By: Mariko Newton
“Inform, Transform, Perform: Embracing JACL in an era of transformation.” With the changing demographics of the Japanese American community and the challenges the organization must face amid the 21st century, the theme for this year’s JACL National Convention seemed more appropriate than ever. Just as I had expected, one of the major discussions revolved around the question of: How can JACL remain relevant for years to come? While there is no single right answer to this question, it is undoubtedly true that cultivating the next generation of JACL leaders is an integral step to sustaining our place as the leading Asian American civil rights organization in the nation.
Keeping this concept in mind, the National Youth/Student Council (NY/SC) organized various youth-oriented activities at the 2012 convention with the hopes of inspiring students and young professionals to become further involved with JACL at the local, regional, and national level. Starting off with the youth mixer on Thursday and ending with the NY/SC-hosted youth forum on Sunday, the convention allowed for meaningful discussions on the future of JACL and ways for youth to be integrated into its leadership structure. Also coordinated by the NY/SC, this year’s Min Yasui Oratorical Competition consisted of four finalists each of whom addressed the issue of “How can JACL maintain its JA heritage while also staying relevant within an APIA community filled with new immigrants and multiracial/ multiethnic individuals?” As a multiracial Shin-Nisei myself, I personally believe reaching out to the broader Asian Pacific American community is critical for the longevity of the organization. Furthermore, my personal highlight of the weekend was the Youth Luncheon. In recognition of his commitment to public service and leadership, the NY/SC presented the Vision Award to Gene F. Kim, the Executive Director of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), a group comprised of 42 Members of Congress dedicated to addressing the needs and concerns of the AAPI community. As many of the luncheon attendees would agree, Gene Kim’s keynote speech conveyed an eye-awakening message that left within each and every one of us a renewed sense of drive, awareness, and passion for our community.
Although the convention is officially over, the NY/SC continues to work towards our mission of building a national network of leaders and advocates to ultimately create positive change in the APIA community. As the recently elected National Youth Student Representative, I, along with National Youth Student Chair, Jeffrey Moy, foresee the youth council achieving numerous goals in the next biennium. We would like to see the NY/SC reaching out to students and young professionals in every capacity possible—whether that be by executing more leadership programs such as the JACL youth summit, enhancing its online visibility through social networking, and/or strengthening relationships with other non-profit organizations. But we cannot do this without your support. Please join us in this effort. Let’s bring a new wave of JACL leaders so that in this “era of transformation,” the organization maintains a strong, vibrant voice that stretches expansively across the nation for many years into the future.