Kizuna CEO Chris Fitzgerald (center) speaks with Mickie Okamoto and Noelle Ito at a meet-and-greet reception held at the Terasaki Budokan on March 16. (Emily Hoang/Kizuna)

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

The Little Tokyo community officially welcomed Chris Fitzgerald, Kizuna’s new CEO, on March 16 at a meet-and-greet reception at the Terasaki Budokan.

Fitzgerald began work with the organization last December and is responsible for leading its administration, programs, and strategic planning.

With COVID restrictions easing, Kizuna is preparing for a busy summer of in-person youth camps at venues throughout Los Angeles and Orange County.

Originally from Memphis, Tenn., Fitzgerald has a degree in fine arts and a photography degree from the University of Memphis. He initially moved to Los Angeles to work as a fashion photographer, but found his calling in youth advocacy and empowerment. In Seattle, he worked with Youth In Focus, a nonprofit youth photography organization, and he has experience leading after-school programs, curriculum development, and making arts programs accessible to youth.

“I started volunteering with an arts organization there using photography to tell youth stories. Took a teaching artist position, specialist position and then I was program manager. I fell in love with it,” Fitzgerald said in an interview with The Rafu Shimpo.

Fitzgerald said he was inspired by Kizuna’s mission of youth advocacy and development, particularly in a neighborhood like Little Tokyo, which is greatly impacted by gentrification.

“As an outsider, always seen Little Tokyo as a place where people can come and embrace arts and culture in a way they may not necessarily understand it as outsiders. But I feel there’s a place to explore that and be exposed to it in a supportive way. From the anime community to the comic books, arts community, seems a lot of examples of that,” Fitzgerald noted.

Since its founding in 2011, Kizuna has engaged with more than 7,000 youth and young adults, teaching Japanese American culture and heritage.

“I’ve known about Little Tokyo as a neighborhood and a community for many years and one of the things I was attracted to as well is gentrification and the wheel of capitalism. It is something that all these neighborhoods and enclaves struggle against,” he said. “I believe that people who live in the neighborhood should have agency over what happens there. The idea of creating a sense of bonds to the community, so that youth would grow up and understand why it’s important and to fight for it.”

Currently he and his wife are residents of the Arts District and can often be seen jogging around the neighborhood.

The Kizuna CEO said the organization is preparing for summer camps, with limited capacity due to the pandemic.

“We’re seeing positive response. I’m very optimistic, cautiously,” Fitzgerald said.

Summer camps will be held at Union Church of Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center, Gardena Buddhist Church, Orange County Buddhist Church, Pasadena Japanese Cultural Institute and West Los Angeles United Methodist Church.

For more information, contact Lauren Kojima at lauren@gokizuna.org.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.