By MIA NAKAJI MONNIER, Rafu Staff Writer
At Go for Broke’s new facilities, construction was still underway. Plastic and cardboard lined the ground, and metallic clangs and whirrs sounded from the exhibition hall.
In a span of three months, the nearly 30-year-old institution has hired a new president, Vince Beresford, moved to a new home at the former Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, which it shares with the Japanese American National Museum, and on Saturday, May 28, it will present a new exhibit, “Defining Courage.”
The exhibit will be permanent but dynamic, with components changing in response to current events. “It’s kind of moving away from the traditional museum approach, which oftentimes means a uniform in a plexiglass box with a plaque,” said Beresford.
“We want this to be more than an informational thing, like a Chapter 3 in a textbook. We want to take it to the next level and say, ‘If I had that same value system, if I applied those same values to today, how can I fight for civil rights, human rights, against racism?’”
“Defining Courage” will begin strikingly. Exhibit Manager Chris Brusatte explained that visitors will first walk up a flight of stairs, where speakers will transport them to the 1940s, just before the United States entered World War II. In the first room, a quote from the late Sen. Daniel Inouye will cover one wall:
“Three planes … pearl gray with a red dot … flew overhead after their run across Pearl Harbor. I felt that my life had come to an end at that point because obviously the pilot in that plane looked like me.”
From there, the exhibit will tell the Japanese American World War II story from the perspective of several regions of the country, before it interweaves that story with those of other American groups, and finally ends with several interactive sections — including a “choose your own adventure” style game and a documentary-making station — that will ask visitors to consider what courage means, from the 1940s through today.
In its approach, Go for Broke follows cultural museums like the Museum of Tolerance, which began as a Holocaust museum but expanded its mission to advocating for human rights, using history to teach enduring lessons.
“Nonprofits are often started through a tragedy,” said Beresford. “Someone dies of cancer, someone has their civil rights violated… but there’s a key transition that a lot of nonprofits need to go through, and it’s that transition from being solely about the memorialization of that tragedy and moving on to causation, to ‘Let’s learn from the past in order to move forward into the future.’ That’s a hard transition, and that’s really where we are as an organization.”
One way the exhibit fulfills this mission is through an installation sponsored by ABC7 (a reflection of anchor David Ono’s ongoing relationship with Go for Broke), in which traditional text and photo panels tell stories about groups who have faced threats to their civil rights in the United States, among them Japanese Americans and Muslim Americans. In the center of this display is a television monitor. Each day, Go for Broke staff will curate a selection of daily news stories about the same topic.
According to Beresford, Go for Broke’s veterans have been supportive of the organization’s transition. “I think the biggest thing our veterans want to know is they’re not going to be forgotten, and they want to make sure we’re telling the story accurately,” he said. “We are completely committed to making sure that story is never forgotten, and we’re also committed to moving forward. Those aren’t exclusive of each other.
“What I’d like to think is because our veterans know our commitment to the story and that everything we have as far as the inspiration and the new pieces is really coming from that foundation, and I think that maybe we’ve communicated that clearly enough to where there’s not fear or frustration because our veterans want that too. Our veterans want to see their world changed today, and if their example from 75 years ago can still make an influence today, I think they’re all about it.”
“Defining Courage” will also expand the scope of Go for Broke’s mission by moving beyond veterans to also honor families, no-no boys, resisters, and women and people of other ethnic backgrounds who fought for the rights of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Beresford’s own background also represents a shift for Go for Broke, and his leadership comes during a time of change for Little Tokyo as a whole, as the neighborhood accommodates the Metro Gold Line extension and sees an increase in businesses owned by non-Japanese Americans. Raised in the South Bay, Beresford received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Azusa Pacific University and a Doctor of Ministry degree in leadership in emerging cultures at George Fox University in Oregon, both Christian universities. He built a career in nonprofit leadership, serving as executive director at the Child S.H.A.R.E. Program, which places children with foster and adoptive families, and the With Hope Foundation, a suicide prevention and mental health organization.
Taking on the stories of Japanese American veterans is “a heavy responsibility,” he said. “I take it incredibly seriously.” Growing up in Torrance, he remembers slowly learning about the Japanese American World War II experience from his friends and their families. One memory that stayed with him was of a history teacher who refused to acknowledge the existence of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. This was during the 1980s.
“I think the other side is that my being a non-Japanese American is, I’m in a place to be able to maybe do things and communicate in a way that might be received differently,” he said. “Because if I was Japanese American, I think everybody would assume, ‘Well, of course you would be passionate about that. Of course you would be interested in that.’
“So part of my hope for our organization and the fact that we’re a national education center is we’ve got to educate people; this has got to be bigger than the Japanese American story. It isn’t part of my heritage, but it is absolutely part of my heritage as an American.”
Go for Broke will open its new facilities and debut “Defining Courage” and its homecoming celebration on May 28. Visit www.goforbroke.org/visit/exhibit/index.php for a full schedule of the day’s events.
Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo