Mental Health Clinician Awarded Peace Prize Posthumously

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 The California Wellness Foundation is posthumously honoring Su Yon Park this month with its Peace Prize Award in recognition of her efforts to prevent violence and promote peace in Oakland neighborhoods, where she worked for eight years. Park, who battled breast cancer, passed away Sept. 20 at the age of 41 in San Francisco.

Born in Korea, Park grew up in Las Vegas, Nev., and studied at Redlands University, then got her Psy.D from California School of Professional Psychology. A licensed psychologist, she joined the Children’s Hospital and Research Center Oakland in 2004 and helped establish a mental health clinic on the campus of Youth UpRising, adjacent to a local high school. As the sole clinician serving youth in a community ravaged by multigenerational poverty, violence and high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, she is credited with helping to “normalize mental health” by making services more accessible. The center now boasts the highest rate of mental health utilization among Alameda County adolescent health clinics.

Olis Simmons, president and CEO of Youth UpRising, recalled when Park first showed up for work at the organization. She admitted she was skeptical of how this Korean American woman would handle working in a neighborhood that was “mostly black and brown” and challenged by violence and poverty. But Simmons soon learned that this “Korean chick is gangster.”

Simmons, who would become close friends with Park, later found out that Park had lost her mother at age 5, then her father at age 11, and was raised by an aunt and uncle. She believes that background may explain why Park connected so deeply with the youth, many of whom had experienced terrible trauma and felt abandoned. “Now I understand why Su moved into a neighborhood where none of the people looked like her, and never missed a beat,” said Simmons. “If you can see their hearts and their needs, then you can connect with them, and connecting with them is the only way to really help them. And she learned that as a child.”

Park served as a surrogate parent to many youth, and one teenage girl in particular used to call her “mom,” said Simmons. After Park’s death, this girl, Danielle, met Park’s parents (her aunt and uncle) and said, “Oh, you’re Mom’s parents!”

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