KCET has announced its Local Heroes for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May): Bill Watanabe and Stewart Kwoh.
As part of its ongoing commitment to the diverse communities in Southern California, KCET, in collaboration with Union Bank, launched the annual Local Heroes Awards in celebration of national commemorative heritage months — Black History Month, Women’s History Month, APA Heritage Month, Jewish Heritage Month, LGBT Pride Month, and Hispanic Heritage Month.
The awards honor exemplary community leaders who strive to enrich the lives of others, and whose tireless contributions are inspiring hope in the minds and hearts of future generations. The year-long program introduces diverse local heroes to viewers on-air and online, and culminates in October when all of the honorees are formally recognized as part of the Local Heroes Awards: Diversity Celebration. Over the past decade, KCET has showcased the stories of over 150 leaders.
• Bill Yoshiyuki Watanabe has served as executive director of Little Tokyo Service Center, a Community Development Corporation (LTSC CDC) since 1979. His compassion and loyalty to meeting the needs of the community has been at the heart of the nonprofit organization.
Under his leadership, LTSC CDC has grown from a one-person office to a center with a staff of more than 150 and a legion of volunteers. It provides a comprehensive program of social services, including counseling, transportation/translation program for seniors, peer support groups, emergency assistance, health and consumer education, small business counseling, affordable housing, child care programs and community/economic development.
Watanabe spearheaded the renovation of hundreds of units of affordable housing for seniors and families in downtown and central Los Angeles; the revitalization of an abandoned historic church into a visual arts center, and home to the nationally renowned East West Players; and the renovation of a 100-year-old restaurant and hotel building, contributing to the vitality of Little Tokyo and Downtown Los Angeles.
He also matched about 300 Asian Americans with life-saving bone marrow transplants through the recruitment of more than 200,000 potential bone marrow donors.
Watanabe's dedication to the community extends beyond LTSC CDC. He has served as president of the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council (A3PCON), the largest social service network in the Asian community, and the Asian Pacific Health Care Venture. He was also founder of the Asian Pacific Community Fund, which has awarded more than $2 million in grants.
He has served as chairman of the statewide Nonprofit Policy Council of California and Evergreen Baptist Church of San Gabriel Valley, one of the largest Asian American Christian churches in the Southland. In addition, Watanabe has served as a board member of several organizations, including National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, UCLA Center for Civil Society, Amnesty International USA, and National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development, of which he was also co-founder.
In June, Mr. Watanabe is retiring from his position. Although this remarkable milestone brings an end to his extraordinary work at LTSC CDC, there is no doubt that he has planted the seeds for a better community for years to come.
“As a Christian and a professional social worker, I have committed my life to helping those in need and strengthening our communities,” he said.
• Stewart Kwoh has been president and executive director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) since he co-founded it in 1983. Nearly 30 years ago, Kwoh set out to create a nonprofit organization that served as the voice of the exploited and discriminated for Los Angeles' Asian Pacific American community. What developed was APALC, the largest and most diverse legal assistance and civil rights organization representing the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) communities in the country.
Under Kwoh’s leadership, APALC offers an array of services, including legal services via a telephone hotline in Khmer, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Vietnamese, litigation that protects the exploited, the promotion of immigrants' rights, protection of voting rights, and leadership development.
His passion for social justice also extends into education. He is currently an undergraduate lecturer at UCLA's Asian American Studies Department and editor and co-author of “Untold Civil Rights Stories: Asian Americans Speak Out for Justice,” the first textbook for high school students that focuses on Asian American civil rights heroes.
Further, Kwoh co-created Mandarin in Schools, an initiative that advocates the teaching of Chinese history, culture and language in conjunction with Chinese American history in Los Angeles' public schools.
After the Los Angeles Riots in 1992, Kwoh co-created the Multicultural Collaborative (MCC) to develop long-term solutions to ethnic conflict.
Currently, Kwoh is chair of the board of the Los Angeles Methodist Urban Foundation and vice-chairman of Asian American Justice Center, a national civil rights organization that was co-founded by APALC in 1991. He is also a board member of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs of California State University, Los Angeles, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, and Southern California Public Radio.
Previously, Kwoh was steering committee member of Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) and chairman of the board of The California Endowment.
He is the co-author of “Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America's Future” and “Searching for the Uncommon Common Ground: New Dimensions on Race in America.”
In June 1998, the MacArthur Foundation named Kwoh a MacArthur Fellow. He was the first Asian American attorney and human rights activist to receive this highly prestigious recognition. In 2010, he received the Civic Medal of Honor from the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. In 2007, he was honored with the Loren Miller Legal Services Award from the State Bar of California and the Impact Award from the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association (SCCLA).
“To seek justice for the mistreated, create a stronger voice for disenfranchised Asian Americans and others, and build a united, multi-racial community — that is my passion,” he said.
For information on other Local Heroes, visit www.kcet.org/socal/local_heroes/.