Janice Mirikitani Shares the Power of the Human Connection

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Stefani Robnett
Contributing Writer

USF’s Diversity Scholar and Visiting Professor Janice Mirikitani and New York Times bestselling author Chip Conley led a discussion about the concept and meaning of the human connection and shared their experiences surrounding the human connection for the USF community on Oct. 7.

The Office of Diversity and Community Engagement hosted the Diversity Talks with Dean of Asian Pacific American Studies Ilene Fung and faculty member Evelyn Rodriguez.

USF’s Vice Provost, Jennifer Turpin, began the event by introducing Mirikitani and described her as “a leader, a poet, and an activist that embodies the vision and the mission of our university.”

According to Turpin, Mirikitani was selected as this year’s diversity scholar for being “a living legend… who symbolically represents part of our multicultural American history, and who can share that experience with [USF] students.”

Through her poetry, books and activism, “Janice not only advocated for herself, but for her community- those who were the most vulnerable, those whose voice was ignored or excluded. She spoke out of injustice wherever she went,” said Turpin.

Mirikitani shared in an interview with The Foghorn that it is possible to find a human connection in San Francisco.

“Young people can find human connection in diverse areas through community work with nonprofits in San Francisco and other urban areas in the Bay Area, said Mirikitani.  “There are many volunteer opportunities like serving meals at Glide, tutoring elementary school children, and assisting senior programs throughout the City.”

After Turpin’s introduction, the floor was given to Mirikitani and she invited three members of Youth Speaks, an organization that empowers student voices through the art of poetry and encourages them to use their voice to create social change, to share their works.

“What better can inspire an beloved community than a group of young people speaking the truth about their lives,” said Mirikitani.  “I believe that language saves our lives, because I believe it connects our internal and external universes.”

The three national poetry slam champions captivated the audience with topics ranging from the ethnic divisions in America to the targeting of marginalized communities by soda and fast food companies to the fire that drives human progress.

Like the Youth Speaks members inspire their audience, college students can also make an impact on the community, according to Mirikitani.

“Everyone can make a difference.  Community groups in all neighborhoods are crying out for volunteers, for the kind of expertise and human power (hard work) that students can contribute,” said Mirikitani.

Mirikitani was involved  during her collegiate years at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University (SFSU).

“I got involved in Ethnic Studies Strike at SFSU while in the master’s program there, and as part of the third world studies strike…joined the student movement to reach out to the communities,” said Mirkitani.

Conley later joined Mirikitani on the stage for a one-on-one dissuscion about the power of cultural festivals and rituals in inspiring cross-cultural curiosity and creating a feeling of collective effervescence.

Mirikitani admired Conley’s vision and said, “I have described Chip Conley as a genius, but he is a strange and fully ranged genius whose mission is to find joy, and to bring joy.”

They agreed that festivals are incredibly necessary in the age of technology because they bring people out of their houses, away from their technology, to have interactive and tangible experiences.

Mirikitani ventured into a more controversial topic as she asked Conley about the effects of the “share economy.” The share economy is a concept where human and physical resources are shared between people. With a rapidly expanding housing crisis in San Francisco, companies like Airbnb, have been blamed as a root cause of displacement for marginalized communities.  Airbnb is a website that lets people rent rooms or houses to travelers and Conley is head of Global Hospitality and Strategy of the company.

Conley tried to demonstrate that while at the moment, the share economy is having some negative effects, the virtues of the share economy outweigh the negatives as it forces people to cross social boundaries.

Conley stated, “The safeguards against displacement [have] to come primarily from public policy.”

The two continued the exchange by exploring how finding meaning in life can fundamentally change the dynamics of a person.

Mirikitani stated, “I believe we all search for meaning in our lives, in our occupations, even in our daily rituals.”

Conley added that he has found, that “by teaching employees how to find meaning” and by bringing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs into the workplace, he has changed the dynamics of his work-places to become more inclusive and rewarding.

Mirikitani concluded the event by shareing one of her own poetry pieces called “Iron Butterfly,” which was inspired by the hope she found in overcoming her past struggles of childhood incest and battery.

“The event was really about two lifelong friends coming together and sharing their experiences. They are both truth-speakers,” said Dori Caminong, Glide Foundation’s manager of communications, philanthropy, and social innovation.

Elizabeth Silva contributed to the reporting.

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