Tonight, U.S. Olympic figure skating legend Kristi Yamaguchi shares her journey from gold medal to champion of childhood literacy and gives a preview as the Grand Marshal of the 2nd annual Japan Parade coming to Central Park on Saturday, May 13.

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Aired on May 11, 2023



Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.


Jenna: Hi, I am Jenna Flanagan.

The celebration of Japanese heritage and culture is returning to Manhattan.

The second annual parade, a festival of Japanese art, history, and tradition will take over Central Park West led by this year's Gregg Marshall, Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi.

The event comes after the great success of last year's parade.

Kristi is here to tell us more about what to expect this time around and will also tell us about her work and passion in the field of childhood literacy, part of her ongoing chasing the dream initiative.

I would like to welcome Olympic figure skating champion and founder of the always dream foundation Kristi Yamaguchi.

It is so great to have you on.

So great to be here.

Jenna: Let's talk about the parade that will be happening.

You will be Gregg Marshall of the Japan parade first of all.

Since so many parades take place in New York, tell us about this parade and what people can expect.

Kristi: First off it is a huge honor to have been asked to be the Gregg Marshall.

It is only the second annual, and I am following in the footsteps of the great George Takei, who was the very first Gregg Marshall last year, and it is really a celebration of the friendship between Japan and New York City and celebrating the culture, the Japanese culture, so there will be lots of fun, festive things happening.

You know, Japanese dancing and music, drumming, Naruto, the popular animated series will have a presence.

They have a live performance that that happens.

And at the parade obviously, so it should be a fun day celebrating friendship and the connection and being Japanese-American, kind of that bridge I think between York city and America and Japan, so really looking forward to it.

Jenna: Well, if you would, could you tell us a bit about your own family's history, your Japanese heritage and what your family is experienced in America?

Kristi: Yes, we have an interesting history here.

I am actually fourth-generation Japanese-American, and during World War II, both sides of my family, my mom's side and my dad's side were interned in the Japanese-American internment camps, so you know, lost everything, torn from their homes and lives pretty much uprooted for 3 to 5 years, and my mom was actually born in a Colorado internment camp.

While her dad was in Europe fighting for the U.S., so interesting times.

I think, you know, a lot of hardship and mistakes may be and panic, wartime panic, but it is amazing to see that just one generation later I was able to go and pursue the American dream and follow my dream of being an Olympian, so yeah.

Jenna: I think that is very interesting.

One of the things we try to touch on especially when we talk about New York's Asian communities is how long Pistorius.

You are saying you are fourth-generation.

It is an incredibly important part of the conversation, and also the visibility, because again, New York City being New York, I know a lot of people are familiar with Chinatown, etc., but to celebrate the Japanese experience in the Japanese presence in New York seems special.

Kristi: Absolutely, because there is actually a lot bigger Japanese and Japanese-American presence in New York City, and I am even learning that.

That is why I am really looking forward to celebrating this day to see the community come out and show their support and show their pride and everything, so yeah, I think it is really important, and especially the pass few years have been have -- past few years have been tough on Asian Americans.

Here in the San Francisco Bay area where I am located and also New York City, somewhat anti-Asian hate, and I think being able to celebrate an incredible culture and to provide people with a way to learn a little bit more and discover and eventually appreciate and hopefully come to a point where it is like, OK, there is not anything to be afraid of.

Please accept and spread the kindness a little bit more.

Jenna: No, of course, that is wonderful, and speaking of learning more, tell us a little more about your organization.

Kristi: Always dream I founded back in 1996, which is hard to believe.

It has been over 25 years.

It has always been about the basic hopes and dreams of children.

11 years ago we honed our focus into early child literacy, really believing that education is the foundation upon which you build dreams, and we do that by making sure that families from low income communities have access to high-quality books, and not only providing those resources, but also providing critical family engagement support, because we really want the families to understand how critical their role is in their child's learning at home.

By empowering them, they are really setting up their child to let you know, have that foundation and success in school and eventually later on in life.

Every child deserves to have a book and someone to read that book to them, and engage with them.

Jenna: Also, your journey as an Olympic gold medalist I think is super fascinating, and I am wondering what it is that you draw from that experience of building yourself into this world-class athlete that you were able to then take and applied to the world of philanthropy?

Kristi: I think a lot of the inspiration came from realizing how fortunate I was.

My parents, my family, my community, my coaches.

I was so fortunate to have incredible support system and to go after my dreams, and I think it was one thing every child out there to have that same opportunity no matter whether dream is to be.

A firefighter, teacher, Dr., it may be an Olympian -- doctor, maybe an Olympian.

Not only to provide inspiration but to provide resources to help them go after their dreams.

Leveling the playing field a little bit and providing some equity, so that all children have that opportunity.

So yeah, I think realizing and the hard work, the focus, the dedication that went into being an athlete is something that definitely translated into post-Olympic life, how do I channel that and make a difference?

Jenna: Of course, of course, and speaking of equity for so many children, we are now seeing reports from educators that Covid created I guess it be a devastating impact for so many kids in terms of their education loss.

Zoom might work for two adults doing an interview but maybe not for kids learning in school, so I am wondering what was it that your organization learned about who was impacted, and how badly that was?

Kristi: Yes, it was a tough two years for sure.

Our program, our reading program targets four and five-year-olds, so pre-k and kindergarten.

And because it is a home-based program, we were very lucky.

We did not have to make too many adjustments during the pandemic.

I think that is when we learned, wow, how tough it is and how hard that role of parent-teacher at home is.

The learning loss is real, for sure.

I think we are still recovering, and I think that recovery will take another couple of years to really have everyone catch up.

Jenna: Of course, and how light -- what are some of the best practices that your organization suggests to help parents support their young children in their literacy journey?

Kristi: I mean, first off it is helping them understand that, yes, that is a huge role that they can play and that we want them to play, and then two, it is giving them the tools.

Our reading program has three different modules throughout the year, and the first module is called ask me a question.

Sorry, not asking questions, picture walking.

We ask them to sit down with the child and look at a book, look at the pictures.

They do not necessarily even have to read it, but point out what they see.

What colors or look at the tree and aren't those flowers pretty?

All of that is vocabulary and brain development and connections that are happening with their child.

Our second module is asking questions, and that that point we are encouraging and helping the family ask the questions to their child while they are reading like what do you think happens next in the story, or what was your favorite part, things like that, and that turned -- the third module is taking what they learned and connecting it to their own life and world around them.

So it is all of those little tips and strategies that we try to provide the families and the parents, yeah, to just empower them.

Jenna: All right, well, on that note, Kristi Yamaguchi, huge personal fan myself.

I am excited to hear about the work you have taken on and also looking forward to seeing you in the parade, so thank you so much for joining us on MetroFocus.

Kristi: Thank you for having me.

I look forward to seeing everyone out there at the parade.

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