With this week’s issue, we have reached a milestone that was probably somewhat unthinkable, at least unimaginable, in the early days of our struggle to rebuild as a nonprofit newspaper.
Today, it’s our first anniversary, so to speak.
The first edition of the Nichi Bei Weekly rolled off the presses in its innovative and groundbreaking format on Sept. 17, 2009 — just one week after the historic Nichi Bei Times printed its very last edition after 63 years as Northern California’s oldest and most respected Japanese American newspaper.
It was perhaps a bit overly ambitious to think that we could form a new nonprofit, and publish our first edition so quickly, but with dogged determination, a historic rebirth came to fruition. But it wasn’t easy.
As we reach this milestone, allow us to reflect upon the past year. And most of all thank you, our members, donors and volunteers.
Today’s Nichi Bei is the culmination of an incredible community-initiated movement. It is a effort to preserve our community and document our history.
At times it seemed like we wouldn’t make it this far. It took a small army of volunteers, dedicated staff and board of directors, and the financial support of literally an entire community to launch this, the first nonprofit ethnic newspaper of its kind in the country.
As members, all of you are part of this movement, and some 400 of you have individually contributed beyond your membership.
When the old Nichi Bei Times board was looking into closure of the historic newspaper — established in 1946 but with roots back to 1899 — we could have resigned to our fate. However, some of us seized the moment to pioneer this new form of media, and decided to rebuild in the spirit of the Issei pioneers before us, brick by brick.
We wanted to continue shedding light on community issues, help community-based nonprofits raise funds and awareness, and document Nikkei history. If we didn’t, who would? How would researchers, 50 or 100 years from now, know what happened in our community?
Starting a new nonprofit in the worst of economic times in decades was no easy task. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, the old Nichi Bei Times board did not give us any funding. It was a daunting task, to say the least.
But then something nearly miraculous happened. You, the community, galvanized behind our efforts, and donations large and small starting coming in from former Nichi Bei Times subscribers and even contributing writers. Suddenly, more and more people became engaged, and what started as a means for survival ground swelled into a full-blown movement — one of the greatest movements we’ve seen in this community in a long, long time.
You did not allow us to end up as another tragic story about a newspaper folding in this age of the Internet. You saw the value in preserving our community, and accepted us as such a vehicle to do so.
We’ve had many, many random acts of kindness in this movement. When I first told certain people that the Nichi Bei Times was closing — before it was public — many of our friends and contributors made their support loud and clear.
In the very early days, the National Japanese American Historical Society allowed us to camp out in their storage area, to produce the first couple of issues. We are extremely grateful to Rosalyn Tonai and the National Japanese American Historical Society.
Our dedicated board of directors has played a huge role in our efforts, helping to guide this unprecedented transformation. We’ve endured a lot of long meetings early on, and I thank all of them for their contributions and talents. I was also moved that our Advisory Council — a who’s who of community leaders — all came on board, without hesitation.
The past few months have been quite stressful, as the lack of funding has hit us hard. Even though we only have the equivalent of just four full-time staff — who all have worked incredibly hard over the past year. We made the call to create a Founding Circle of donors, a select few who would provide seed money for our still evolving organization. And like the beginning, many people stepped up.
What is great about this Founding Circle is that these are folks who are not necessarily known to be philanthropists. But like our movement in general, many are ordinary people doing extraordinary things in times of crisis — epitomizing a true grassroots effort. Some 29 individuals, couples or companies stepped up to donate $1,000 or more, and we cannot thank them enough for providing the means for us to continue our community-serving mission.
We thank you from the bottom of our hearts, because you allow us to exist. We would especially like to thank our largest Founding Circle donors — Mark and Alice Taguma and Larry and Toshiko Toji — who have made contributions of $5,000. We are inspired by your support.
We would also like to thank the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California for their generous Founding Circle support — even though we make their staff stay late on a daily basis.
As much as we try to work in the present, the building of this foundation is also for future generations, so that succeeding generations have a sense of place, a sense of community, a sense of cultural and historical ties.
As we continue to evolve, we hope to continue to find fun ways in which we can get together, like the Nichi Bei Foundation Day with the A’s. We also will continue to adhere to our simple yet profound mission of keeping the community connected, informed and empowered.
Soon, we will launch an innovative Website, thanks in large part to a grant from the Renaissance Journalism Center. Our reach will be global.
Once again, we thank each and every one of you for your encouragement, support and inspiration. We are proud to have you in our family, and we hope that you gain something by letting us into yours.
Kenji G. Taguma
Nichi Bei Foundation