Updated: Oct 7, 2020
The art of spinning string requires great skill. If not spun sufficiently, the string will be weak, and if spun too much it will be brittle. In between too little and too much, like in life, is a whole spectrum and getting it just right is never easy.
My brother, Jeff, was an incredible person. If my dad is Red String's heart, and my mom is it's strength, my brother is it's soul and spirit. Growing up, my brother always had a strong sense of justice. His community activism started early in high school and continued throughout his life. He started at U.C. Berkeley as a Business major, but by the end of his first year, decided it wasn't the path for him. I still remember the call he had with mom about his decision to change his major from Business to Asian American Studies. Mom was beside herself concerned about what kind of career could Jeff possibly have with a major in Asian American Studies. The discussion went back and forth, until Jeff placated mom and agreed he would attend law school after graduation. While in college, Jeff was an active member of the group advocating for the release of Chol Soo Lee. He wrote a couple of self-published fictional books about being Asian in America, Yancha (1981) and Maniwala Boy (1982). After college, Jeff spent a year in Los Angeles working at the Asian American Drug Abuse Program before entering law school at U.C. Hastings in San Francisco. He joined the San Francisco Public Defenders office in 1986, and was elected San Francisco's Public Defender in 2002. In 1995, Jeff established the Asian American Arts Foundation to support Asians in the Arts, and produced the Golden Ring Awards in 1995, 1997, and 1999 to honor Asian artists. As the San Francisco Public Defender, he was a champion of the marginalized and downtrodden creating community programs and advocating for racial justice, civil liberties, criminal justice reform and immigration rights. In between, he produced several movies including the Slanted Screen (2006), You Don't Know Jack: the Jack Soo Story (2009), America Needs a Racial Facial (2016), Defender (2017), and an unfinished film, Ricochet (2018). Jeff was a son, brother, husband, and father, a writer, film producer, and community advocate. Jeff always had big ideas and the voracity to see them to fruition. Had he lived, I think he would have had so much more to offer this world.
As for me, my life and career took a very different path. I have led large global and diverse organizations, managed global supply chains, and helped lead Industry and Government groups, but when it came to community involvement, although I felt I was doing my part in my own way, I was never a fierce advocate.
A string too brittle. A string too weak.
I wouldn’t say that my brother and I were close, but we knew that we always had each other's back. When we did get together, we would talk about silly things, as brothers often do: our jobs, the size of our organizations and annual budgets, traveling, working out, relationships, our worries, and our hopes and dreams. Jeff would often talk about his latest projects and ideas, but it was not until his passing, did I truly understand the impact he had to the many people and communities that he touched. In the days, weeks, and months that followed his death, the outpouring from the community was truly awe inspiring and left a deep impression on me.
Was my "good enough", enough?
Jeff's passing, made me take a pause to reflect more seriously than I ever had about family, life, and purpose; carrying forward Jeff's ideals; honoring our parents and family; inspiring life; helping those in need; the impermanence of life. If I were to do anything, not just for my family or in memory of my brother, but for all of us who aspire to do something good and worthwhile in our lifetimes, I needed to start now.