On July 15, 2020, five long-time employees were suddenly laid off from the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC).
On the same day, their access to email was terminated before anyone could be notified of their departure, and there was no communication to the remaining staff about their absence until a week following the event.
Now, a month later, the JACCC has explained some of the financial issues they faced, but has given no indication of pre-emptive measures (pay cuts, temporary furloughs, etc.) that were explored as alternatives to layoffs, nor demonstrated a commitment to supporting the former staff throughout these transitions.
As long-time partners of the JACCC and members of the Little Tokyo, Japanese American, and broader Los Angeles communities, we the undersigned find ourselves saddened and perturbed by the termination of these five. The absence of these individuals is certainly a significant setback to the mission of the JACCC and leaves a void that will be difficult to adequately fill, but more importantly, the way the layoffs were handled leaves an indelible mark on the character of the organization that cannot be easily corrected.
We believe that this is a failure of leadership that cannot be overlooked because we love and value the JACCC. Simply put, the center is not a corporation that can be allowed to treat people like disposable resources, and its board and president/CEO, Patricia Wyatt, cannot act as though this was conducted with respectful, well-intentioned due process.
The JACCC would not exist without the efforts of its workers at all levels who have made it a home for individuals and organizations who drive its arts programming and who keep it connected to communities beyond Little Tokyo. These workers are not just employees; they are beloved long-time friends and community members with impacts far beyond their job descriptions.
While the pandemic has forced many institutions to make hard decisions, it has also revealed how much community support is necessary for survival. This has proven especially true time and again throughout Little Tokyo, and we must ask ourselves in these times whether we can believe the JACCC’s stewards truly understand that dynamic between community and mutual aid, and whether it will continue honoring its mission as a community arts organization that values social justice — or if this is as expendable as the people it employs.
In 2012 the JACCC board held a community forum after it was discovered that the newly hired president/CEO, Greg Willis, had an outstanding international warrant for arrest and misused his power at the expense of JACCC staff. This forum, which was demanded by the public, allowed the JACCC to communicate with the rest of the community and set intentions for transparency, fairness and forward-facing vision.
We feel it is necessary that a similar forum be held again to address these layoffs and clarify the JACCC’s current state and vision. Through this process we hope to better understand the decisions made and the JACCC can use this opportunity to solicit the support needed to uphold the organization’s future.
We also remain concerned about the well-being of the laid-off workers and the security of the current JACCC staff. We urge that further layoffs stay off the table until other options are explored and that consolidation of staff responsibilities is considered carefully. These actions have caused a significant loss of trust in the organization but we also believe that healing the rift here is possible. We look forward to crucial conversations in good faith around what a stronger, more responsible community can look like.
Nikkei Progressives is a grassroots, intergenerational community group based in Little Tokyo. We stand for justice, freedom, and solidarity with all marginalized people.