50kstrong

Developing Youth In Our Chapters

Toward the gathering of 50,000 youth in 2018, each chapter in the SGI-USA is taking the lead to dynamically develop the youth. This month, we interviewed chapter youth leaders.

Hunter Ferguson (front) with his West Harlem Chapter comrades in faith (left–right) Raheem, Evan and Josh. Photo: Marc Giannavola.


Q: What inspired you to take leadership as a chapter youth leader?

Hunter Ferguson /
New York, New York
West Harlem Chapter
Young Men’s Leader

A: When I attended my first meeting in early 2015, I knew right away that the principles and philosophy of Buddhism aligned with me, and I received the Gohonzon two weeks later.

Last summer, my struggles led me to dive deeper into my practice, chanting and studying Nichiren Buddhism more than ever. I tapped into something deeper in my life that changed my perspective on where I wanted to be and how I wanted to get there.

The young men’s leaders supporting me have shining life conditions. I know this comes from sharing Buddhism with others and caring for the members. I wanted to shine more in my life, too. So when I was asked to take on chapter leadership, even though I knew it was a lot of responsibility, I immediately said, “Yes.” It was the care of my leaders that helped get me to where I am today, so I wanted to care for the newer members in the same way.

My motto is, “Never be discouraged!”
I’m determined to keep reaching out
to the young men in my chapter and
move enthusiastically forward.

As I’m getting to know the members in my chapter, I always ask myself, What is the best way to connect with these young men? It can be hard when members don’t respond to my efforts to reach out to them, but my motto is, “Never be discouraged!” I’m determined to keep reaching out to the young men in my chapter and move enthusiastically forward.

With my chapter team, we talk every day about our efforts to share Buddhism and the members we are visiting, affirming the importance of communication. Seeing the other leaders fighting for kosen-rufu inspires me to fight harder.

Based on President Ikeda’s call to work hard with him over the next two years (see October 7, 2016, World Tribune, p. 2), I’m determined to elevate my practice more than ever before and am excited to see where my life will be in 2018. I’m determined to have 250 young men in my chapter, so we can show Sensei that “New York has got this!”


Jenny Larson (standing, second from right) with SGI members from Emerald Coast and Gulf Coast Chapters in Mary Esther, Florida. Photo courtesy of Jenny Larson.
Jenny Larson (standing, second from right) with SGI members from Emerald Coast and Gulf Coast Chapters in Mary Esther, Florida. Photo courtesy of Jenny Larson.

Jenny Larson /
Fort Walton Beach, Florida
Emerald Coast Chapter
Young Women’s Leader

A: When I began attending SGI meetings in 2010, I immediately wanted to practice Buddhism with the SGI, because it was unlike anything I’d experienced. I love getting involved in things, so I was engaged in youth meetings from the beginning. It was inspiring to see how hard the youth leaders were striving to create something in our small organization. Attending the Rock the Era youth gathering in July 2010 was extremely powerful, and I left feeling like I was part of a united struggle to change our society.

When my seniors in faith asked me to take on leadership in the SGI, I agreed, not fully understanding what I was doing. But over time, I learned through being around other leaders, hearing others’ experiences and studying. And the amazing support from the women’s division has been the greatest source of my growth. The women genuinely care for me and always share SGI President Ikeda’s guidance with me.

I deepened my understanding of
President Ikeda’s heart to always
care for the person in front of him.
I determined to put 100 percent
into my responsibilities.

The biggest shift for me took place last year when I hit rock bottom. My women’s co-leader encouraged me to study The New Human Revolution. Through reading this novel, I deepened my understanding of President Ikeda’s heart to always care for the person in front of him. I determined to put 100 percent into my responsibilities. As a result, I broke through my struggles and developed conviction that as long I put kosen-rufu first, I will show actual proof in my own life.

Since November, to unite as a chapter team, we have been chanting an hour together in the mornings. Now, many members are joyfully challenging themselves and the youth are standing up, inheriting the spirit of the pioneer members who have built the organization in Emerald Coast Chapter.

