Have you ever wanted to launch a new initiative within an organization? That is exactly what KC Mukai, JACL NCWNP District Youth Representative, accomplished in her formation of a District Youth Board. I recently had the opportunity to chat with KC and learn about her journey building a youth-focused civil advocacy group, navigating early-stage challenges, and working alongside a 93-year-old Japanese American community organization to bring fresh voices to the table.
Yo!: Welcome KC! Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us about your experience building a new group from the ground up. To start, can you introduce yourself for our readers?
KC: My name is KC Mukai (she/her), and I am the JACL’s NCWNP Youth Representative and Chair of the NCWNP District Youth Board.
I am a Yonsei and second-generation Chinese American from the Central Valley, California. Currently, I am based in the East Bay where I work on the Parent and Family Philanthropy team at my alma mater, UC Berkeley. Outside of my professional career, I work with organizations and causes that are important to my culture and community: Tsuru for Solidarity, The Young Buddhist Editorial, Sr. YBA, and the Japanese American Citizen’s League. In my free time, I enjoy relearning the cello, charcoal drawing, crocheting, and attempting to pet every cat I encounter.
Yo!: For those who may not be familiar with the JACL (Japanese American Citizens League), can you describe what kinds of projects you work on and what your role is as NCWNP Youth Representative?
KC: As the JACL’s NCWNP Youth Representative and Chair of the NCWNP District Youth Board (DYB), I serve as the primary representative from my district on the National Youth/Student Council of the JACL as well as oversee the NCWNP DYB in carrying out it’s mission to foster a welcoming community of young activists through advocacy, volunteering, and networking. We work on projects that promote the mission of the JACL in securing civil and human rights of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans and all communities who are affected by violence and injustice.
The Northern California Western Nevada Pacific (NCWNP) District has the largest membership of the JACL and is comprised of Northern California, western Nevada, Hawaii, and Japan. The NCWNP DYB currently includes Bruce Arao (he/him) as Vice-Chair, Halle Sousa (she/her) as Secretary, Cecelia Shimizu (she/her) as At-Large Member for Events, Jackson Sousa (he/him) as At-Large Member for Finance, and Emily Yoshii (she/her) as At-Large Member for Education & Advocacy.
After piloting in March this year, we held an in-person youth summit in San Jose Japantown, a virtual documentary screening of “Not Your Model Minority Myth” by Jon Osaki, and an Advocacy 101 workshop in partnership with Tsuru for Solidarity’s Education and Advocacy Committee.
Yo!: Awesome! Sounds like you must keep a pretty jam-packed calendar. Our focus for the month of December is on unique initiatives and how they got started. The NCWNP District Youth Board seems unique in that it was created within the larger structure of the JACL. What first inspired you to start working on a DYB and what need were you seeking to fill?
KC: The JACL is an important representative in policy and advocacy initiatives that affect our nation, and youth representation is a critical part of this. However, the JACL is also an aging organization with declining youth membership. I started the DYB so that youth can gain leadership experience and can feel trusted and confident to take on roles within the organization at any level. I am proud to say that this pipeline has already been proven effective as some of our District Youth Board members have taken up leadership positions at the chapter and district levels.
Yo!: When you were first designing the structure of the DYB, what resources did you turn to? Have you had previous experience in creating a new group from scratch?
KC: Although I did not have previous experience creating a group completely from scratch, my leadership in YBE, Tsuru for Solidarity, and Sr. YBA gave me an understanding of how to develop new programming and structures. I was able to apply much of what I learned in these spaces to build out the foundations for the District Youth Board.
Thankfully, I did not have to start entirely from scratch. A past JACL Pacific Southwest (PSW) Youth Representative had started a District Youth Board in their district and had drafted a rough outline. I used this draft as a starting point for what would become our new NCWNP District Youth Board guidelines, much of which is still being written out and solidified as we complete our first year off the ground.
Yo!: What were some of the initial challenges you faced in the early days of leading the DYB? How were you able to overcome them and what do you wish you would have known then?
KC: We are so lucky to be a part of an organization such as the JACL with a rich and established history. However, building a new entity within a long-standing institution can sometimes come with confusing challenges and frustrating bureaucracy. The learning curve is huge. I am grateful to have a strong support system in the JACL that is more than willing to help guide and provide knowledge.
In the earlier stages of starting the District Youth Board, I dealt with a lot of imposter syndrome. I constantly doubted myself and feared that I was not qualified to be a good leader. I second-guessed every decision I made, which affected how I was showing up with the DYB. And while I still deal with some imposter syndrome, it’s helped to overcome it by realizing that it is okay to make mistakes. I do not need to have all the answers or be the “perfect” leader. The most profound ideas and relationships happen when we allow ourselves room to make mistakes and be vulnerable.
Yo!: What were you looking for as you recruited early members to join your team?
KC: Ultimately, I was also looking for individuals who were dedicated and committed to the Japanese American community and passionate about seeing it grow. I was not necessarily looking for people who had tons of prior experience as I wanted the District Youth Board to also be an opportunity to give those on it more experience. I feel lucky to now be working with a group of wonderful individuals who each bring their own expertise and knowledge to their positions.
Yo!: For those looking to start their own group or movement, what tips would you offer?
KC: Community building comes first - It can get stressful and difficult when you are struggling with a lot of projects and deadlines. But, it’s important to remember the core reason for being part of an organization like this and that is to build community.
Learn to lean on those around you - the Japanese American community is always willing to lend a hand with the plethora of resources and knowledge available to it. You just have to be receptive and know how to ask.
Keep your mission at the center and return to it when you feel lost in your direction - Creating a mission and sticking to it is important to keep yourself motivated and on track toward your goals.
Yo!: What’s next for the DYB and what we can expect to see in the coming months?
KC: The DYB is looking forward to ambitious programming as we wrap up our first year as a group. In January, we will be holding an Intergenerational Potluck in San Francisco Japantown, meant to build connections through generations with food and storytelling. In April, DYB will be attending and helping at NCWNP District’s first in-person gala since the pandemic. Heading into summer, we’ll be preparing for the JACL National Convention in July in Los Angeles.
Yo! Thanks so much for all of these great tips, KC. Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
KC: Getting the NCWNP DYB off the ground would not have been possible without amazing support from those around me. Thank you to the NCWNP District Executive Board and District Council, especially Carol Kawase, Governor of the NCWNP District, for providing guidance and sharing their knowledge. Thank you to Justin Kawaguchi, Sheera Tamura, Mika Chan, and the NY/SC for cheering me on and believing in me.
Most of all, thank you to the members of NCWNP District Youth Board for the amazing work they have put in this year! Rare is it to find a group of highly motivated youth dedicated to their community, and it’s an honor to be able to learn and grow with them.
We will be recruiting for the next NCWNP District Youth Board starting in early 2023. Follow us on Instagram at @jaclnorcalyouth or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to keep up to date on our activities!
Community-Building Comes First | An Interview with KC Mukai
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