GUY KUROSE DEVOTED LIFE TO HELPING YOUTH
(Adapted from article by Dennis Fitzgerald)
When Guy Kurose passed away last month, Seattle lost a
talented and passionate teacher, counselor, volunteer and
mentor. In Southeast Seattle, the loss of Kurose, son of
famed peace activist Aki Kurose, is being felt especially
among youths of color and the people who work with them.
Guy Kurose died on Oct. 26, 2002, of complications related
to cancer. He was 49. Hundreds attended a memorial
ceremony honoring his life earlier this month. Kurose was
remembered as a true friend to many young men whose lives
had turned toward gangs, drugs and crime, but who sought
help to become law-abiding, productive citizens again. He
provided that help.
An activist since his early teens, Kurose spent most of his
life seeking to correct injustices and empower the
powerless, according to his brother Paul, a teacher at
Rainier Beach High School. He fought for housing for low-
income elderly residents and squared off against pimps who
were preying on the elderly in what was then simply called
He joined the Black Panther Party (BPP) in 1968, at age 14,
and worked on the breakfast program and marched in rallies.
He skipped classes at Franklin High School to attend
demonstrations for Indian fishing rights.
Paul said his brother followed his own conscience and didn't
adhere to society's image of a typical Japanese American.
"That's something he was proud of."
Guy worked for a time as a luxury car salesman and as a
sales associate at Nordstrom. He studied political science
at the University of Washington and religion and martial
arts at Tenri University in Japan. Already a talented
martial artist, Kurose returned to Seattle in 1992 a master,
a sixth-degree black belt. He spoke Japanese fluently.
He had a strong desire to reach out to young people -
especially those of color - and help them avoid getting
caught up in gangs and trouble. He worked with gang members
to help them sever their ties to the groups.
Kurose began teaching karate at Rainier Beach Community
Center, a service he would offer for nearly 10 years. He
got a job from an old friend, Alan Sugiyama, executive
director of the Center for Career Alternatives. "I thought
he would be the perfect person to work with some of these
hard-head kids," Sugiyama said. In the early 1990s, Asian-
American youth - especially Pacific Islanders - were forming
aggressive and violent gangs. Sugiyama said that Kurose
worked with young people in his off-hours and on weekends.
"Some of the things he did were just masterful."
Rather than preaching at groups of kids, Kurose would buy
them lunch and talk to them one-on-one. He found jobs and
housing for young men trying to shake their gang
affiliations. He found scholarships for those who wanted to
continue their education but lacked the resources.
Sugiyama said that even the toughest kids listened to Kurose
because he treated them with respect and told them the
truth; he didn't talk down to them. And they respected him
for another good reason: They knew "he could kick their
In addition to his youth-intervention work at the Center for
Career Alternatives, Kurose was working in partnership with
former Black Panther leader Aaron Dixon on a transitional
housing project. (Dixon established the Seattle Chapter of
the BPP, the first chapter outside of California in 1968.)*
He remembers Kurose from the Black Panther days. He recalls
a passionate and principled youth. But it was much later
that the two became the best of friends. Dixon moved back
to Seattle about the same time as Kurose. They began
working together on gang-intervention efforts in the early
'90s. They were awarded a contract from the Seattle Jobs
Initiative to conduct workshops with convicted felons,
teaching job skills, helping them change their lives.
"We were kind of on the same wavelength, if you know what I
mean," Dixon said. "We had really become best friends."
They formed a consulting business together. About five
years ago, they began making plans to create a nonprofit
organization to develop housing for young men and women
making the transition to adulthood and self-sufficiency.
The program they created, called Central House, was to
provide a temporary home to about 16 people, age 18 to 26,
some of them emerging from the criminal justice system.
Dixon said of Kurose, "One of the things I really
appreciated and liked about him was that he was his own
person. He did things the way he thought they should be
done." Social service workers often disapproved of Kurose's
willingness to let youths who were trying to get out of
gangs stay at his house, Dixon said. You weren't supposed
to get that close to the people you were trying to help.
But Kurose knew that if he hadn't provided a safe place for
those kids, they would have ended up seeking the shelter of
the gang. They had nowhere else to go.
Paul Kurose said that his brother's work affected a lot of
lives. When Paul first became a teacher at Rainier Beach,
many Pacific Islander students immediately considered him a
friend when they discovered he was Guy's brother. "They all
knew him and loved him," Paul said.
Guy also loved jazz. He had been a disc jockey at KRAB for
a while in the 1970s. He had many close friends in the
music industry, Paul said, including jazz trombone legend
Julian Priester. Guy was Priester's son's godfather.
Sugiyama said Kurose worked all hours, seven days a week to
help people. "Anytime somebody needed something, he was
Editor's note: Guy was instrumental in establishing strong
relationships with a lot of Native American groups in the
Seattle area. Guy was the Black Panther Party contact with
Leonard Peltier and other Native Americans fighting for