Cal State University East Bay confers honorary doctorate to activist Kochiyama

HONORED — Yuri Kochiyama with her daughter Audee Kochiyama-Holman standing behind her, and California State University, East Bay president Mohammad H. Qayoumi (standing), as Kochiyama receives her honorary doctor of humane letters degree at the June 12, commencement ceremony, held at the university’s Hayward campus. Photo by Barry Zepel

Yuri Kochiyama, a human rights activist dedicated to social justice for more than 50 years, received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree at the commencement ceremonies for California State University, East Bay (CSUEB) on June 12. The ceremony was held at the university’s Hayward campus.

Born in San Pedro, Calif., Kochiyama spent two years in a Japanese American concentration camp in Arkansas during World War II. After the war, she moved to New York and married Bill Kochiyama, a veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the U.S. Army.

Her activism began in Harlem, N.Y., in the early 1960s when she participated in the Asian American, black and Third World empowerment movements.

As a friend of Malcolm X, Kochiyama joined his Organization for Afro-American Unity and was in attendance at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem when he was assassinated Feb. 21, 1965. She is forever immortalized in a Life magazine photo that shows her holding him in her arms as he lay dying.

Kochiyama is also a member of Asian Americans for Action and the Harlem Parents’ Committee. She has been involved in anti-apartheid organizing and has supported Puerto Rican independence and other international liberation struggles.

In the 1980s Kochiyama worked in the redress and reparations movement for Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II.

She has also taught English to immigrant students and volunteered at soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

Kochiyama has won numerous awards, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, spoken at more than 100 schools and colleges around the U.S., and been featured in several books and films (including “Yuri Kochiyama: Passion for Justice” and “My America: Honk if You Love Buddha”).

She was featured in a 2001 television documentary, “Cool Women,” directed by Debbie Allen, and a biography on her life, “Heartbeat of the Struggle,” was written by Diane Fujino and published by University of Minnesota Press in 2005.

Kochiyama is one of three people who were honored at CSUEB’s commencement ceremonies. East Bay area businessmen and philanthropists Jack Acosta of Danville and Sil Garaventa Jr. of Concord also received honorary doctor of humane letters degrees.

Kochiyama is the mother of six children, grandmother to nine and great-grandmother to four. She resides in Oakland.

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