Tbanks to my friend Aaron, I had the honor of meeting Yuri Kochiyama. I’ve heard Yuri speak several times at large events but have never actually met her. Yuri came to visit Aaron’s first grade class so Aaron and I picked her up, stayed with her before her classroom visit, and then did a brief interview. For some reason, I feel funny blogging about meeting Yuri so I’m going to leave this at a few comments:
-Yuri asked me where I was from and I told her I grew up in San Diego. Usually when I tell people I’m from San Diego people respond, “San Diego is so beautiful!” or something similar. Yuri’s response? “Isn’t San Diego very racist?” Classic.
-Yuri’s range is amazing. She straight up asked a group of administrators and parents, “Don’t the students wonder why there are no black students here?” (the school is in the Oakland hills). When the students asked her “What can we do to help people?” She told the students they can ask someone who is carrying a lot of bundles if she/ he needs help or to offer help to someone who falls down on the playground. One parent asked her, “Has it ever been scary or hard for you to do the right thing?” Yuri basically told the students even if it was scary she was usually with a group of people and that made things better. She encouraged the students to work together when they think something needs to be changed. Then she said, “Just try not to get arrested. Hopefully, whoever the leader is will know about your rights.”
-The students wanted to know who Yuri considered to be a shero/ hero. Yuri said that Anne Sullivan was someone she really respected because of her patience. That struck me.
-Aaron’s class gave Yuri a teddy bear to add to her teddy bear collection. Yuri loves teddy bears and seemed to like this one in particular. After the class visit we had a chance to do a brief interview. To watch bad-ass Yuri hug a multi-colored teddy bear while speaking about Malcolm X was… I don’t even have a word. But it was good.
-I’m so excited that she has agreed to be the keynote speaker for our summer program. Our program needs this. Yeah, Aaron, I know I owe you.
Finally, Yuri’s love for people and commitment for social justice is apparent. She is such a loving and sincere woman.