WASHINGTON — The National Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) has announced its 2019 President’s Award recipients, Wat Misaka and Arlene Inouye.

“The two honorees this year represent tremendous leadership that extends beyond the Japanese American community,” said Jeff Moy, JACL president.

Wat Misaka

Wat Misaka is an Asian American trailblazer in sports as the first person of color to play in the NBA. Born and raised in Ogden, Utah, he played basketball for Weber State University, then made the basketball team at the University of Utah when World War II broke out.

Although he was not a starter, he played when Utah went to the NIT and NCAA, ultimately winning the 1944 NCAA championship. Misaka’s college career was interrupted by two years of military service in the U.S. Army during its occupation of Japan.

He returned to play for the University of Utah and the team won the 1947 NIT tournament. In the championship game, Misaka led the team by holding University of Kentucky’s leader and National Player of the Year to one point.

Misaka was drafted by the New York Knicks in 1947 and played point guard for the team during the 1947-48 season. After his tenure with the Knicks, he returned to Utah to become an engineer and in 1999, he was inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame.

Arlene Inouye

Arlene Inouye, secretary of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), is being honored for her lifetime work as an educator and her more recent role as the UTLA Negotiations Team co-chair.

In this capacity, she led the Los Angeles Unified School District teachers union, which represents more than 30,000 educators employed by LAUSD, through a strike to a settlement agreement, which included a pay increase, smaller class sizes, and more nurses, counselors, librarians, and mental health professionals in schools, thus ultimately affirming the importance of quality public education for all students.

A lifelong community organizer and activist, Inouye has also served on the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) Executive Council, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) Executive Board, the California Teachers Association (CTA) Pacific Asian American Caucus, and the National Education Association (NEA) Asian Pacific Islander Caucus as the California director.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Inouye holds a BA and MA in communicative disorders from CSU Long Beach.

Moy praised Misaka’s place in sports history. “In this era of Linsanity, Naomi Osaka, and Colin Kaepernick, Wat Misaka led the way in breaking the color barrier in professional sports when he played for the Knicks.”

Of Inouye’s leadership in public education, Moy said, “Arlene Inouye’s role as the primary negotiator for the recent L.A. school district’s teacher contract negotiations won significant advancements for strengthening public education for all students served by the school district.”

Founded in 1929, JACL is the nation’s oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization. JACL monitors and responds to issues that enhance or threaten the civil and human rights of all Americans and implements strategies to effect positive social change, particularly to the Asian Pacific American community. JACL has three chapters in Utah, where the 2019 convention will be held.

Misaka and Inouye will be recognized at the Sayonara Banquet on Saturday, Aug. 3, during the National JACL Convention, which will be held in Salt Lake City from July 31 to Aug. 4 at Little America Hotel. For more information on the convention, visit: https://www.convention2019.jacl.org/

Convention sponsorship and program book advertisements are still available. Go to https://www.convention2019.jacl.org/sponsorships for more information on how to support the convention.

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