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Hidden Gems: Meet Ryan Lee of Terasaki Budokan

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ryan Lee.

Hi Ryan, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.  
From a young age, I’ve always had a passion for sports, the values it instills, and the community it builds. That’s why I founded “Not Your Average” Basketball Camp, a nonprofit that provided a basketball camp for exceptional kids. Seeing how limited some people’s access to resources are, I became more empathetic and perceptive. It fueled my passion for working in and serving the community through sports. Growing up in Pasadena, I spent a lot of time in Little Tokyo and DTLA which allowed me to develop a strong sense of cultural identity from a young age. So combining these three passions of mine – sports, serving the community, and preserving my Japanese American heritage – is a dream come true. Now, it’s my turn to provide this same opportunity for the next generation of youth at Terasaki Budokan through sports, arts, culture, and more. Being the Director of Terasaki Budokan is more than just a job for me, it’s a passion. I care deeply about the future of Little Tokyo, the Japanese American community, and DTLA, and am humbled that I get to call my passion “work”.  Since I’m the first Director of this new project, I’m forging a new path and sometimes the uncertainty of where I should go is daunting. But I have the support and guidance of seasoned staff like Mike Murase, Chris Aihara, Scott Ito, Kim Kawasaki and so many more.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Absolutely not. The Little Tokyo community has dreamt of building a recreation center for over 25 years, and we’ve overcome various obstacles and challenges throughout the years with help of many. Locating a suitable site for this multi-use space and fundraising $33.8 million for the construction of the facility were two of the biggest struggles.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Terasaki Budokan?
Terasaki Budokan’s mission is to provide a facility in Downtown Los Angeles for youth, families and seniors that offers sports, community activities, and opportunities to connect visitors to Japanese American culture and a vibrant, sustainable Little Tokyo. Terasaki Budokan is a project of LTSC, is a social service and community development organization that was founded 40 years ago. Starting with their own home in Little Tokyo, LTSC builds and strengthens communities throughout Southern California where people, culture and our collective future matter. Learn more about Terasaki Budokan at https://www.terasakibudokan.org/

Terasaki Budokan is a ‘Home Court for All’ which means that it functions as a safe space for everyone to come together. It is important, as Los Angeles and Little Tokyo continue to diversify, that we teach youth how to embrace and celebrate diversity. Budokan is more than just a fancy new gym and event facility, though. It is an intersection of culture and athletics. It is a testament to the unwavering strength and spirit of our community. It showcases our resilience, perseverance, and tenacity, and it proves what we can accomplish when we all work together. When its doors open for the first time in spring 2020, it will contribute to the energetic and vibrant future of Little Tokyo and DTLA.

The crisis has affected us all in different ways. How has it affected you and any important lessons or epiphanies you can share with us?
COVID-19 has been challenging, but I believe that we’ll be able to get through these tough times by coming together and supporting one another. I’ve been particularly moved by the Little Tokyo community’s response. Time and time again, through decades of hardship, the community always comes together and overcomes. There are dozens of programs running to address food insecurity, social isolation, small business assistance, rental assistance, and more. On a personal level, it’s really hard for me to see legacy/small businesses close (some for good) due to the pandemic.

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Image Credits:

Hana Asano

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