Angela E. Oh came to prominence in 1992 after the civil unrest that followed the acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers charged with the beating of Rodney King. As a second generation Korean American born in Los Angeles, trained as a criminal defense lawyer, active in civil rights and civil liberties organizing, Oh found that her experiences gave insight into the causes of what was recorded as the worst civil disaster of the century. In speaking out, her clarity about the political, economic, social, and institutional failures that contributed to the implosion of 1992 resonated with communities across the region. Over 2000 small family owned businesses owned by ethnic Koreans were destroyed and Oh challenged the mainstream media narrative that the crisis in Los Angeles was due to Korean and African American conflict.
In 1998, she was among seven presidential appointees on the President’s Initiative on Race (PIR) led by Professor John Hope Franklin, a historian who dedicated his life’s work to examining the effect of slavery on American society. The PIR sought to initiate a national dialogue on race and racism, inviting scholars, community leaders, business leaders, and faith communities to share their insights, knowledge, and experiences. Her contribution was to introduce into the conversations the idea that the United State race relations challenge is more than Black and White, foretelling the reality that human migration would shape race relations in unexpected and complex ways.
In early 2001, Oh left the practice of law to pursue more seriously a Zen practice that includes meditation in silence. Her discovery was that words were failing to provide a bridge to understanding of humanity’s common destiny. She began to regularly meditate, write, and teach about race relations, leadership, and the law. Her realization was that communities in crisis can turn tragedy into opportunities for healing and reckoning and reconciliation. Oh discovered that her legal training could be put into service through mediating civil rights cases. Her current work allows her to bear witness to how discrimination, sexual harassment, race based hate incidents emerge as potential civil lawsuits. Her focus is to create space for opposing narratives to co-exists, yet to find the thread to resolution so that parties can find peace and move forward in their lives. In short, Oh has become expert in holding space so that healing and resilience can emerge.
Oh has spent 30 years, since the 1992 unrest in Los Angeles, developing greater clarity about possible futures and pathways to unity and hope. Her search led her to realizations that both violence and “the sacred” reside at the core of all human society. Her methods for facing the future are shared in the conversations she hosts today.