The organization convenes in Philadelphia to hammer out its biennial budget, elect new National Board members and ensure its future — one member at a time.
By Allison Haramoto, Executive Editor
Increasing its membership was foremost on conventiongoers’ minds as JACLers gathered at the organization’s annual National Convention in Philadelphia July 18-22. With its ever-present financial constraints, membership growth remains key to sustaining the 89-year-old civil rights organization’s future — and a newly elected National Board, led by Jeffrey Moy, is committed to doing just that.
In a city known for its history in shaping the basis of America, JACL commemorated its own history as well, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 as part of its theme “Redress, Resistance, Reconciliation.”
Organized by the Philadelphia JACL Chapter and headed by Chapter Board Member Rob Buscher and JACL National Staff under the leadership of Executive Director David Inoue, this year’s convention also saw the passage of several resolutions, chief among them Resolution 1, which sought to hire new staff “as promptly as possible” to fill regional director vacancies at the Midwest and Pacific Southwest District offices.
In delivering his report to the National Council, Inoue highlighted JACL’s accomplishments in his first full year as Executive Director, as well as addressed JACL’s dwindling membership numbers, which have a direct financial impact on the organization.
“One of our challenges is the declining membership and the impact it has on our budget. The best way we can work with our budget holes is that we need to be acting as much as possible to demonstrate that JACL is alive, that we are speaking out on important issues and we are engaged,” said Inoue. “I hope by doing this it will bring in new members and show that JACL is, yes, a group that [people would] want to join.”
Highlights for Inoue were the trips he made to meet chapter members and the opportunities he had to discuss the organization’s needs and strengths.
In speaking with various districts, Inoue said that “it really does highlight the history we’re trying to preserve as an education focus for JACL — it emphasizes the importance we have to our community. Families were once incarcerated and still bear the scars of that. It’s still very important to education and our history.”
Other successes included JACL’s relationship with Congress, where Inoue cited JACL’s involvement in lobbying to save the Japanese American Confinements Sites Grants program, which had been among President Donald Trump’s proposed budget funding cuts.
JACL also took part in APA Heritage Month, participating in a forum where chief concerns included Asian American civil rights, the Muslim travel ban and the census issue.
“This was an opportunity to have a discussion and express to the White House and its representatives that we do not agree to this. … We all know how vitally important it is to us to make sure that all communities of color are counted correctly.”
Inoue also spoke about JACL’s partnership with the Japanese government and the success of the Kakehashi program as a result.
“That program is actually fully funded,” he said. “It is an incredible program for JACL youth, our college students and young adults.”
Kakehashi is also a way to increase JACL membership.
“We don’t require that participants be JACL members, but we can look at it and see if they can possibly be JACL members,” Inoue said. “It is something we want to elaborate.”
Finally, Inoue reiterated JACL’s strength in its chapters and dedicated members.
“What does this coming year bear for us?” he posed to the National Council. “The theme of this year’s convention is ‘Resistance,’ something we have been doing a lot in the past year (citing JACL’s stance on the Muslim travel ban and the family separation issue, among others). … The family separation issue, something so close to many of us. When I talk about the scars inflicted upon during incarceration … the children taken from their parents. This is extremely disturbing to me, and I think it’s a testament to our membership and how wonderful it’s been to see how the chapters have been rallying around this and speaking out in opposition from this.
“One of the things also with all the activity is an increase in membership growth,” Inoue continued. “We’re creating an excitement that is trickling down to the chapters as well. We’re seeing chapters engaging in marches in this resistance, and it’s so important that we are all together on this.”
Membership VP Haruka Roudebush addressed membership concerns in a detailed plan he presented to the National Council.
JACL currently has a total of 8,841 members, a decrease of 31 members since April and a net loss of 46 members so far in 2018. However, three districts grew their membership numbers in 2018: CCDC (11 new members), PNW (28 new members) and MDC (14 new members).
Roudebush also stated that the chapter with the most growth is Sonoma County, followed by Chicago, Portland and San Jose.
In addition, he said in his plan that he aims to grow the organization to 10,000 members by the end of 2020. Contributing growth factors include effective membership retention by the chapters, the “Trump bump” and JACL’s visibility in advocacy efforts, a decline in
attrition rate as most Nisei have passed on and youth/young professional members gained through programs such as the Kansha project and Kakehashi program.
VP Planning and Development Matthew Farrells presented his development campaign titled “Remembering the Past, Motivating the Present,” the purpose of which is to create “an educational program to teach everyone about the injustices of the illegal imprisonment.” Contributions raised will be used to fund a documentary on the “painful chapter in American history.”
Farrells also oversees the Legacy Fund Grants program, Scholarship program and national fundraising initiatives for the organization. He reported that in 2017, JACL awarded 33 national scholarships; this year’s program is well underway. Winners will be notified this month and highlighted in the Pacific Citizen’s Scholarship Special Issue in September.
National Youth/Student Council Chair Kota Mizutani and Rep Kenji Kuramitsu shared the NY/SC’s year, which included several successful summits, all in efforts to have a summit in every district in order to bring a visible youth presence to JACL across the country.
“We want to engage with the general membership,” said Mizutani. “What are we doing? How are we making a difference? We’re really lucky to have talented people. It’s an incredible team effort.”
And wrapping up one of its major business points, the National Council voted to approve the biennial budget, which was presented by Secretary/Treasurer Alan Nishi as one of his last duties in office.
Among JACL’s budget highlights:
- FY 2017 revenue over expenses of $559K in the black.
- YTD revenue exceeded the budget by $554K (largely due to investment income and strong market conditions).
- Public support exceeded YTD budget by $569K (general donations and bequests).
- Fundraising fell short $146K.
- Pacific Citizen revenue fell $114K short of budget.
- Membership revenue was $5.7K short of budget.
Nishi stated that YTD expenditures are $143K under budget. He stressed that major savings in the year were attributed to personnel savings costs; that number will change now that the National Council voted to approve the hiring of two regional directors.
After considering budget revisions, chief among them the P.C.’s pledge to increase advertising revenue and ramp up Spring Campaign donations by $80,000 annually to lessen shortfalls, the National Council voted unanimously to approve the budget on July 21.