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LCHS student’s site the Outspoken Oppa lets teens voice views on hot-button issues

La Cañada High School juniors Ethan Kim, 16, left, and contributor Mason Pirkey, 16, display the homepage of their site the Outspoken Oppa, which aims to create a marketplace of ideas among students of varying beliefs.
La Cañada High School juniors Ethan Kim, 16, left, and contributor Mason Pirkey, 16, display the homepage of their site the Outspoken Oppa, which aims to create a marketplace of ideas among students of varying beliefs.
(Raul Roa/La Cañada Valley Sun)

Be polite. Be respectful. But most of all, be outspoken.

Those simple tenets not only reflect a personal philosophy of La Cañada High School junior Ethan Kim but serve as guiding principles for a website he created where local teens can share their viewpoints on important issues.

The Outspoken Oppa — which uses the Korean term meaning “older brother,” a name Kim’s younger siblings call him at home — was launched in 2018 as a vehicle for musings on topics such as gun control, illegal immigration and U.S.-Iran relations.

The site started as a pet project for the teen, who’d taken an interest in politics when the 2016 presidential election drove an even bigger wedge between Democrats and Republicans.

Sensing a vacuum of civility in the politics, Kim wanted to establish a marketplace of ideas.

Ethan Kim, 16, started the website The Outspoken Oppa as a La Cañada High School sophomore. One year later, the site has garnered nearly 21,000 page views.
(Raul Roa/La Cañada Valley Sun)

“I saw major divisions between the two parties, and I created the website as a forum to discuss politics in a civil manner,” the 16-year-old said in a recent interview. “One of my main goals is striving for independence — we’re trying to open the dialogue to everyone.”

While early contributions focused on controversial issues, like the death penalty and abortion, the Outspoken Oppa now includes reflections on philosophy, cultural issues and entertainment.

With three main editors and several contributing writers and photographers, the website has gotten nearly 21,000 views and is cultivating a social media following on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Editor-in-chief Ethan Kim, 16, left, and contributor Mason Pirkey, 16, right, talk about The Outspoken Oppa website, at La Canada High School in La Canada Flintridge on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020. Both are juniors at the school.
(Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

Kim explained the impetus behind the Outspoken Oppa in a Sept. 20 article in the La Cañada High newspaper the Spartan.

“Within a time of political disarray, having a voice is crucial,” he wrote. “We have the power to stand up against corruption and greed. We have the power to protest against an unjust government. We have the power to construct a life that is filled with civility and prosperity. So I implore you, join the discussion.”

Spartan adviser and La Cañada High School English teacher Ben Powers said he looked at Kim’s website and was impressed with the junior’s sincere effort to discuss important topics.

“I don’t think he’s doing this for any purpose other than these are issues he’s really interested in,” Powers said. “This is exactly what we want kids to do — explore things they’re passionate about.”

Kim initially sought followers through his speech and debate class, Model U.N. and the Leadership for America Program run through UCLA’s Tilden Study Center, where he is a member.

But now he and fellow staffers like LCHS junior Mason Pirkey are looking to extend the reach of the Outspoken Oppa.

“I’d like to monetize the website, so we can make some money and maybe hire some people,” said Pirkey, who oversees the site’s analytics. “Maybe if we made some money, we could do this full time after [college].”

For Kim, who includes the caveat “Remember, let’s be polite; let’s be respectful, but most of all, let’s be outspoken” at the top of most postings, the hope is the website will evolve and grow.

But its raison d’etre will remain the same.

“We need to stress political civility, constructive dialogue and being informed,” he said. “Those three concepts are the only things I won’t change.”

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