I grew up in the Tri-State/Denver Buddhist Temple (TSDBT) community in the 90s. I wasn’t technically born in Colorado, but I consider myself a native since it’s the only place I ever remember living. I am half Japanese and half white (Irish American). As a mixed-race child growing up in a predominately white community, TSDBT offered a place of understanding and comfort. But once I graduated college, it was hard to still feel connected as an adult.

I made the decision to apply for the inaugural Mirai Generations Leadership Program (MGLP) in 2017. The program’s name first caught my eye because of the word mirai, which means future in Japanese. The taiko group I started with my sisters and cousin (fellow MGLP alum Courtney Ozaki) has the same name: Mirai Daiko.

The MGLP became a catalyst for me to create better balance in my life. At the time I had two young boys and a fledgling freelance video business, so I wasn’t sure how to fit this additional commitment into my already busy schedule. Constantly swinging between work and family, I rarely was doing much else. The MGLP kick-off retreat helped me remember my roots and that I am more than a mom, wife, and worker. Having not participated in any sort of leadership program before, everything from MGLP was a new experience. We did a DISC assessment which highlights your personality type. I was the sole “amiable” person in our class of seven participants. Maybe it’s because I am a middle child, but I’ve always hated conflict and strived to “keep the peace.” Once I found out this was also part of my personality type, I began to recognize the value it can bring to all aspects of my life.

In the years since MGLP, I’ve had the opportunity to become a bridge of sorts, building bonds and connection across the broad spectrum of Japanese American (JA) identity. I participated in the Sakura Foundation events “Checking Multiple Boxes” and ”Being Mixed Race” which both discussed multiculturalism in our community. I’ve also had the privilege to use my passion and livelihood to support the JA community and share it with others. The 2018 MGLP class completed a community project that focused on personal stories and perspectives. I appreciated how their videos brought diversity within our growing JA community to the forefront.

What I learned from MGLP has impacted my career and I am currently expanding my work in collaborative film making. I’ve formed Group Project, a collective of freelance video production individuals, with my sister Shannon Umetani. A video with Asians in Focus brought life, work, and community together for me in discussing the typically taboo topic of mental health. The project allowed me to collaborate with Sakura Foundation Board Member DJ Ida and 2019 MGLP alum Allyson Goto in making a Suicide Prevention PSA. I was able to use my skills and creativity to share an important message about which I am quite passionate.

I’m grateful that I decided to participate in MGLP. I have gained lifelong friendships with a very talented and generous group of people. MGLP was an opportunity for me to find balance in my life, to connect with the diversity that is my JA identity, and to cultivate a safe space with others, supporting each other and celebrating our JA/Asian culture together – however it comes. I’ve recognized my leadership style. Leadership can be quiet and collaborative. I invite you to contact me to connect on MGLP, video, or just to say “hey.”       keiko.ozaki@gmail.com