David Ryu represents the best of what Los Angeles can be: an immigrant who defied the odds; the underdog who in 2015 became the first Korean American on the City Council, winning on a platform of systemic change; and the activist who to this day, works across diverse communities to fight hate, racism and economic injustice.
David's Los Angeles story began like many immigrants. He spent the first years of his life living with his grandmother in Seoul, South Korea while his mother came to America alone to build a better life for her family – eventually bringing them over. When David joined his parents in Los Angeles at the age of six, he barely spoke a word of English and had to quickly adjust to a new way of life. Eventually,
his brother then sister were born.
David learned early on about the inequities and struggles so many working families in America faced. The Ryus lived in a cramped East Hollywood apartment – in a neighborhood where gang members, drugs and domestic violence were commonplace back then. David's father, an acclaimed teacher in South Korea, could only get menial jobs in LA – working several at a time to pay the bills. When his father came home in the evening, his mother, a nurse in South Korea, left to cover the graveyard shift as a health care worker at a nursing home. By the age of 11, David's family had to turn to government assistance to make ends meet.
While those years on free school lunches and food stamps are painful memories for David, they are among the experiences that led him to dream of fighting famine across the globe. But it was
the '92 LA riots, the teachers who saw promise in him, and the values passed on to him by his resilient single mother that made David determined to beat the odds. He attended the Bravo Medical Magnet High School in East Los Angeles, and went on to UCLA for his B.A. and then to Rutgers University to pursue a Masters in Public Policy & Administration. During his undergraduate years, David worked closely with the Korean Action Coalition, CARACEN and CHIRLA to fight discrimination and for immigration rights. While at Rutgers, he was an organizer with Save Our Waterfront in Camden, New Jersey, helping unhoused neighbors legally repurpose abandoned homes. Towards the end of grad school, David was awarded a fellowship at the United Nations in New York where he prepared for a career in community empowerment in developing countries. Then, on a visit back to LA after being away for some time, he suddenly saw the city that shaped him through a new lens. He realized that he didn’t have to go halfway across the world to make a difference in people's lives, and decided to remain in LA to help the underserved in his hometown. He returned to work with the Korean Action Coalition, earning a reputation as a coalition builder and an effective voice against racism and injustice. From there, he went on to work with the pioneering LA County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, developing cornerstone initiatives that focused on foster youth, HIV/AIDS, homelessness and mental health.
Representing Council District 4 – including Silver Lake, Los Feliz, Miracle Mile, Hancock Park, Hollywood, the Hollywood Hills, Sherman Oaks and Toluca Lake – David's priorities on the Council are shaped by the experiences of his youth. In his first term, he has been an effective voice for single mothers, seniors, immigrants, renters and the unhoused; he has introduced legislation to create a more sustainable city and to end corruption in City Hall. Beyond getting the potholes fixed and the trees trimmed, he has created a structure of shared power throughout the District, strongly supporting Neighborhood Councils and creating a citizen-led Discretionary Funds Task Force – the ONLY Council office to do so.
This is a time of reckoning for our City. As we navigate the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and face the racial injustice that infects the City, David's leadership is needed more than ever before.