April 2019 marked the 32nd year of the Northern California Cherry Blossom Community Service Scholarship Program for graduating seniors of Japanese descent. Administered by the San Francisco Nikkei Lions Club, the program awards two $2,500 scholarships to deserving high school graduates going to college. Applicants were required to attend an accredited high school with a grade point average minimum of 2.5 on a scale of 4.0 and be actively involved in her or his local community. The winners were selected on the basis of commitment to their community, written essays, academic achievement, and personal character. The scholarships were awarded to Tomi Toshiye Suzuki Ejima and LaPaula Parker in 2019.
Tomi Toshiye Suzuki Ejima is a graduating senior from Lowell High School with a weighted grade point average of 4.00. She is the daughter of Tami Suzuki and Richard Eijima of San Francisco and plans on attending Occidental College majoring in Sociology. Tomi has participated in the Bay Area Writing Project and the Pitzer College Fall Diversity Program. She has been a participant in the Shinzen Youth Goodwill Ambassador Program between the United States and Japan.
She has also participated in the Granada (Apache) Relocation Center National Historic Site’s archaeological dig since 2018. She is currently involved in fundraising to repair damage to the historical internment structures and is helping in the lobbying to gain passage of a U.S. Senate legislation to make it into a National Historic Park. Participating in the Granada archaeological study where her grandfather was incarcerated during WWII allowed Tomi to discover that former internees spoke of creating breath and “normalcy” from darkness which gave her optimism and a greater respect and appreciation for those who have endured discrimination.
Additionally, Tomi has been involved with the National Japanese American Historical Society in its annual Bay Area “Day of Remembrance,” commemorating the signing of Executive Order (EO) 9066, the infamous EO that sent the Japanese American community to the relocation camps in 1942. A staff member of the Shinzen Program writes that Tomi’s gratitude, something rare in teenagers these days, stood out in whatever task she undertook. “As a young adult, she has made being part of the community a priority.” Her varsity basketball coach adds, “She has combined her willingness to work and her unwavering loyalty to help build community in classrooms, school and in our larger community. I know our team is better off with her.”
LaPaula Parker is a graduating senior from Benicia High School with a weighted grade point average of 4.50. This young Japanese/African American is the daughter of QuaMesaha Mason of Vallejo and plans on attending either UCLA, Stanford or Howard majoring in Political Science. She has participated on the Varsity Girl’s Tennis Team, Varsity Track and Field Team, and has been the Vice President of the Speech and Debate Team.
Upon entering a new school, LaPaula experienced a cultural shock since the overwhelming majority of the faces “weren’t like mine.” While her classmates studied her from a distance and her “confidence wavered because [her] ambition and intelligence couldn’t fit into their view of a black girl, [she] found [her] purpose to educate [her] peers, debunk their stereotypes and prove that [she] belonged.” Her experience led to her creating the Cultural Girl Mentorship Program (CGMP) which mentors and instructs middle school girls. Many in the high school proclaimed that the program had been “long overdue”.
LaPaula notes that “a lack of diversity and cultural awareness regarding ethnic minority communities prevents the next group of young voters, participants, and leaders from receiving culturally diverse and accurate information. Learning about the history and contributions of ethnic minority groups like African Americans and Japanese Americans has made me more conscious of the society that engulfs me.” A representative from the Office of Congressman Mike Thompson where LaPaula has been an intern writes that LaPaula has taken a leadership role in their Congressional Student Leader Council. “As a young African American
woman, she knows the hardships firsthand for girls struggling to be recognized and succeed. Her latest project was to help organize Benicia’s first Women’s March on January 19, 2019”. Her Social Studies teacher describes LaPaula as “a leader and a role model who our younger students look up to, and she easily generates rapport with her peers and adults. Ms. Parker is an active and dynamic presence on campus and within the surrounding community.”