Taking Initiative and Being a Self-Starter with Kenyon Mayeda

I recently got a chance to sit down with JANM’s new Chief Impact Officer, Kenyon Mayeda, to talk about what he has learned so far on his own professional journey and advice he has for young professionals as they navigate their own careers.

During the summer of his first year at the University of San Francisco, he was accepted into the Nikkei Community Internship program, a paid two-month internship program for undergraduate students to gain valuable work experience, establish their network, and meet leaders in the Japanese American community. He was placed in JANM’s Development department, where he was able to make connections with other Japantown leaders and executive directors.

“In particular Jon Osaki was really trying to see how I could get more involved with the Japanese Community Youth Council in the Japantown up there. That was a really formative experience for me as a jump-off point from going to the internship working at JANM to continuing to do the work and working with kids at JCYC,” said Mayeda. “You really have to take initiative and be a self-starter, especially in community organizations. It was an interesting experience to be at an intersection of my own personal identity and history and learn how to work in a professional environment.”

Upon graduating college, he lived and worked in San Francisco’s Japantown, where he discovered a need for boundaries between his personal and professional lives.

“I was spending so much of my personal time in Japantown. I was so intent and motivated to learn about the issues that were going on in the neighborhood that I sort of forgot to take care of myself,” he said. “When I found myself at an intersection of burnout, I really had to make a choice to see if I could explore another facet both of my own identity and continue to learn professionally about different environments.”

His decision led him to work at Cathay Bank, where he made his way from trainee to overseeing the bank’s regional branches in Seattle. Over time, he settled into the city and was able to connect community organizations’ issues, projects, and programs with the bank’s resources. While in Seattle, he also learned the importance of volunteering at the community level to discover and better understand who was being served by community organizations.

“Once I started volunteering it really fast tracked me to meeting folks that grew up there and I think that was a really important milestone. There’s something called the Seattle freeze, where it’s notoriously difficult to get a social network of people in Seattle. I can attest that it’s pretty true. In the early years of me being there I really only interacted with other California transplants but after I started doing more community work and I participated in a leadership development program that was planted in Chinatown International District, that’s when my network really opened up to meeting folks that had spent their whole lives in the area and knew a lot about the history and the community.”

With a deep knowledge and understanding of West Coast communities, he transitioned into marketing and advertising at TDW+Co where he applied a community-minded perspective to strategies that helped clients make authentic connections with communities. One of those examples he gave was the work that the agency did as part of Team Y&R, the advertising and communications team of thirteen agencies who have worked with multicultural and historically undercounted groups, for the 2020 Census’s “Shape Your Future. Start Here.” advertising campaign.

“It’s such a critical issue to count everyone here in the United States and activate in these communities where nonprofits and other community organizations can see the critical importance of ensuring accurate population numbers are guiding budgeting and funding decisions that support the Asian American community.”

He rose from senior account executive to vice president of operations and established the agency’s Los Angeles branch on 2nd Street, just two blocks away from JANM.

“Surprisingly, when I came back I sort of came home in several different ways. I came home because of the physical city I grew up in but I also came home in the sense that I was hired to open and expand this agency. I knew that because they started in Chinatown International District in Seattle and I knew and learned the identity of that neighborhood. I knew that the closest possible community to that experience and that level of connection was Little Tokyo.”

Today, Mayeda brings over twenty years of leadership, strategy, and institution-wide performance and impact to his current work with JANM and he continues to hone his leadership experience through board service including the Chinese Information Service Center, the California Japanese American Community Leadership Council, and the US-Japan Council, where he is the Southern California regional chair.

“As the chief impact officer, thinking about things in the long range format is really to think about how we can continue to deepen those connections in public places.  We are the Japanese American National Museum, so for me it’s about really considering how we bolster the conditions of a national Japanese American community when we are very much an institution at a local level in LA that’s very familiar and known. Then there’s the international layer of it where we consider how we’ve been forging sister museum relationships with the Museum of Modern Art, Wakayama as well as considering how we can grow our connections with Japanese companies because there is interest in Japanese Americans and the Japanese American experience which is at the core of our mission at the Museum.”

Images from top left:

  • The 2004 class of the Nikkei Community Internship program. Photo courtesy of NCI program via Discover Nikkei.
  • Kenyon interning in JANM’s Development department in 2004. Photo courtesy of Kenyon Mayeda.
  • Kenyon today as JANM’s Chief Impact Officer. Photo courtesy of Kenyon Mayeda.

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