Yoshi Akiba was born in Japan, she lost both her parents at the age of five. Raised in an orphanage near a U.S. military base, she was exposed to music and dance at an early age. She married a U.S. military officer, moving to the U.S.

In the early 1960s, she studied art and dance at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. With the arts still burning her soul, she packed two suitcases and left for San Francisco.

Inspired by the cultural revolution that engulfed the Bay Area at the time, Yoshi continued her dance studies at UC Berkeley. After raising $7,000 from friends and acquaintances, she and two partners, Kaz Kajimura and Hiroyuki Hori, opened a Japanese restaurant near campus in 1972.

Those living in the Bay Area know her work through the restaurant that offers live jazz and Japanese cuisine that bears her name: Yoshi's -- one of the most significant jazz venues in the country and a cultural oasis for music lovers in the Bay Area.

Akiba has teamed up with Jason Hofmann, a former teacher who shares her passion for the arts, to address a void that is pervasive in public education, but in particular Oakland.

They founded the nonprofit 51Oakland to raise money for children's arts and music programs.

"We started the nonprofit by engaging all the public school music teachers in Oakland. Rather than having some preconceived idea of how we can help teachers in the schools, we thought it best to have teachers, principals, and the community itself build 51Oakland based on need," Hofmann said.


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As a result of these discussions 51Oakland has embarked on three major focus areas:

  • Building a bridge between Yoshi's Oakland and the schools. 51Oakland will send musicians to work with students in the public schools, serving as instructors and mentors.

  • Yoshi's Oakland will showcase students from public schools. This will provide a platform for students to display their talents live.

  • Partner with other nonprofits to enhance their work. By fostering a community of nonprofits committed to the arts will only improve the overall outcome.

    It has been well documented that involvement in the arts coincides with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Moreover, arts learning can improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork.

    A 2005 report by the Rand Corporation puts forth the argument that arts education "can connect people more deeply to the world and open them to new ways of seeing," creating the foundation to forge social bonds and community cohesion.

    Arts education in public schools helps close a gap that has left many students behind. More affluent families possess the ability to introduce their children to arts education whether or not it is offered in school. This is less likely for low-income families.

    According to Eric Cooper, president of the National Urban Alliance, "Arts education enables those children from a financially challenged background to have a more level playing field with children who have had those enrichment experiences."

    The emphasis placed on math and science has been at the peril of arts education. Ironically, the arts can make math and science relevant to students in ways the latter categories cannot achieve alone.

    On Monday, Don Reed, who attended Fremont High School in Oakland, will perform his one-man show at Yoshi's entitled, "The Kipling Hotel-The 80s." The proceeds from this event will support the work of 51Oakland.

    For several decades Yoshi's is a brand that stood for bringing excellent music to the Bay Area. If 51Oakland meets it's goals, the Yoshi's brand may also be synonymous with unearthing the next Miles Davis, John Coltrane, or simply unleashing the passions of an Oakland student that may have otherwise remained dormant.

    Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or byron@byronspeaks.com.