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Title: Mike Murase Interview II
Narrator: Mike Murase
Interviewer: Karen Umemoto
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: January 15, 2023
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-526-8

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KU: I'd like to move on to how that parleyed into becoming Chief of Staff for Congresswoman Maxine Waters. And I don't know what office she had exactly at that time.

MM: During the Jackson campaigns in the '80s, she was the assemblyman representing a district in South Central L.A. And she, again, looking at the history --

KU: Can you back up? Can you redo that by saying "Maxine Waters," so that my question is in there?

MM: Okay, yeah. So in the Jackson campaign, all presidential campaigns were divided up into separate individual state campaigns. And you have different times when you vote in the primary, right? But in California, they had to be a statewide organization, and then local entities below that. But I think given the history of Black America, and looking at... this is way before the campaigns themselves, but the Civil Rights Movement was led in many ways by the Black church and Black ministers. Because they were the community leaders, and they were the ones, in some cases, political leaders in the sense of providing political guidance. Because you remember that in the '50s and '60s, coming out of Jim Crow, coming out of the, a lot of the strife that was still going on, there were very few Black elected officials, particularly in the South, you have voter suppression laws that prevented Black people from exercising political power. So when it came to California, even though Congresswoman Maxine Waters was, at the time, a state assemblyperson, which is, in the scheme of things, state elected officials are a little lower in esteem and in power and a lot of other things, than members of congress or other national figures. But she became Jesse Jackson's main representative in California because of the work, because she's herself a progressive politician, and she had done a lot of work around a multitude of progressive domestic and international issues.

We had that, and then apart from... so Congresswoman Waters, I got introduced to her and started working in the Jackson campaign, and worked very closely with her. So once the two campaigns were over, I was thinking about going back to Legal Aid to be a lawyer again, or do something else. But I was given an opportunity to work on a number of different things in the Black community that congresswoman wanted me to stay around and work on (...), but I wasn't working in her office at the time. One of the jobs that I had was, we had an office in Nickerson Gardens, which is one of the largest, in fact, the largest public housing project west of the Mississippi. So the project was called Project Build. And what it was is to train people, not necessarily skills development, but how to find jobs, how to keep jobs. Because unemployment was a huge, huge issue in South Central L.A. And so we set up, and particularly among young Black men who were, many of them unemployed. And we can get into the whole thing about drugs and all of that, too, but anyway, so we tried to address employment issues. And so we would go around to the six housing projects in Watts and South Central, Nickerson Gardens, Imperial Courts, Jordan Downs, Hacienda, Avalon Gardens, I'm missing one or two. And we would set up seminars, it's a three-day seminar in which people come to learn about how to prepare to be part of the workforce. And there again, Congresswoman Waters was instrumental in getting the funds to do this, and so we would have the congresswoman come in the first day to talk to the participants, like I said, mostly young Black men. And she would give the "tough love" speech and say, "You got to do this," "You got to get yourself together," all this stuff. And then we would get into things like how to write a resume, or in many cases, the kind of jobs that were applying for didn't require a resume, it was more like a job application. So how do you fill out a job application? And there's a box that says, "Have you ever been arrested?" "Have you ever been convicted?" And a lot of, in those days... you have to answer those openly, and it was a stumbling block for many people. Because of the, how would you say, the practice of mass incarceration in this country that targeted the Black community in particular, you couldn't find young men who didn't have a record. Well, I'm exaggerating, but it was very difficult. So we did training on even things like, okay, well, you have to take the bus to get to work, and you have an interview at eight a.m. tomorrow morning. So you're going to have to practice. Let's look at -- we didn't have GPS then -- let's look at a map. You're going to get on this bus here at this corner, and then you're going to go to this corner, this corner. And we're going to practice, do a dry run of how long it takes to get there. So the day before, they're doing all of this, and then the next day, they're ready. And so they had to think about, okay, what system do you have for how you get yourself out of bed, how you wake up. Do you have an alarm? Do you have somebody that can wake you? All of those very mundane routines that people had to think through because they weren't used to that. And so we tried to do all those things. So that kind of organizing I did for (two) years, and then through that, I started working for Congresswoman Waters' office.

KU: You worked with her, as her... can you say what role you played, how long you worked there? You have 1992 to 2006, which is fourteen years, right?

MM: Yeah.

KU: Okay.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2023 Densho. All Rights Reserved.