- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2001

Local violence between black customers and Korean American grocers led to an attempt to make peace in the streets yesterday during a block party paid for by the Korean-American Grocers Association (KAGRO).
In the most recent incident, a Korean store owner and one of his workers beat up of two black female H.D. Woodson students over a 65-cent ice cream bar, according to court documents, and black residents subsequently boycotted and firebombed the store.
"The problem is, it is hard for [Koreans] to relate to African Americans and the same goes for them, but with effort we can build a bridge," said the Rev. Paul H. Choi, president of the Council of Korean Churches of Greater Washington. Mr. Choi was one of many visitors to attend the block party yesterday near Kiger Savoy Middle School in Ward 8 Southeast in an effort to begin building that bridge.
The grocers association's principal adviser, James K. Kim, borrowed the idea from his colleagues in the Korean American Business Association after they held a block party in May this year. "This is the start of a series of block parties that will run from July, after Independence Day, to October to begin dialogue and express our desire to be a part of the community," Mr. Kim said.
"Food, music and summer weather is always a good start to getting people to talk to each other and be more comfortable with one another," said Lendia Johnson, Ward 8 outreach coordinator.
"The effort will be an annual event that will hit every District ward over the four-month period," Mr. Kim said.
Many misconceptions in the black community portray Korean grocers as opportunists who swoop in and buy property, open a store with high-priced goods and make a large profit, but live and spend their money in the white-populated suburbs, said Bob Hainey, a black executive with the D.C. Lottery, one of the event's sponsors.
"Half of all of our lottery agents in the District are Korean, and we need to support efforts like this to begin breaking down these cultural barriers and stereotypes that divide us," Mr. Hainey said.
"Sometimes that is the case, but by and large, most Koreans are desperate to give back to the community where their store is because that is where they make their living," said Soohyun Koo, a representative from Mayor Anthony Williams' Office of Asian and Pacific Island Affairs. Korean culture also provides for humility in charitable giving, so Korean philanthropy often goes unnoticed.
"In Korea, there are several cultural differences: eye contact is a sign of aggression especially between men and women and when you buy something, you never put money in their hand, always on the counter," said Miss Koo.
It is well known that good eye contact is a sign of respect in America, but beyond that, "blacks have a serious issue with people who won't put money in their hand," said Mrs. Johnson.
This cultural difference is partly responsible for the fight that occurred over the ice cream bar outside of the A-1 Grocery in Northeast. In that altercation, the two girls put their money on the counter and walked out, thinking they had paid in full, but had the girls been able to place the money into the clerk's hand, he would have instantly been able to tell them that they had shorted him.
"This is a good first start toward good relations between us, but another way to give back is to perhaps hire people from the community that they can trust to work in the stores, " said James Magruder, a tradesman in the Prince George's County School System who grew up in the Barry Farms neighborhood in Ward 8.
"I like this as a start, but I know it will take more time to build trust," he said.

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