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Tending a Garden

Kenneth K. Inouye

From remarks delivered at Groundswell’s April 30, 2024 “A Wave of Hope” Gala at the Muckenthaler Mansion in Fullerton.


Before I make my remarks this evening, I would like to recognize and thank the Groundswell staff who work every day on the significant human and inter-group relations issues that impact our community on a daily basis.


I would also like to thank the prior and current participants in the Human Relations Ambassador Program (HRAP) who are certainly the next generation of leaders for our community.


In addition, I would also like to thank all of you who are attending and supporting our event this evening as we come together tonight to support our “Wave of Hope.”


My partnership with Groundswell (formerly known as the Orange County Human Relations Council) began over forty years ago and has continued while working with two amazing Executive Directors:  Mr. Rusty Kennedy (founding Director) and Ms. Alison Edwards (current Director).


When we speak about generations of families who have worked for social justice, we cannot forget the parents of Rusty Kennedy (Ralph and Natalie Kennedy), who were lifelong advocates for social justice, having been a part of the fight for farmworkers’ rights and affordable housing. In fact, the Kennedy Commission (fair housing) was named in honor of the Kennedy family. In addition, Alison`s father, Mr. James Lehman, was the former Chair of the Orange County Human Relations Community Partners board and he has been a lifetime advocate for human rights.


I am also so privileged to be honored tonight along with my daughter Shannon Inouye who was one of the members of the first HRAP programs over twenty years ago and her niece, my granddaughter Amelia Kawaguchi, who is a participant in the current HRAP class.

The best way to describe the nature of Human Relations work generally is perhaps through the following three examples which document our own work, and which I call “The Cold Realities of Success.”


First success: I had the privilege of being a member of the National Board of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the nation’s oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization, at the time that the Japanese American community was requesting an apology and reparations from the United States Government for the illegal imprisonment of over 180,000 Americans in the period following the outbreak of World War II.


When President Ronald Reagan signed into law HR 442, which provided for an apology and restitution, I was so proud to be an American. I took my family to Manzanar, one of the prison sites, and proudly proclaimed to them: “The United States is the greatest country in the history of the world.”


First cold reality: More recently, during the COVID period, I feared for the safety of my family and other Asian Americans as some of my fellow Americans drove through our streets shouting, “China virus.”  Regrettably, to some people Asian Americans were once again seen as a threat to public safety.


Second success: During the time that the City of Huntington Beach was gaining the reputation as the “skinhead capital of the world” former Huntington Beach Mayors Dr. Ralph Bauer and Ms. Shirley Dettloff asked me to chair the Huntington Beach Human Relations Task Force. As part of the city-wide effort to rid the city of the skinhead element in our city, Huntington Beach adopted a Statement of Human Dignity, a testament to the fact that Huntington Beach was a city that valued and respected its diversity.


This declaration was adopted in its entirety by the Orange County League of Cities as a way to proclaim that Orange County was a place that valued and respected its diversity.


Second cold reality: In a subsequent action taken on August 1, 2023, a newly elected Huntington Beach City Council adopted a motion to amend this statement, which resulted in the annulment of the principles declared in the original Statement of Human Dignity.


I want to thank two current members of the current Huntington Beach City Council who have joined us this evening, Ms. Rhonda Bolton and Ms. Natalie Moser, who fought to preserve the existing statement.


 Third success: In 2022, the Orange County Board of Supervisors allocated funds which were for the first time specifically designed to combat the increasing number of hate crimes occurring in Orange County.


Third cold reality: In spite of the allocation of monies to combat hate crimes in Orange County, the number of hate crimes directed towards the African American, Arab American, Jewish and Muslim communities in Orange County continue to rise.


The reason that I have chosen to discuss these three “success” and corresponding “reality” stories is to simultaneously demonstrate that our work of promoting human dignity and social justice is very much like tending a garden. A lifelong friend and colleague of mine, Mr. Edwin Endow, would often remind me that if we do not properly tend to our gardens (communities), the weeds will inevitably return and destroy all of the work that we (our community) have done to create our garden. And that is why we are here tonight, to celebrate the HRAP program, which teaches its participants to be critical thinkers and to become future community leaders.


These future community leaders will be the protectors of our garden as they strive to create and maintain communities where all peoples are welcomed and treated with respect.



Kenneth K. Inouye is a life-long activist who served six years in the US Army Reserves and was a recent Huntington Beach City Council candidate. He has served in many capacities with dozens of advocacy organizations including Groundswell (formerly the Orange County Human Relations Council), the ACLU, the California Association of Human Relations Organizations, and the Japanese American Citizens League.

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