By TONY OSUMI and KATHY MASAOKA
If you drive 20 blocks south of Little Tokyo, down San Pedro Street and past the produce, flower and garment districts, there’s a community center called All Peoples. In an area most people think of as primarily industrial, it serves a neighborhood that was once very ethnically mixed with Japanese, Chinese, African American, Mexican and Armenian families living together.
While the neighborhood has changed, All Peoples Community Center still has ties to Japanese Americans and Little Tokyo.
In 1942, when the Japanese Americans were forced to leave their homes, they left behind many churches. One of those churches was the Japanese Christian Church on 20th Street. In fact, it was a pickup point for camp, and government buses lined the curb to take families away into the dust and desolation of America’s deserts.
With the Japanese Christian Church now empty, the Disciples of Christ under Dan Genung started a new church and center and called it All Peoples to celebrate the diversity of the neighborhood. It was also a coordinated push towards racial integration that preceded the later civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.
When the Japanese Americans returned after the camps, All Peoples welcomed them back. The Issei under Rev. Kojiro Unoura held services in Japanese, but soon decided to move to West Adams, where many Japanese Americans lived.
However, All Peoples was popular with the Nisei and many remained to lead and support the youth programs, which included sports, pre-school and after-school classes, camping and social groups. You might have heard of folks such as Kiku and Bob Uno, Joe and Fumi Ide, Aki and Martha Suzuki, Sid Inouye and Grace Kim, or Bob Kodama, who started the Nisei Church League, and Kei Kokubun, who served as the pastor for two decades.
Although most of the Nisei are gone, the Japanese American community has maintained a connection to All Peoples through the Little Tokyo Service Center. LTSC supports the technology services at All Peoples and the Diskovery Center staff have led classes in digital media and have helped the students of Central High School/All Peoples create films about their lives. LTSC’s former director of community technology, Davis Park, wrote grants that brought new computers to the lab, which is used to train both community folks and youth for computer-related jobs.
This relationship between Little Tokyo and All Peoples was part of a conscious desire to connect our community around affordable housing. This connection started when Judy Nishimoto Ota, the first LTSC CDC board president, hired some Central HS students to assess youth services and assets in Little Tokyo along with USC filmmaker Mar Elepano teaching them how to make videos about their South Central community.
All Peoples Community Center has been a magnet and rock in the neighborhood for 70 years. Currently, the center houses a pre-school and day-care program, a continuation high school and after-school programs for elementary, middle and high school kids. Social workers and MSW interns provide counseling and anger management classes along with legal assistance from public counsel. Every Friday, All Peoples distributes fresh produce and other foods to families and holds Family Nights with entertainment and dinner. The center feeds up to 500 people during their Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations and holds an annual health fair with free health screenings.
Each summer, they take elementary children into the San Bernardino Mountains for a week-long camp called the Joe Ide Camp. Their basketball court is used daily and every weekend by not only the community, but by groups in the Japanese American community.
For over 30 years, All Peoples has also been home to a LAUSD continuation high school, Central High School/All Peoples, formerly called SAAY-Service for Asian American Youth. In our growing school/community garden, we hope to initiate a historic marker for the site so that others will know that the center was the site of the Japanese Christian Church, a pickup point for camp and more importantly, a welcoming site for those returning.
On Thursday, Oct. 6, All Peoples is coming north 20 blocks and having a fundraiser at the Chop Suey Cafe in Little Tokyo. There will be great Asian fusion cuisine, live jazz, a silent auction and community awards. Please support this center that played a central role in helping the Japanese American community resettle and stabilize after the war and continues to serve and be a place for all people.
Kathy Masaoka taught at Central High School/All Peoples for 27 years and Tony Osumi teaches at Central High School/ All Peoples. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.