Racial unity is not about skin color but principle, Angela Oh, a member of the advisory board for President Clinton's Initiative on Race, told a college audience in Santa Ana on Monday night.
The Los Angeles attorney, speaking at a Santa Ana College public forum titled "Race Relations: A New Paradigm for the 21st Century," emphasized tolerance and respect for racial and cultural differences.
"One of the most significant challenges facing our country is to find common ground and to move forward and advance race relations," Oh told a crowd of more than 100.
Stepping away from the lectern, she spoke about her experience as a second-generation Korean American.
Oh emerged as a voice for the inner-city Korean American community after the 1992 Los Angeles riots. She was later appointed special counsel to the state Assembly committee investigating the riots.
Also a Los Angeles Human Relations commissioner, Oh was tapped by Clinton in 1997 for the eight-member race panel, whose goal is to establish a national dialogue on racial and ethnic schisms.
That initiative, carried out through a series of town meetings, has been criticized as ineffective in unifying a racially divided nation.
Oh touched briefly Monday on her work with the Clinton panel and her role as a civil rights activist. The program, however, was not part of the Clinton initiative. Students from the college's honors program invited Oh to speak.
Thomas Osborne, coordinator for the honors program, said Oh was selected for her fresh perspective. "We need someone with her progressive thinking," said Osborne, whose campus is more than 60% minority.
Enrique Aranda Jr., a Compton resident who traveled to Santa Ana to hear Oh speak, praised her talk as informative but said the president's initiative has been "touchy-feely," with little social impact.
Oh said the national panel will draft recommendations for the president by winter in hopes that the information will be used to shape national policies.