Muto Details Japan, African American Collaboration

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LA Urban League President and CEO Michael A. Lawson with Japanese Consul General Akira Muto.

By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo

BEVERLY HILLS — Japan’s Consul General Akira Muto on June 30 announced an unprecedented four-pillar collaboration between Japan and African-American communities, committing “to deeper kinship and mutual understanding.”

“We are so excited about this collaboration,” said Michael A. Lawson, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Urban League and former ambassador in the Obama administration.

Impulse for the Consul General’s plan, sketched at the LA Urban League 100e anniversary, stems from a series of discussions involving religious and African-American leaders that began after his arrival in the fall of 2019. Less than a year later, on May 25, 2020, the death of George Floyd made take awareness of the need for better understanding.

“I felt it was very important for my consulate to get involved,” Muto said, detailing his “four pillars…on which my consulate will work with the African-American community.”

The first pillar – the Japan & Black LA initiative – was launched in November 2020 with black clergy from the United Methodist Church California Pacific Conference.

“This initiative strives to improve mutual understanding between the Japanese and black communities, as global citizens in God’s world. I think it’s vital for the Japanese community to learn more about black American history to know what the United States stands for,” Muto said.

“In collaboration with the black clergy of UMC, we have organized virtual workshops to share Japanese culture such as origami and Japanese soul food onigiri. Together we visited the California African American Museum and the Japanese American National Museum.

Muto credited Rev. Dr. Kathey Wilborn of St. John’s Church in Watts, Rev. Dr. Ken Walden of Holman UMC in the West Adams area, UMC Superintendent Rev. Mark Nakagawa, and Dr. Curtiss Takada Rooks of the University Loyola Marymount with the tireless work to support this initiative.

Muto believes that the further expansion of Japanese language education is an important element in the context of the first pillar. “In addition to hosting a virtual Japanese language workshop for young people in partnership with the LA Urban League last fall, we have discussed the possibility of opening a Japanese language class on Saturdays in the future to allow a wider circle of children to access the Japanese language, which I hope will increase their opportunities as they grow up.

The second pillar – the Japan Job Training (JJT) program – focuses on business opportunities. In conversations with Lawson, the Toyota Technical Training Center that once existed on Crenshaw Boulevard was brought up. Established after the 1992 civil unrest and supported by U.S. Representative Karen Bass, the center offered local youth automotive training and new job opportunities.

Muto said, “We are working with California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) to launch a new program with the same spirit of opportunity.”

“This new JJT program has attracted interest and support from 11 Japanese companies, six of which – Mitsubishi Electric, Suntory, Panasonic, Manufacturers Bank, ANA and REDAC Gateway Hotel – have (already) partnered with Cal State Dominguez Hills.

“This new partnership… will continue internships and mini-internships, as well as on-campus corporate recruitment opportunities and seek a new curriculum to better prepare students through research and new product development, which, we hopefully will lead to the creation of new jobs,” added Muto.

“I am happy to share today that among these companies, Sony Pictures has already committed to offering two of their prestigious internships with monthly stipends to Dominguez Hills students, starting this upcoming academic year.”

For its part, the LA Urban League is expected to promote related business activities in the region, help improve the business climate, create mutual benefit and support prosperity with a view to improving local life.

The third pillar – youth exchange and next generation leadership support – is part of the Japanese government-sponsored Kakehashi Young Leaders program. In a few weeks, Los Angeles City Council member Marqueece Harris-Dawson will lead a delegation of promising young African-American leaders to Japan for a week-long visit to meet with Japanese officials and learn more about the history, culture and modern developments of Japan.

Delegates, selected by Harris-Dawson and Lawson, include: Diandra “Dee” Bremond, Dot education consultant and adjunct lecturer at USC School of Social Work; Kristen Gordon, owner and director of Kenan Advantage Group (KAG); Francis Roberts, Head of Creator Partnerships at Snap Inc.; Nicole Walker, Ontario International Airport Authority Environmental Planning Manager and LA Urban League Young Professionals Advocacy Chair; and Prophet Walker, co-founder and CEO of Treehouse.

The fourth pillar concerns local institutions. In March, led by Muto, the consulate partnered with the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC) and its president and CEO Patricia Wyatt to host Spring Jazz Night, which featured black and Japanese musicians playing a dynamic fusion of jazz and traditional Japanese music. .

“Soon, the JACCC will launch the Bronzeville Project, which will showcase the fascinating history of Little Tokyo during World War II as a hub of the African-American jazz scene and raise awareness of the shared ties between the two communities and their relationship. of mutual support. . Particularly noteworthy is the way the African-American community helped preserve the properties of Japanese Americans during the internment years of World War II,” Muto said.

Muto stressed the importance of these community-building efforts. “The Russian invasion of Ukraine, he noted, showed the fragility of democracy. While we need the United States as a beacon of democracies, divisions within the United States hinder this fight.

“Therefore, the Japanese community will pool its resources to support efforts in the United States for unity, solidarity, and deeper friendship. The four pillars I mentioned today are our humble contributions to these efforts.

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