Toward 2018, I’m determined to raise many capable leaders and double the number of active young women in my chapter. We will send 50 youth to the gathering of 50,000 from Emerald Coast Chapter!


Nick Newberg in his hometown of Mesa, Arizona. Photo: George Nakamura.
Nick Newberg in his hometown of Mesa, Arizona. Photo: George Nakamura.

Nick Newberg /
Mesa, Arizona
Mesa Chapter
Young Men’s Leader

A: Growing up, I made straight A’s, excelled in track, wrestling and golf, and even went to college on both an academic and golf scholarship. In college, however, I fell into a deep depression and began drinking excessively, ignored my studies and was removed from the university.

In September 2015, I moved to Arizona to start over and joined the Golf Academy of America in Phoenix. But I quickly fell into a rut again. That’s when my friend told me about Nichiren Buddhism and encouraged me to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. In December, I attended my first meeting and decided, then and there, to receive the Gohonzon. I joined the SGI several days later.

Through visiting, chanting with and
encouraging the young men in my chapter,
my life has expanded exponentially.

In just one year of Buddhist practice, I’ve been strongly supported in my practice, which has enabled me to overcome many struggles and develop a strong purpose in life. I learned early in my practice to say “Yes!” when I’m offered opportunities to support meetings or take on leadership. I feel that this spirit has helped me develop a lot of fortune.

In June 2016, I became a district young men’s leader, then a chapter young men’s leader in November. Through visiting, chanting with and encouraging the young men in my chapter, my life has expanded exponentially.

Now, as we take on the challenge of gathering 50,000 youth, I feel like this is our time to inherit the baton of kosen-rufu from SGI President Ikeda. In thinking of many ways to develop the youth division, one thing we are doing once a month is holding a “five hours for 50,000” chanting session. Before we start chanting, each of us pulls from a hat the names of youth for whom we chant. With earnest and abundant prayer, these youth will emerge!

I’m honored to be a part of the wonderful Mesa Chapter team. Through being united, we will spread this spirit throughout our chapter and continue developing our big, happy Mesa Chapter Family!


Erika Ayers (center) is embraced by the women and young women of Windward Chapter. Photo: Sachiyo Hartanto.
Erika Ayers (center) is embraced by the women and young women of Windward Chapter. Photo: Sachiyo Hartanto.

Erika Ayers /
Kailua, Hawaii
Windward Chapter
Young Women’s Leader

A: I started practicing Nichiren Buddhism in October 2013 after the second time I heard about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The first time, my friend told me about it, but because everything was going well in my life, I didn’t think I needed it.

Seven years later, I was reintroduced to it. But this time, it was the right time. I was ready for it. I later learned that my friend who had shared this Buddhism with me the first time had been chanting for me for seven years.

When asked to become a district leader after only three months of practicing, I had no hesitation, because my district was like family. I knew I would always have their support. Because of the women’s division members’ care, I was confident that I’d have the support I needed in becoming a chapter young women’s leader.

We are all strong individually,
but when united, we are even stronger.

My chapter co-leaders and I often chant together and have built great bonds of friendship. We are all strong individually, but when united, we are even stronger. I have also developed great relationships with the young women in my chapter. They are so wonderful!

Last year, my chapter achieved our Gohonzon conferral goal. Our chapter goal this year is to welcome 75 new members! In learning about how others chapters are rapidly growing, we are inspired to do it too!

A women’s division pioneer member proudly shared that she was one of the 50,000 youth who gathered at Mitsuzawa Stadium in September 1957 when second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda issued his declaration for the abolition of nuclear weapons. (see pp. 22–23) It will also be a great honor for me to be a part of the gathering of 50,000 youth in 2018.

President Ikeda says the time is now; it is my time to stand up and support the youth, and fight for the dreams I want to accomplish.

 

(pp. 28–31)