Chris Lee: Portrait of a Portland JACL Board Member

Portland JACL board members pose with artist/photographer Kip Fulbeck at the Project workshop in May of 2023

Chris Lee is Portland JACL’s former co-President and current Vice President. We interviewed Chris and asked him to share his experiences as a board member. 

Chris, when did you first get involved with Portland JACL?

I first started attending board meetings in late 2013, but have participated in JACL events for a long time. Before Unite People was created, I was part of the youth group at Epworth. Robbie Tsuboi had us volunteer at community events such as Mochitsuki, DOR, and the community picnic. 

How long have you been a board member and what made you decide to become a member of the JACL board? 

I’ve been on the board for almost 10 years. Originally, I joined to give back to the community. The demographics in Portland, as a city, and Oregon, as a state, are predominantly white. The experiences that I had growing up in the Nikkei community were really positive for me and would not have been possible without the hard work, struggle, and sacrifice made by generations before us. Having places and events to be surrounded by other Japanese and Asian Americans is really important. Everyone should have somewhere they feel like they belong and have community. My goal was to help ensure that we have that here. 

What has your experience been like as a board member?

I’m not sure that I want to help lead an organization through COVID again, but I am very proud of the programming and advocacy that we were able to do during such a challenging time. With so many challenges in the world today, it feels good to be doing something positive. 

Being on our board and serving as a co-President has been one of the most fulfilling things that I’ve done in my life. I’ve had the opportunity to meet many wonderful people through the work that we do. Our board members are all very passionate about our mission and our community. We are an entirely volunteer board and you can tell by the energy and passion that people bring with them. 

One of the surprising benefits of serving on our board is the impact it has had on my career. Throughout the years, I’ve learned a lot from my fellow board members. Not just about planning and running events, but things that they bring from their day jobs and professional experiences that help our board. Watching how they interact with our community and the various stakeholders that we interface with, has been an incredible learning experience.

I’ve even been able to include my participation on our board as part of my development plan at work. For the last 12 years I have been working at Western Energy Institute, a trade association in the energy industry. I started as a Program Manager and am now the Director of Program Development. I am responsible for our leadership development programs and creating new programs.  When I first joined our board, it was early in my career. Both my President and COO at that time were curious about JACL. I was on an ok career trajectory at that point, but wasn’t always passionate about my work. Being a part of our board helped me change the narrative with them in a positive way. It also gave me an opportunity to show leadership skills that I otherwise would not have been able to display in the office.

Who would you encourage to consider becoming a board member?

I think there are many different reasons that somebody should consider joining our board. First and foremost is the community aspect of our organization. As a board member you’ll have the chance to meet people and build community. The other part of our mission is around civil rights. If you’re curious about social justice and advocacy then this is a great way to learn more and engage more actively. As a volunteer board, there is flexibility for board members to bring in their own interests and pursuits too. Ultimately, anybody that is looking to give back or get more involved in the community would be a great candidate to join our board. Even though it is work, we have fun too. I would be happy to meet and talk with anybody that is curious. 

Thank you, Chris, for sharing your experiences with us and for all the work you have done for our community!  If you are a Portland JACL member and are interested in learning more about being part of the board or volunteering with our organization, please reach out to Chris at