A Life of Community Work: Spending Some Time with Andy Morikawa
Andy Morikawa has been a Senior Fellow at the Institute since 2011. In that role, he has hosted the Community Change Collaborative podcast, Trustees Without Borders, and advised on a number of community-based strategic planning and visioning projects. His work is informed by four decades of serving on non-profit organization boards as a CEO, trustee, and consultant. Mr. Morikawa is also a founding and steering group member of the Dialogue on Race. Now in its tenth year, the group is seeking to expose and dismantle racism in Montgomery County.
Mr. Morikawa took some time recently to reflect on his work at the Institute, his public service, and his career with Billy Parvatam, IPG Communications Coordinator.
BP: When did you develop a passion to do community work?
AM: It started when I joined the Peace Corps. I was a volunteer in Palau, which is an island country in the western Pacific, in Micronesia. The experience of living in another culture and having a position as a volunteer with a set of responsibilities as a school teacher introduced me to what community is and what it is about. The Peace Corps is where I began to develop my life purpose in serving my local community.
BP: How did you get involved with IPG?
AM: I had gotten to know David [Moore] who introduced me to Max [Stephenson, IPG Director]. I still have a visual memory of that first meeting and it’s been a wonderful relationship since. I have always treasured my relationship with IPG and have admired the leadership Max provides. The role that is most vivid for me is that IPG serves as a real bridge between the community and the academy. They have served in that capacity admirably the entire time I have been associated with the Institute.
BP: What drew you to the work of the Community Change Collaborative (CCC), which was formerly called Community Voices?
AM: What most attracted me was [and still is] the sense of community change through self-help. As I look back on my career, I have learned about what community is and having a sense that I could serve a role in a broader sense. I’ve been a founding board member of the Free Clinic of the New River Valley, now the Community Health Center of the New River Valley, of Habitat for Humanity of the New River Valley, and also served as the founding executive director of the Community Foundation of the New River Valley. It was with the Community Foundation that I became involved with IPG and the CCC, which led to Max inviting me to be a Senior Fellow following my retirement.
BP: What makes the interviews so interesting on the Trustees Without Borders podcast?
AM: I named the podcast that out of my sense that all of us (writers, artists, academics, politicians, entrepreneurs, etc.) are stewards and caretakers, trustees of our community. IPG has allowed us to learn that nothing is impossible when we grow without borders and limits. This is a real gift that the Institute has provided in bringing together all these incredible people who have accomplished the extraordinary.
BP: How did you get involved with the Dialogue on Race (DOR)?
AM: Dialogue on Race is now in its tenth year. The group that developed it is the Community Group of Montgomery County. It is an African-American civil society non-profit that is headed by Penny Franklin, a member of the Montgomery County Public School Board and Montgomery County’s first Black elected official. My friendship with Penny began when I was directing the Community Foundation that and not long thereafter she invited me to join the Community Group. She and I and David Britt, Wornie Reed and others formed a steering group that developed the Dialogue on Race. What has emerged is a community, Montgomery County, developing the capacity to help itself open up a conversation for action to combat racism.
I want to stress that we don’t just sit around and talk. Dialogue on Race has led to substantial changes in education, law enforcement, employment, and the Jim Crow/White Privilege culture. We’ve seen increased hiring of African Americans and minorities in the public-school system and efforts by local police departments, such as those at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, and Christiansburg as well as the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office to hire more Black police officers. Our group encourages and supports local young people to pursue careers in law enforcement, alongside the three police chiefs and Sheriff. The Dialogue on Race is working with the chiefs and Sheriff to root out racial profiling where it may arise. By having civil, open, and transparent dialogue with all the players, change is possible even if it takes time.
IPG has always been very supportive of the Dialogue on Race. The Steering Committee meets in the IPG conference room, and Max has always been flexible in allowing us to use the facilities. The Institute has also supported the Soundcloud and Constant Contact accounts [used to store recordings and to market DOR events].
BP: What’s one detail of your work that people may find surprising?
AM: The work that I’ve done with local non-profit boards of directors in helping them develop cultures and practices that strengthen their abilities to govern democratically. This type of work behind the scenes seldom appears as frontpage news. It remains my sense that America will learn how to be a fulfilled democracy at the grassroots [level] by people in small non-profits just learning the everyday practice of what it means to work together and govern themselves in pursuit of a shared outcome. That work, although low-profile, is what I’ve enjoyed the most.
BP: What’s your advice to someone who is interested in doing community work?
AM: Just show up. When you hear about something in the community that interests you, show up and attend. If you keep showing up, people will turn to you and invite you to participate. To me, that is how community works best.
BP: What are some current projects you are working on?
AM: I’m currently focusing on this idea of elderhood during the last part of life. I’m just realizing at this stage there is another set of possibilities. I am not one who is interested in taking cruises or traveling and touring. I’ve been fortunate in my life to have traveled extensively and lived in varied and different cultural settings. Now at this stage of my life what I find most engaging and fulfilling is to stay involved in work that strengthens my home community. I stay involved in a number of groups.
BP: What do you like to do in your free time?
AM: I like to walk. I walk every day for 60-90 minutes on the old Brown Farm near our house in Blacksburg. It’s about a 4-mile hike round-trip. Rain or shine, snow or dry, hot or cold, I do it. It’s good for my mental health. It affords me time to reflect, to be connected to the natural world. Sometimes its physically very uncomfortable, when the temperature’s in the teens and it’s blustery and wet. Still, I find it invigorating and encouraging: I’m alive, awake and able to keep moving. What’s not to like?