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Women's history month: Celebrating Yuri Kochiyama

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

Taking a moment to recognize an equal-rights leader

March is Women's History Month, and as an Asian-American CEO of a tech startup, I want to talk about a powerful woman who has inspired me. This month we celebrate the contributions of women in history and their impact on our world today. However, there are still many people fighting for equality and freedom around the globe, especially in Ukraine right now, and I want to acknowledge that too.

I want to talk about a powerful woman who has inspired me: Yuri Kochiyama. Kochiyama was a Japanese-American human rights activist who lived through some of the most difficult times for people of color in America. She was present when Malcolm X was assassinated, and she held his head in her lap as he lay dying. Her story is one of courage and strength, and her message is one that I align with personally this year. I will try to write about a woman in tech next year.

As an Asian-American living in the United States, I have ad taste of being a target of hate. Outside the Kansas City area, there are the KKK. And I distinctly remember that spray-painted on the stop sign at my bus stop. At the time, I didn't realize it was most likely for my family. Growing up, it was just like everybody else. Some people like you and some people don't. It's hard to wrap your mind around the fact that some people around you would like you dead and don't know who they are.

There was a rise in hate crimes against Asians in America in the last few years and a President who seemed to enjoy it. A year ago today, on March 16, a man gunned down six Asian women in Atlanta. The gunman says he was not racist, and he had frequented some of those places as a patron. As I watched TV, I felt that this was an Asian American version of lynching. Yet, no big remembrance in the media or government. I hate the feeling of being distilled down to just an object of lust and disregarded as trash. A feeling many Asian, Brown, and Black women face.

Without really wanting to, I've learned more about the different segments of racists. Segmentation is my business, after all. For example, there are the "unaware" of their racism; others all can't stand to be associated so that they won't admit it. I now feel compelled to talk aloud. In times like these, we need to remember the stories of people like Yuri Kochiyama. She is a reminder that we are all connected and must stand together in the face of hate. Her story should inspire us all to be better and to do better and forgive each other. Thank you, Yuri Kochiyama, for your courage and your strength.

Yuri Kociyama believed in the liberation and rights of all people, not just African Americans. She believed the Civil Rights Movement should be international. She taught to stand up with the oppressed groups because not doing so would feed into the offender's strategy to pit other groups against each other. And she was friends with many people in the civil rights movement, including Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz, Martin Luther King Jr., and Stokely Carmichael.

Kochiyama passed away in 2014 at the age of 93, but her story and her message are as relevant today as they were when she was alive. We all have a responsibility to stand up to hate, and we all have the power to make a change in our communities. I hope that we can all learn from the example of Yuri Kochiyama and use our voices to speak out against injustice.

If you would like to learn more about Yuri Kochiyama, I encourage you to read her story. It will stay with you long after you finish reading it. I hope her story inspires you as much as it has inspired me. Thank you for taking the time to learn about this amazing woman.

Happy Women's History Month!

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