Remembering Yuri Kochiyama

I met Yuri in 2002 while writing a lengthy profile of her for a local newspaper. Yuri was 80 then, but full of energy. I was amazed. She went to meetings, protests, and marches in her walker. In fact, she seemed disappointed when an event we showed up at turned out to be a press conference, not a march.

When someone asked her what the point of marching was, Yuri replied, “I think it’s very important. If they did not have all those years of marching and demonstrations, they never would have gotten the Civil Rights Act of 1964. … I like it because it’s a people’s thing. It’s not an individual thing. It’s all the things that people do together that gives you strength.”

This last point applied not only to marching, but served as Yuri’s most basic credo.

Yuri made time for everyone. She drew people together. She rarely spoke about herself. Instead, she was genuinely interested in what other people were doing and often you would find yourself on the receiving end of Yuri’s questions.

I feel blessed to have spent time with Yuri. I have been doing social justice work in my own way, through journalism, the arts, and youth development. Sometimes I find it difficult to keep going — I feel simultaneously burnt out and that I’m not doing enough. But I remember Yuri’s example.

I wrote of Yuri in the profile, “To be a Movement person is to live a life of losses, yet still retain hope. And Yuri never lets go of hope.” This has stayed with me over the years, a prescription for life.

She modeled how to live a life of social justice with generosity and tremendous spirit. For that, I am thankful.


Originally published at Hyphen here. See more reflections from the Hyphen staff here and more reflections on Yuri at the Tumblr Because of Yuri.