Unify LA: Changing hearts, changing communities

Upcoming Los Angeles Father’s Day event aims to strengthen and unify diverse cultures and neighborhoods bringing hope and unity before social unrest can occur.

Unify LA poster.
Poster for Unify LA event, coming Sunday, June 21.

LOS ANGELES, June 17, 2015 — There’s a movement bubbling up in Los Angeles County that’s gone little noticed by the media. “Unify LA” hasn’t attracted the attention of a sensationalist press or seen any coverage on CNN. Yet on Father’s Day, June 21, 2015, thousands of people will be convening at the Staples Center under that banner to celebrate racial and spiritual unity in the city of Los Angeles.

According to Unify LA’s website, its leaders “believe real change in our communities starts first from ‘changing hearts.’ The purpose of UnifyLA is to unite our diverse cultures and neighborhoods with a positive message of hope and acceptance.”

It’s indeed a remarkable story. That’s because the stated motivation of organizers behind the event is to coalesce the myriad ethnic groups in what is possibly the world’s largest and most diverse city to help bring peace to this community before Los Angeles potentially experiences the ethnic division, riots and broad-scale social unrest that has recently visited inner-city communities from Ferguson to Baltimore.

The painful experience of those two cities is not like the unrest that has visited Los Angeles before. Many area residents still recall the riots that erupted in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating in 1992, and, further back, the violent and destructive Watts riots of 1965.

Reflecting on those times, many are likewise afraid that history could repeat itself. The latest potential flashpoint: the recent police shooting of unarmed, mentally handicapped black male Ezell Ford.

This incident has raised the anger of many L.A. residents to the boiling point, particularly in anticipation of a lawsuit being brought against the officers involved in the shooting. The fear is that, depending on the sequence of events and results, Los Angeles might well erupt in the same chaos that has been overflowing elsewhere.

In the current political environment, the fires of anger and division can flare into violence and destruction in an instant. But a positive movement toward reconciliation takes time and patience to build.

Motivational speaker Nick Vujicic with Manny Pacquiao and family.
Motivational speaker Nick Vujicic with Manny Pacquiao and family. (Via Unify LA)

Unify LA, which will feature globally celebrated motivational speaker and L.A. resident Nick Vujicic, popular local artists such as Chinese-American gospel singer Larissa Lam and Christian rapper and Compton native “Lazarus” and Joel Gaines of the Jazz Crusaders, was conceived by successful but little known Japanese businessman Mark Tsuneishi, of Tsuneishi Insurance in Torrance.

Mark’s father, the Rev. Arthur Tsuneishi, was a pastor with the Holiness Alliance and at one time pastor of the largest Japanese church in Los Angeles. But even with that element in his family background, Mark Tsuneishi himself initially seemed an unlikely candidate to spark a faith-based, multi-ethnic campaign for reconciliation in America’s largest city, let alone launch a successful event to support that effort in just six months with little money available to back it.

Yet this is precisely the vision he presented to a small group of community leaders in January 2015, an audience that included Pastor Scott Fairchild of CrossRoad Ministries in Gardena. Some present at this meeting were skeptical of the proposed idea. But most were enthusiastic that such an undertaking could, and should, be done.

“I serve a church that is widely diverse,” Pastor Fairchild said, explaining his commitment to Unify LA. “My children’s adopted ‘grandparents’ include a Filipino lady and a Cajun grandma, as she likes to refer to herself…We are an example to the world that Jesus does break down dividing walls…”

Despite the obvious obstacles involved in organizing such a large-scale event and in spite of the tenacity with which many church organizations cling to their independence, the effort behind Unify LA soon began to pick up steam. Momentum picked up when Unify LA gained the official support and participation of significant community and faith-based groups like the Watts Area Ministers conference, the Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society, the Dream Center and ministries and organizations from South L.A. to the South Bay.

When world-renowned Australian evangelist and motivational speaker Nick Vujicic – who, as fate would have it, is concluding an international speaking tour and returning to L.A. just prior to the event – signed on to participate as the main attraction, it seemed clear that something special was beginning to unfold. Vujicic, 32, who was born without limbs, has inspired thousands around the world with his story, proving that even the greatest obstacles can be overcome with bravery, perseverance and faith.

When recently asked what had sparked his passion to see the different racial groups come together in Los Angeles, Mark Tsuneishi spoke at length about his father and his desire to tear down the walls of racism.

“Growing up in the ‘60s, I remember my Dad was really influenced by what he saw in the civil rights movement,” he said. “He was real fond of what Rev. King was doing. Father believed in equality because he suffered discrimination.”

Mark also discussed what he and his siblings experienced as the only Asian children in a nearly all-black school with a heavy gang population, located in inner city San Diego. Mark’s mother was initially afraid that her children would be in danger. But his father became a part of the community, ministering and helping their neighbors in different ways.

“We were in an inner-city school (in San Diego). Gang members used to come by and speak to my dad on the front porch. They respected my dad because my dad would go to their churches and preach.”

Some might assume that with Unify LA, Mark Tsuneishi is seeking to honor his father’s legacy. But on that point he would only say, “If my dad were alive, I think he’d be happy with what I’m doing.”

As a result of the efforts of Mark Tsuneishi and his fellow organizers, thousands of people from across Los Angeles will be heading to Staples Center this Father’s Day to “Unify” Los Angeles in the face of current ethnic division and civil unrest.

It’s hard to think of any event like this that has taken place in Los Angeles before or that is taking place anywhere else in the country. But perhaps this will change. In a nation that at times struggles to promote peace and understanding among its many cultures and colors, a movement like Unify LA sets an example for everyone to follow.

Unify LA will take place June 21, 2015, at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

For more information and to purchase tickets: Visit the Unify LA website, or call (310) 729-7654.

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