How one of the smallest chapters in Los Angeles is leading the way in Southern California toward the 50K youth gatherings next year.
World Tribune: Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Tell us about South LA Chapter.
Jason Lions (Previously South LA Chapter men’s leader; currently LA Region men’s leader): South LA Chapter is one of the smallest chapters in Los Angeles by membership but one of the largest by geography.
The area is significant because it makes up the heart of Los Angeles, encompassing many historical areas. It is also a deep source of pride and mission for us in light of the poem “The Sun of Jiyu Over a New Land,” which SGI President Ikeda presented to the members of Los Angeles on Jan. 27, 1993. In it, he writes, “Kansai is the heart whose beating drives the movement for kosen-rufu in Japan; Los Angeles plays this self-same role for the entire world” (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 205).
With these words in mind, we made a vow to realize Sensei’s vision together with all the incredible members of South LA!
Ryosuke Ishii (South LA Chapter young men’s leader): Our chapter has a strong sense of community and many incredible pioneers, but it also struggles with inactive youth, particularly among the young men’s division. Many youth also don’t have cars and live far from the Los Angeles Friendship Center, the main hub for activities in our area. Knowing these obstacles, I strengthened my prayer to support the young men.
WT: What did you do next?
Ryosuke: The first thing we did was make an all-out effort to meet the 24 young men on our membership list. In The New Human Revolution, SGI President Ikeda says, “Kosen-rufu happens where we persevere in building trust and friendship, gradually and continuously pressing forward in our workplaces and communities” (vol. 24, p. 271).
I decided to expand my circle offriendship and create lasting relationships that would bring President Ikeda joy in knowing that kosen-rufu was advancing in the heart of Los Angeles. Building trust wasn’t limited to just the young men and me. I knew that without uniting with my co-leaders, any victory would be fleeting.
WT: How were you two able to develop unity?
Ryosuke: Jason opened the way by inviting me and George Yamazawa, our vice chapter young men’s leader, over for dinner. We connected over fried chicken and macaroni! Through Jason’s efforts to reach out to us, I became more resolved to take action together, so we teamed up to visit inactive youth. Sometimes they were unreachable, so we stopped by and connected with them at their front doors, inviting them to upcoming district and young men’s activities. These visits helped me to establish new connections and deepen my relationship with Jason.
WT: What was the result of establishing these relationships?
Ryosuke: Toward the July young men’s and young women’s division general meetings, we visited every single locatable young man in the chapter! These new bonds helped me to better support each member, accurately update the membership statistics and have a more focused prayer for each person’s victory.
I decided that, in order to advance kosen-rufu in my life and community toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival, I needed to align my personal goals with the campaign. Toward our young men’s gathering in July, I determined to deepen my roots in LA and expand my career as an artist.
Our chapter led LA Region and we were one of the top chapters in Southern California, with 14 in attendance, despite being one of the smallest chapters in membership. This was a huge breakthrough for us!
Jason: With Ryosuke sincerely leading the way, we more than doubled our young men’s attendance from six in January to 14 in July, which was reflected in our districts. Now, our average discussion meeting attendance is above 20 members, and the youth often outnumber the men and women! Ryosuke also ensured that we have 100 percent district young men’s leadership in the chapter. In the last few months, he has also worked hard to appoint many new unit leaders!
WT: Congratulations! How did the members’ lives change in the process?
Jason: This one victory has led to many personal victories for the members. Personally, after struggling to fulfill my responsibilities at home as a new dad, at work, in school and in my roles in the SGI, my boss recently asked me to come in to the office less so I could spend more time with my family, while at the same time giving me a 25 percent raise!
Also, my friend from South LA, who received the Gohonzon in July, fulfilled his dream of reuniting with his children, from whom he had been estranged for a decade. He is now determined that they will all attend the 50K Festival next year. He also became a unit leader!
Ryosuke: For me, I was able to find a new place to live in the geographical area of our chapter together with a roommate, whom I was able to shakubuku and bring to our chapter intro meeting, as well as expand my direction as an artist. I will be showing my work in a group show next month!
Also, George, our vice chapter young men’s leader, recently released a hiphop album that made it onto the top 100 iTunes rap albums, was ranked No. 3 on the Spotify Viral 50 chart, and has had over 4 million views and 500,000 streams online!
Jason: Significantly, July was also the month when LA was selected to host the 2028 Olympics. People from every nation will visit the main venue, which is being built in our chapter, only a mile from where we usually host our intro-to-Buddhism meetings. Due to the efforts of our youth leaders and the support of all the districts in South LA, our last chapter intro meeting was so overflowing with guests that we had to have it outside. Our youth are transforming the land!
WT: Any parting thoughts?
Ryosuke: In the end, breaking through the challenges in our chapter was made easier by Jason’s support, helping to make our efforts toward the 50K gatherings joyful and giving us the confidence to set solid goals. I truly feel that the chapter men’s and women’s leaders Bridgette, Laverne, William and Jose, are always chanting for the youth.
Though we’ve had many breakthroughs, we know that the total transformation of South LA will not happen overnight, but with the unity of the four divisions, I vow to see the young men of South LA Chapter actualize Sensei’s encouragement to us in “Sun of Jiyu Over a New Land” that “the certain signs of America reborn, Los Angeles rejuvenated, are to be found within your hearts” (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 212). We will gather 25 young men for the December Youth General Meetings and become a force of 100 strong for our 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival next year!