Richard Aoki has died.
Born in San Leandro, California, in 1938, the sansei (third generation Japanese American) Richard was imprisoned with hundreds of thousands other Japanese and Japanese Americans during WWII. Such an experience would leave a powerful imprint on the young Aoki, who dedicated most of the rest of his life to the cause of racial equality and justice.
Trusted within the broader Bay Area communities of color, Richard rose to become a Field Marshall in the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, founded in Oakland in 1966.
He was a pivotal player in the SF State Strike, of 1968-69, which gave birth to the Third World Liberation Front, a multiracial and radical organization dedicated to meaningful educational and community change. He served as the coordinator of the first Asian American Studies program at UC Berkeley, and later worked as an advisor for Asians for Job Opportunities. He spent much of his professional life working as a community organizer, a counselor, and an instructor and administrator at Merritt and Alameda Colleges. In everything he did, everyday people in the communities of the Bay Area came first.
Richard was a frequent speaker at college campuses, sharing his life story with wit and a fervent sense of the need for continued activism. If you ever saw him, you know he often described himself as a “soldier for the people.” He was that, and so much more. With passion, humor, and creativity, he served generations of Bay Area residents faithfully and tirelessly in the war for justice.
He passed away on March 15th of complications due to a longstanding medical condition. Memorial plans are forthcoming.
Here is a trailer for an independent documentary made about Richard.