Leadership Academy – Week 2 (Olivia Zheng)

 In Leadership Academy

This Monday was our very first Civic Leadership Workshop of the internship program. To start off, we met at the Kizuna office in Little Tokyo. Like CAUSE, Kizuna is an organization that works to create a APA leadership pipeline through their programs. Kim, who is on the Board of Directors, introduced us to Kizuna and used the opportunity to emphasize the importance of supporting other community organizations, with both our time and our money.

Later that morning, we got to hear from a panel of speakers about cultural preservation in the APA community. On the panel was Leslie Ito (President & CEO, Japanese American Cultural & Community Center), Marissa Kitazawa (Producer, IW Group), and Kristin Fukushima (Managing Director, Little Tokyo Community Council). All three of the speakers came from slightly different backgrounds in regards to cultural preservation, so it was really interesting to be able to hear them building off of each other’s ideas and comments.

Kristin, who leads a non-profit that is composed of many different stakeholders and acts as a convening organization, emphasized that, “When we all come together, we are stronger.” Marissa, who is a filmmaker invested in social justice, added on, “You need people advocating on all aspects in order to create change.”

As a dancer, creative writer, and student organizer myself, it is so rare to be able to meet others working on the intersection of social justice and art. Sometimes I question the practicality of the arts and social justice, but seeing the impact that Kristin, Leslie, and Marissa have made in the community with their work is immensely reassuring.

After the panel, we got to attend a luncheon with Councilmember James Toma of West Covina. He touched upon subjects including the issues in his city, how little media attention local politics receives, and how he felt that government should not act like a business because it must keep the best interests of its constituents in mind. He also made sure to tell us to get involved, giving examples of how young, politically engaged students have spoken up in his council meetings to make themselves heard. Because oftentimes, those who attend council meetings are not representative of the city population, Councilmember Toma repeated how he really appreciated when students came to state their opinions.

Listening to Councilmember Toma made me realize that I have an obligation to get more involved with my local government back home in Fremont, California. Although I have always assumed that my quiet suburb does not have any particularly debated issues, this is more a result of me being uninformed than there not being issues. It is sad that I cannot even name any councilmembers from my city and it is definitely something that I need to improve on. Starting now, I am making it my goal to become more informed about my local politics.

After lunch, Kim led a team building workshop, where we had to build the tallest tower out of a certain amount of materials within the time limit. Our group tried our best, but we ended up getting the worst score because we panicked at the end and ran out of time. The exercise became a lesson in always keeping the final goal in mind, rather than becoming blinded by the smaller picture.

Olivia Zheng

We finished up the day by heading back to the CAUSE office and working on our voter engagement project. This week, each individual subgroup in the project decided on an outline of the project, as well as our goals and visions for the completed product. In the voter resource guide group, we decided to make our guide primarily an online shareable resource, although still stay print friendly. Already, we have put a lot of thought into our project and I hope it turns out well!

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