Ann Yasuhara, the Legacy of the Social Justice Advocate

yasuhara1Ann Yasuhara died last week at the age of 82 in her home in Princeton. She was a Quaker, a computer scientist, and a fierce social justice advocate. She loved to garden, listen to music, engage with art and contribute to her community. In 1972, Yasuhara joined the faculty at Rutgers in the computer science department. Ileana Streinu took Yasuhara’s classes and said “it was an exquisite topic, beautiful mathematic that Ann was conveying to generation of graduate students. In a department with only a few women on the faculty, she was a model to look up to. With grace and generosity, she touched my life and the lives of many students like me.” Yasuhara also touched many lives through her peace and justice activities. She resisted war and violence whenever she could, always following the peaceful resistance methods of the Quakers. Her many positive contributions to this world include organizing training groups for inner city children, serving on the committees for the Society of Friends in the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and working on nonviolent direct action protests with the Earth Quaker Action Team to stop mountaintop coal mining. Documentary film maker and member of the Princeton Friends Meeting, Janet Gardner said of Yasuhara, “Ann was a leader in the Quaker faith and an inspiration to all of us. She set the bar very high and gave us confidence to fight for a better world.” Yasuhara made the world better for her students, for the environment, and for her local community. In Princeton, Yasuhara started Silent Prayers for Peace that organized vigils each week. She also founded the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund and Not in Our Town, an interracial, interfaith social action group for racial justice. She started a discussion on race at the Princeton Public Library where thought provoking community discussions were held on the differences that define us. Yasuhara will be keenly missed, but the good she put into our world will live on.

Yuri Kochiyama Passes Away

yurirally_vert-0c62c75e3b7214127057d0907da968c5be2c83b9-s3-c85Yuri Kochiyama was an amazing woman who stood up for the civil rights of Asian Americans, and others of color in California. Kochiyama was born in 1921 as a first generation Japanese immigrant living in San Pedro, CA just outside of Los Angeles. She was among those Asian Americans who were rounded up during WWII and put in camps by the U.S. government. 100,000 Japanese American families had their property stolen, their liberty taken away, and were moved into these camps. Kochiyama and her family were sent to a camp in Arkansas. This traumatic experience had a huge impact on Kochiyama and started her on her life-long quest for equal rights for those in marginalized and minority communities.

Kochiyama understood how the situation she went through was similar to that of African Americans in the segregated Jim Crow south. She and her husband Bill began to work towards equal rights, using the Civil Rights Movement as their context for fighting for all men and women of color in the United States. The activities that she organized and her prominence as a Civil Rights leader led to her acquaintance and friendship with Malcolm X. She was in the Audubon Ballroom in 1965 when he was assassinated. While everyone else ducked for cover after the shots started she ran to Malcolm X and cradled the Civil Rights leader as he died in her arms.

Later in life she used her position and activism experience to help others in a variety of social justice issues. She spoke about the rights of political prisoners, nuclear disarmament, Puerto Rican independence, and reparations for those, like her, who were Japanese American internees. She dedicated her life to uniting many in marginalized communities and was a model for other activists. The president of Advancing Justice- LA, Stewart Kwoh, said of Kochiyama, “We honor her memory by continuing to fight for justice for all marginalized communities and standing up for everyone whose rights have been infringed upon, regardless of race or ethnicity.”