's basketball player Tamika Catchings of the WNBA's Indiana Fever, hot rod driver Doug Herbert and Michael Young of the Texas Rangers.
"Off the field (achievement) means as much to me as on the field," said Ward, who, in addition to being MVP of a Super Bowl, owns every receiving record in Steelers history, won two Super Bowls and is a four-time Pro Bowl player. "It's a huge honor for me winning that peace award. I'm blessed to be in a position to be able to give back, and that is what makes you feel good inside."
When he contacted Pearl S. Buck International, the organization's presence in Korea was minimal, but it had a tradition of helping biracial children there since 1964 when the Pearl S. Buck Foundation (now called Opportunity House) was established to address the issues of poverty and discrimination faced by children in Asian countries. Pearl S. Buck, the Pulitzer-winning author, opened an orphanage in South Korea in 1965.
"I can't remember the budget, but it was bare bones; only about 100 kids," said Mintzer. "It was difficult for us to raise money in the U.S. for South Korea because a lot of Americans think it's an economically secure country and are more interested in sponsoring programs in more third world countries like Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, places like that."
So touched was Ward by the experiences he had on his visit to Korea, he decided to sponsor an annual visit to the U.S. for eight biracial children from Korea. The trip always includes taking in a Steelers game and often visits to Washington, D.C., and New York as well as a swing through Bucks County.
"I want those kids to know that you never know when you might find the next Hines Ward in Korea," he said. "I want to be positive role model for them. Even if I can affect one kid and help that kid turn his or her life around and overcome some of the teasing that existed. You can't change society overnight, but if you can change the way somebody views a person, that's not bad."
Ward's hands-on involvement led to such widespread publicity in Korea that major corporations there have increasingly become interested in helping.
Mintzer said electronics giant Samsung agreed to give money each month and a major hotel is planning on hosting a summer camp for biracial children. Mintzer, who gained an audience with Korea's legislators after Ward's visit there, said that laws have been introduced that make racial intolerance illegal. PSBI's profile has risen there as well.
"Our reputation there has been greatly enhanced by Hines Ward," she said. "It's been great for us, but I think there's more acceptance now of multicultural and biracial children because of Hines Ward. Biracial people can become police officers now. He created that awareness and changed the cultural attitudes in Korea."
Ed Kracz can be reached at 215-345-3069 or ekracz@phillyBurbs.com. Follow Ed on Twitter at twitter.com/kracze
January 09, 2011 06:52 AM
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