Today is her 87th birthday. It's also Malcolm X's birthday (he would have turned 83 today). And also Ho Chi Minh's.
There's a lot more I could have included in the article, that I wanted to. There's just so much that she's done. For example, she told me that she writes to at least 200 political prisoners, many of them former Black Panthers. But she also writes to disabled prisoners too.
She also has these quirks. She has this guestbook (a spiral notebook) that she has everyone sign when they visit her in her tiny apartment in an Oakland senior housing complex. So she had me and the photographer sign in before we left. She also wanted our address.
Oh yeah, and interviewing her was interesting because she kept wanting to interview me about my life! She's very interested in people and keeping up relationships and friendships. She knows thousands of people.
She also has some common threads throughout her life, even though we know she became a lot more radical after meeting Malcolm.
She's always done a lot of writing (she majored in journalism at Compton City College).
She wrote to Nisei soldiers during WWII. The lore is that after she met and was smitten by Bill, who later became her husband, she wrote to him several times a day. He was so embarrassed that he got mail and that the other soldiers didn't, that he asked if she could write to the others too.
She was teaching Sunday school at the time so asked her Sunday school girls to write to the other soldiers, so they started this whole pen pal writing campaign.
It makes total sense that she would continue this writing thing. She's been writing to political prisoners for decades. Her family (her husband was also a writer) also put out a family newsletter. In later years after they became more political, they put out a radical newspaper called the North Star.
She also became an activist in her 40s, after she'd already had 6 kids. She did not become politicized during college, like many people. That in itself is inspiring.
There's a lot to be said about her, and a lot has already been written about her. There's her own memoir, Passing It On, which is a fast read. I couldn't put it down.
There's also Diane Fujino's biography of Yuri, Heartbeat of Struggle.
There are also some films about her, such as Passion for Justice, by Rea Tajiri and Pat Saunders. And a good interview on Democracy Now from earlier this year. And there's also the excellent article from the East Bay Express, written by Melissa Hung, one of our founding editors.
Also, I just googled her name under news to see what else is out there, and in two recent articles Yuri Kochiyama is mentioned as someone's role model. Not surprising. She seems to be able to work with folks who are her grandchildren's age with ease. I mean, can you imagine organizing with your grandmother? That's pretty awesome.