David Kakishiba has spent 42 years working with the East Bay Asian Youth Center, better known by their acronym EBAYC. While the organization has evolved to suit its constituents’ needs, Kakishiba’s mission has remained unchanged since he first joined the organization in 1980. His community advocacy efforts creating healthy environments for youth has informed his work throughout his life, both at the nonprofit and as a Oakland Unified School District board member. Now, he is seeking to run for a fourth term on the school board to help kids attain the skills they need.
Kakishiba said part of the reason he wants to run for school board is to drive public policy and accountability to improve learning outcomes for the district’s schools.
“We have huge disparities, racial disparities, and we have still the lowest graduation rate in Alameda County. Two-thirds of the entire school district still is reading and doing mathematics at below grade level, and the school board’s not focused on it because of all the political chaos, so that makes me mad,” he said.
Kakishiba’s initial run for school board was similar in 2002; he ran because he felt the incumbent was out of touch with his district’s constituents.
“He was a nice guy, but he lived in … the hills, and there’s only one hill school in District Two, everything else is in the flatlands and those are in the schools in which both my kids went to, and also where EBAYC works,” he said. “Our schools are overcrowded, there’s all this violence, all this truancy.
And the parents don’t go to school board meetings. There’s no PTAs. There’s nothing. They’re disconnected to our elected representatives.”
Advocating for ‘systematically underserved or neglected’ students
Initially, Kakishiba wanted to represent his district to ensure the schools in his district received more attention, but as he served out his three terms and had both of his children attend elementary, middle and high school in the district, his priorities also shifted to being a bigger leader on the board.
“Knowing that there are certain populations of students and certain neighborhoods in the city being systematically underserved or neglected, … I adopted much more of a city-wide, district-wide kind of advocacy and reform role,” Kakishiba said.
As a board member, he served three year-long terms as board president from 2006 through 2008 while the school district was under state receivership.
He later served two more terms as president in 2013 and 2014.
As incumbent Aimee Eng steps down from her seat, which she won after Kakishiba stepped down in 2015, Kakishiba seeks to retake District 2, thinking he “could do a better job” than other political leaders who have taken office in a divisive post-President Donald Trump and pandemic political sphere.
He is currently running again for a fourth term against Jennifer Brouhard and Max Orozco.
Kakishiba’s drive to give voice to the communities who attend schools in his district and be an administrator to improve Oakland, Calif.’s schools runs parallel to his work as a nonprofit leader. He said he wanted to work with youth without becoming a teacher and focusing on academics. He instead has focused on a community-based approach.
Originally formed as the Asian Drop-In Center in 1976, in Berkeley, Calif., his organization aimed to serve American-born Asian American youth of Japanese, Chinese and Filipino descent. The organization was renamed Berkeley Asian Youth Center in 1979.
Nonprofit has evolved to meet communities’ needs
When Kakishiba joined the staff as a coordinator, however, the organization began changing its focus. Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian refugees had started immigrating into the United States after the end of the Vietnam War, which meant BAYC needed to add language support and other services catered to new-immigrant populations. The communities’ needs further shifted in the late 1980s as gang violence became prevalent through the 1990s, as BAYC moved out from Berkeley to serve youth impacted by gangs and crime in Oakland.
The organization rebranded to be called East Bay Asian Youth Center in 1993 after it moved to the San Antonio neighborhood of Oakland.
The organization’s scope also changed as Kakishiba started working for them. When he first joined, BAYC had a budget of $10,000. Its fiscal sponsors considered closing the organization after they lost funding in the early 1980s, but Kakishiba offered to keep it going.
“It took probably a good … eight years until we got at least one stable — at that time, relatively significant — grant. And then two years later, we got very large grants,” Kakishiba said. “So it was struggling. I was working other jobs. I worked at a gas station, worked at Berkeley Bowl, worked at UPS while I was doing EBAYC, and I didn’t go full time until … maybe, 1987. And full time at … $15,000 a year.”
Today, Kakishiba says EBAYC’s annual budget is $7.5 million and the nonprofit serves more than 2,500 children and youth. Primarily, the organization works on three strategies to help kids succeed: through direct intervention with young people “most at risk and impacted by violence and poverty,” through EBAYC partnering with schools, and through organizing young people and families “to address, to improve the quality of life in their neighborhood.”
EBAYC’s programs include helping schools address attendance issues and holding after school programs and summer activities. One of its biggest programs, Shop 55 Wellness Center at Oakland High School, provides medical and mental health care, as well as youth development programming and academic assistance to serve more than two-thirds of the student body at the high school, according to EBAYC’s Website.
“If you’re serious about doing youth work, you have to be serious about impacting the schools. And you have to be in the schools to impact them,” Kakishiba said. “If we narrowed our mission and our vision to be more like — there are groups here in Oakland called Youth Alive … They’re very focused on that intervention side, which we do, but they’re exclusively on that, in that sense, I think school becomes very secondary, and that works for those organizations and if we were focused that way, we would do the same. But I think we’re much more of a community building kind of approach, and so we’re trying to overall create the best conducive conditions for families to raise our children and for young people to grow up.”
As Southeast Asian gang-involvement has gone down, Kakishiba said the schools he works with now in Oakland are more focused on “place-based” programming over focusing on Asian youth alone. He said most of the youth participating in his organization’s programs are now Black and Latino in Alameda County. EBAYC, however, is also focusing on Asian and Southeast Asian youth in Sacramento and Fresno, after a 2014 expansion into California’s Central Valley.
“The kind of youth services infrastructure in the Central Valley and in those two cities is nothing like San Francisco and nothing like Oakland. And what little there is, Southeast Asians aren’t involved,” the Sacramento native said. He added that gang activity and gun violence among Southeast Asian youth is “much more alive and well in Sacramento and Fresno.” Thus, he sought to develop programming in his home town.
He said his organization has considered rebranding, given its forays into being a “place-based” organization in the East Bay and also expanding out into the Sacramento region. For the time being, he said EBAYC is referring to itself by its acronym rather than its full incorporated name.
Regardless of whether he is working to expand his organization or win a seat on the school board, however, Kakishiba does not lose sight of his main goals.
“The institutionalization of racism and inequality and discrimination, I mean, as a kid, I saw that get played out. And so I was sensitive to that,” Kakishiba said. “And this is where kids, we spend a great deal of our lifetime there, and this is where, for most people, you form relationships, you begin to figure out your identity.”
He emphasized he is not necessarily trying to drive academic excellence, but to focus on helping youth grow up to be capable and compassionate individuals.
“Now whether everybody should have a tiger mom and go out and get a 4.9 and get a five on every advanced placement exam? No, I’m not about that,” Kakishiba said. “But I do think that every kid should be able to read, write and be critical thinkers. And they should also be compassionate, kind of cool people. They shouldn’t be assholes.”