Fr. Russo, Justher Gutierrez, and Wendy Tokuda
By Justher Gutierrez
Standing proudly at 5 foot 2 inches and draped in a bright fucshia scarf, Wendy Tokuda looked on with bright eyes at the students of Virginia Prior’s American Journalism class. “I was not much older than you when this tape begins,” she said as her news anchor reel began to play on the projector. In many ways, Tokuda represents hope: Hope for the budding journalists seated in the classroom as well as the college hopefuls in the Students Rising Above campaign. During the highlight reel, Tokuda was shown at various stages of her career, slowly aging as the film progressed.
Tokuda, now retired from anchoring, lit up as she recalled her days as a news anchor to the class of young adults. Her passion for the field remained as certain as ever. “We come from different generations, but the aspects of journalism remain the same,” she said, addressing the students. “We find the truth and tell it.”
For Tokuda and her journalism career, the truth involved telling the stories of those who have not been heard from. One of her biggest projects was a series looking back at the Japanese internment camps. These stories touched Tokuda personally, as both of her parents had met while they were interned. This personal touch posed a challenge for the journalist.
“What was hard was being Japanese American and being objective,” she said.
However, Tokuda wasn’t always willing to take on stories with such an emotional component. When she had first started out in the business, she was told not to do “women’s stories” – which was essentially another way to refer to fluff pieces. Recalling the absurdity of that comment, Tokuda assumed the stance of a hyper-masculine reporter, complete with a gruff voice. After a while as an anchor, she realized that women fought very hard to be in those positions, and that it isn’t necessarily bad to cover stories that are outside the hard-hitting and immediately relevant realm of politics and natural disasters.
“As I got more confident, I started to realize that the stories I was best at were the ones that had emotion,” she said.
In 1998, Tokuda began a series of profiles on local youth who had overcome tremendous odds. These profiles eventually snowballed into the organization Students Rising Above, which currently helps to provide scholarships for extraordinary youth. Many of the youth profiled continue their high school education in spite of many challenges, such as raising siblings all on their own.
With 75% of the students profiled being below the poverty line, Students Rising Above continues to give voice to a group that faces tremendous struggles. After showing the class one of the profiles, she explained “Our goal with these stories is to open the window so that everyone can see what’s happening in these little tiny apartments in east Oakland.”
Tokuda was quick to point out, however, that stories of struggle happen all around the Bay Area. “These kids, they live all around us. they live everywhere,” she said, her tone serious. It was evident that these stories affected her greatly, and her energy slowed significantly when she began talking about a student in the program who had died of cancer.
She was able to move on easily, however, regaining an anchor’s collected demeanor.
During the span of her career, Tokuda was assigned to cover many big stories, from the Loma Prieta earthquake to the LA riots. These experiences were not without their share of challenges, whether it was witnessing a parking lot “move like jello” or being witness to the hate and anger that spurred riots.
Tokuda’s willingness to face challenges gives hope to many, and though she is no longer an anchor, she continues to provide hope today.