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A New Departure

Ross Parmly / Unsplash

On Jan. 1, 2023, the SGI-USA announced the following leadership appointments. 

Shota OkajimaAmelia GonzalezMartin
SGI-USA Young Men’s LeaderSGI-USA Vice Young Women’s LeaderSGI-USA Vice Young Men’s LeaderSGI-USA Student Division Young Men’s LeaderSGI-USA Practicing Buddhism as People of African Descent Group Young Men’s Leader
Selina CarrollRon GoodeBriana BocheWilliam MoodyEricka Jones
SGI-USA Courageous Freedom Group Women’s LeaderSGI-USA Courageous Freedom Group men’s LeaderSGI-USA Courageous Freedom Group Young Women’s LeaderSGI-USA Courageous Freedom Group Young Men’s LeaderSGI-USA Courageous Freedom Group Advisor

Below are determinations from newly appointed youth representatives.

Shota Okajima
SGI-USA Young Men’s Leader 

I was born in Japan and moved to New Jersey when I was 3 years old. My grandmother and mother faced extreme financial and health struggles and started practicing Buddhism with the SGI before I was born.

As a child and throughout college, I was extremely shy and reserved. My parents decided to throw me into sports to help me gain self-confidence. I found ice hockey, which is a sport I truly enjoyed. I gave my all to getting better, training day in and day out, even going to Canada after high school to further develop my skills as it gave me tremendous self-worth and purpose in life. But it still didn’t help me tackle my fundamental disbelief in my own voice.

Once college ended, I was truly lost and couldn’t find a direction forward. That was when my men’s district leader reached out to me, visited me and listened patiently to my struggles. I felt incredible warmth and conviction from this person and decided to transform my life through Buddhist practice!

I started reading Ikeda Sensei’s guidance and realized that even someone who is shy and hesitant can become confident and overcome all obstacles. I also realized that the incredible care my district members gave me came from having Sensei as their mentor and example.

Through the great 50K Lions of Justice campaign in 2018, I decided to give it my all to find a career that I could pursue and give back to the district members who encouraged me. 

One late night, during a difficult time in my job search, I received a phone call telling me that I had received a message from Sensei. He said, “I will pray for your success.”

This message not only encouraged me but made me realize that I needed to win! Sensei was praying for my success, and I wanted to respond.

After the 50K campaign, contacting every single young man on my chapter list, sharing Buddhism with my friends and going all out in my master’s program and job search, I graduated and obtained a great, challenging job as an actuary. But more importantly, I began my human revolution, awakened to the great purpose of fighting for kosen-rufu and opened my own path forward in my life.

Thank you very much to the members of the SGI-USA for the opportunity to serve you in this new role.

I am absolutely determined to fight with all my might as a disciple of Sensei, expand the ranks of the young men’s division in the SGI-USA, and together with them, burn with absolute passion for unprecedented propagation toward 2030! 

Amelia Gonzalez
SGI-USA Vice Young Women’s Leader

Growing up watching my mother host discussion meetings and visit members
allowed me to witness the incredible strength of SGI members from a young age. 

It wasn’t until my junior year of high school, when my father was incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit, that my life took a turn. I started skipping school and failing classes. It was when I was threatened with expulsion that I recalled the hundreds of faith experiences that I had heard at discussion meetings over the years. In that moment, I decided to give Buddhism a serious try. This was in 2013 when each member was encouraged to introduce one new youth to the SGI-USA.

I had no idea how to introduce anyone, let alone help another person practice Buddhism. I barely studied myself. But everyone around me who was introducing others to the practice seemed so happy despite their own problems, and that’s what I wanted to feel. 

So, I dove into the propagation campaign by introducing my high school friends one after another. I read the World Tribune on my high school steps in the morning and shared with my friends passages that inspired me. I brought them to intro-to-Buddhism and discussion meetings and, by observing my seniors in faith answer my friends’ questions and encourage them to receive the Gohonzon to begin their own practice, I started to feel more confident that I could do it, too. 

At the same time, I started reading The New Human Revolution series and felt like I was getting to know who Ikeda Sensei really was. I felt like he was a person I could trust, and I wanted to join him in advancing kosen-rufu so that I could live the greatest life. 

Now, 10 years later, my father, after facing a federal indictment and threat of the death penalty, is fully exonerated and happily practicing Buddhism in San Jose, California. He received the Gohonzon in 2022. As for me, despite almost being expelled from high school, I was admitted on a full academic scholarship to a private liberal arts school and currently get to work my dream job here in New York. This is all due to encouragement from Sensei and the fact that SGI exists for the sake of propagation, allowing me to encounter this Buddhism and awaken to my mission as a Bodhisattva of the Earth.

This year, I have decided, is going to be the greatest year of my life. And I know this will only happen to the extent that I exert myself to share Buddhism with everyone I encounter and help youth awaken to their mission as Bodhisattvas of the Earth by basing everything on Sensei’s guidance and my prayer to the Gohonzon.

I feel truly honored to fight together with all of you to realize kosen-rufu in America. Sensei, please watch the youth of America achieve kosen-rufu! 

Jan.13, 2023, World Tribune, p. 8

Every District, One Precious Youth!

Our Compassion Can ‘Perfume’ the Lives of Those Around Us