Junkoh Harui: A living legacy

Junkoh Harui’s artistry and knowledge of plants was legendary, even while he was alive. Fortunately, his work persists in tranquil oases of beauty, such as the library’s Haiku garden and Bainbridge Gardens. But Junkoh also leaves a less visible but no less important legacy about which many islanders today may not be aware.

About 18 years ago, a small band of white supremacists targeted Bainbridge Island as a “predominately white laboratory” where they planned to eradicate non-whites. They moved to a rental on Sands Road near the High School Road intersection and immediaely placed hate leaflets at the high school, on cars owned by citizens of Japanese ancestry, and other places.

We believe it was Junkoh who was one of the first recipients of such hate mongering and who brought the leaflets to the attention of the school district’s multicultural committee and the Inter-Parish Council (IPC), of which Rev. Don Mayer was chair.

The IPC ‘s monthly meeting was the venue for the first initial response of the community; for the first time ever, a whole crowd came to the IPC meeting. The multi-cultural committee was also involved. And then Mayor Sam Granato quickly appointed Robin Hunt and Gina Corpuz (Vicente) co-chairs of a task force to combat this hate group. Junkoh served on this task force with us, along with Rabbi Scott Sperling, and others. Although not an official chairperson, Junkoh was our leader for planning and action.

Several of us on the task force received alarming anonymous phone calls threatening rape, ending with “Heil Hitler,” and other messages designed to intimidate us. Don , Junkoh (we believe), and others from the task force received anonymous pizza deliveries they had not ordered, which also appeared to be veiled threats – the supremacists wanted us to know that they had figured out where we all lived and could reach us at any time.

Then Police Chief John Sutton placed Officer Phil Hawkin in charge of coordinating all law enforcement incidents related to this hate group. The police kept an eye on the supremacists but were unable to catch them in an act for which they could arrest. Nor did the telephone taps, placed with our permission following the threatening phone calls, produce results.

Meanwhile, more hate leaflets kept surfacing, more widespread than before. We on the task force were frightened for ourselves, our families, and community. But with the support of the police and Junkoh’s unwavering example, we held firm. This took courage.

Junkoh may have appeared soft in outward manner, but he was quietly fierce in his commitment to our mission. Experienced experts told us that the worst thing would be for us to cower in silence, and the most effective action was for the community to speak out that we would not tolerate such hate mongering here. It was Junkoh who crafted the words, “A strike against one is a strike against us all,” which introduced a double-page centerfold in the Review with a public message to the hate group that they would not succeed in threatening or trying to eliminate targeted minorities in our community.

Following this declaration were two full pages of names of hundreds of individual islanders of all backgrounds, ages, races, beliefs, and heritages, standing together against this insidious but unseen foe. At about this same time, joined by countless adults and the media, our students organized a march from the high school down into Winslow as another public statement that we as a community would stand together and speak out against the hate group’s threats.

Eventually the hate group gave up on Bainbridge Island and left for Olympia, where, tragically, they murdered a young Asian man. And our grateful island, led by Junkoh and others, participated in a series of community workshops to educate each other about our myriad, often thoughtless, seemingly innocuous words and actions.

Co-sponsored by the IPC, one of the first workshops occurred at the Madison Avenue Fire Station, featuring a panel consisting of Mussa Al-Balushi speaking for Islam, Ted Ruys speaking for the B’hai faith, Rabbi Scott Sperling speaking for Judiasm and Rev. Don Mayer speaking for Christians. This meeting, and the discovery that many faith leaders did not know each other, eventually led to changing in the IPC’s name to the Inter-Faith Council and inclusion of non-Christian faiths for the first time.

The workshops, inspired by the vision of Junkoh and others, brought together many diverse people and points of view, in hopes that by becoming more mindful, we would conduct ourselves more respectfully of one another in the future – Junkoh’s dream.

In addition to his more visible exquisite landscapes, Junkoh left a legacy of leadership, courage and integrity, a quiet stalwart bedrock of this community. May this unseen but precious core of Junkoh’s legacy inspire us to fulfill his dream as a living tribute to this extraordinary man and his many gifts.

Rev. Don Mayer, member, and (Judge) Robin Hunt, co-chair,

Former Bainbridge Task Force Against Malicious Harassment

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