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April 25, 2023 - Bold Journey Article

Meet Akira Nakano

We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Akira Nakano. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Akira below.

Akira, so good to have you with us today. We’ve got so much planned, so let’s jump right into it. We live in such a diverse world, and in many ways the world is getting better and more understanding but it’s far from perfect. There are so many times where folks find themselves in rooms or situations where they are the only ones that look like them – that might mean being the only woman of color in the room or the only person who grew up in a certain environment etc. Can you talk to us about how you’ve managed to thrive even in situations where you were the only one in the room?

I grew up in an area of Los Angeles where most of my friends were Asian and Latinx. I didn’t see color until the 8th grade. My parents sent me to summer camp where I didn’t realize I was the only Asian person until I invited some of my camp friends to a party with my friends from home where I was promptly asked if I had any white friends. In fairness, there were two. In the safety in numbers of mixed ethnicities, however, color wasn’t an issue… until college.

At UCLA there was a truer mix of cultures… or a more intentional mix. In the dorms, every room was one caucasian person paired with one person of color.

I grew up in music where it was portfolio and talent over anything else. But after getting into UCLA on a full ride music scholarship, I left the major to pursue a film degree.

In the early 90s, we were not in the more culturally aware era of diversity that we are today. I would show up on various film sets to crew and quickly realized I was the only person of color at all. Even when I got into film school after completing my GE’s, I looked around the auditorium at orientation and realized I was the one token Asian male, accompanied by the token Asian female, the token Latin male and female, the token Indian male and female. You get the message.

I think in the early part of my college years, I wanted to be write. I didn't have sort of accent. I also wanted to approach all my projects as color blind. My way of "advocating" was to do videos and films where I sure to cast people of all colors. And while everyone was written competently, they didn't delve into heritage.

Over the years that changed. As you get older, you get wiser. You become more curious about other cultures and become more enriched while learning about other people’s upbringing, beliefs and customs as you share your own.

In 2016, when the US started to face a racial divide, I made it a point to meet as many people who didn’t look like me, and underscored to everyone that it was on all of us to not only accept everyone, but to get to know them, learn something from them… people of different races, ethnicities, religions and even political beliefs…. and share something of yourself. It also made me more sure of myself. I know longer needed or wanted to be white. I had lots to share and discuss as a Japanese-American.

At a meeting once, a female colleague of mine said, “Well, I was the only woman at the table….” My response was, “Well, I was the only person of color at the table. So what.” We still had to communicate our message.

Today, it is important to me to be a part of BiPOC leadership and to embrace everyone’s ideas and try to incorporate them. At the end of the day, we all bleed red, and everyone can contribute and be embraced. And that allows me to be comfortable in conversation with anyone.

Thanks, so before we move on maybe you can share a bit more about yourself?

I am currently the head of the Los Angeles Inception Orchestra, a national virtual mentoring program for young composers, ages 7-18. We just passed our fourth full year of programming. Students get to work with professional musicians and composers every Saturday and private mentor during the week. Starting in August 2021, after being pandemic-trapped on zoom, we began to return to the recording studio to record our kids’ music for their portfolios. It is such rewarding work to see our young composers grow and evolve as they stay with us for multiple years.

Last summer, I was also privileged, through my day job, to work with a group of six blind and visually impaired fellows in the creation of an inaugural vision fair which offered free vision screenings to the community and also brought together services and activities which raised awareness of the importance of eye health and also served individuals who are blind and visually impaired .

There is so much advice out there about all the different skills and qualities folks need to develop in order to succeed in today’s highly competitive environment and often it can feel overwhelming. So, if we had to break it down to just the three that matter most, which three skills or qualities would you focus on?

I love learning, more so as an adult. As a leader, I’ve always wanted to have a competent seat at the table but have wanted to work with people who knew more than me. Sponge everything new and find every way to improve. In music, although I grew up a classical pianist, I listen to every genre. And do not dismiss kids or people younger than you. You can learn from them as well.

Make sure everyone is genuinely heard. You don’t have to take everything everyone says. However, everyone has some gem of knowledge. Make sure you hear them and interact and think about how it might improve your journey.

Don’t be afraid to fail. As long as you’re doing your absolute best trying, I would rather fail going all out. It also leads to great success.

Finally, don’t worry about mistakes. We speak about this in creativity in music, but frankly, it refers to everything: Mistakes can be groundbreaking.

What has been your biggest area of growth or improvement in the past 12 months?

Through my day job, I had the opportunity to work closely with members of the blind and visually impaired community.

It changed everything. You have a perspective on people with disabilities that you think you know and you think you are open minded. But once you work with them on a daily basis, you don’t realize that you actually know very little, and you need to open your mind to everything, and there is so much more to learn. There were huge challenges but also great successes. I learned how to advocate differently and listen differently. It affected how I wanted to lead the music education nonprofit. It affected how I wanted to act day-to-day. It made me aware that as open as I thought I was, I needed (and still need) to continue to expand my mind.


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