Japan & Black L.A. Initiative Virtual Program: “Stories Not (Yet) Told”

On June 28, 2021, the United Methodist Church, California Pacific Conference, West District and Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles co-sponsored a virtual program featuring a presentation by critical race and ethnic studies scholar Dr. Curtiss Takada Rooks of Loyola Marymount University examining the history of “racing” Blacks and Asians in the U.S., the forces obscuring their sense of kinship, and their acts of collaboration to form communities of solidarity. 
The program was moderated by Rev. Dr. Ken Walden, Senior Minister of Holman United Methodist Church located in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles.  Close to 100 people participated in the program, which included a Kendama demonstration and singing of the traditional Japanese song “Furusato” by students of Nishiyamato Academy of California, along with a performance by the bell choir of Holman United Methodist Church.
The program began with welcoming remarks by Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles Akira Muto and Rev. Mark Nakagawa, West District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church, California Pacific Conference.  These remarks were followed by a brief overview of the vision, mission, and activities of the Japan & Black L.A. Initiative. 
Rev. Nakagawa gave a brief background of the initiative, which grew out of discussions between Consul General Muto and Black clergy of Los Angeles area United Methodist congregations that began in the fall of 2020. Its mission involves working with children, youth, and adults in the Los Angeles community to share aspects of Japanese and African American culture that will broaden mutual understanding as global citizens. 
Japan Foundation Los Angeles Deputy Director Ryo Takehara described two programs of the initiative held in spring 2021, where members of local Black United Methodist Churches participated in online workshops learning how to make onigiri rice balls and origami paper creations.  Expected future activities of the initiative include a Japanese language workshop in collaboration with the Urban League.
Dr. Takada Rooks’ presentation focused on the shared history of Black and Japanese Americans. He shared his personal history of being born at Camp Zama, Japan to an African American father and native Japanese mother, and how being a multiracial person of “double minority” heritage has shaped his experiences growing up and living throughout the U.S. and Japan.  He described the history of U.S. laws that restricted Black and Japanese Americans particularly through the 1800s and early 1900s, as well as the growth of multiracial neighborhoods inhabited by both communities beginning in the 20th century. He tied this past history with the current movements for solidarity and racial justice in recent years.  
The program closed with participants sharing their own stories of kinship between the Japanese and Black communities.  These included stories of growing up in areas such as the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles and Pasadena, and parents searching for ways to gain deeper understanding of the mixed heritage of their multiracial children.

Rev. Ken Walden
Consul General Akira Muto
Rev. Mark Nakagawa
Holman United Methodist Church Bell Choir
Dr. Curtiss Takada Rooks
Presentation Slide: Dr. Takada Rooks’ personal family photos
Presentation Slide: Crenshaw District of Los Angeles Nishiyamato Academy singing “Furusato”