Tell the AEO fans a little bit about yourself. Age, alma mater, pets, anything! I’m a 28-year-old musician and social media manager – born in Tokyo, raised in Nashville and now living in Chicago. I graduated from Duke University. I’m unhealthily obsessed with karaoke and the NBA.
How did you get started with TFA? I’d always thought that the best way to make the world a more equitable place was through education, so Teach For America drew my interest when I was in college. I decided against applying to TFA because I couldn’t see myself as a teacher long term, but I ultimately ended up applying to join TFA’s staff because I wanted to be involved in education. I was lucky enough to be hired and I’ve been on staff ever since.
How has working with TFA inspired your life? TFA has shown me that we absolutely need to improve educational opportunities for kids in low-income communities. Especially living in Chicago, you really get a sense of just how much students in under-resourced communities face in order to battle the symptoms of poverty. It’s staggering. Education is a social justice issue that needs to be addressed with urgency.
As far as my day-to-day life, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by incredibly humble, thoughtful and passionate people through TFA, whether they are our corps members, alumni or fellow staff members. It’s been a formative experience to work with such dedicated people.
You work with social media. What’s your favorite way to connect with TFA followers? I love when we get to share stories of students and teachers doing amazing things, whether it’s an incredible traveling student poetry project or one of our teachers starting a high school lacrosse team in San Antonio. Social media is powerful in its ability to shape how we think about an issue, so I really hope we’re able to help dispel assumptions and stereotypes about education in under-resourced communities through these stories.
We also recently launched our Instagram account and we’ve got some big plans for it, so keep an eye on it.
You play bass in the Pet Lions and have an album, Houses, and a new EP, Popular Nature. How has the band influenced your life? That’s a pretty big question, but the short answer is that it keeps me fulfilled and it keeps me busy. I get to regularly write, record and perform music with three of my close friends, and to me, there’s not much better than that. We’ve really put our blood, sweat and tears into it over the past few years, and it’s uniquely satisfying when it pays off and you get to play a sold-out show or hear your own music on a popular TV show.
See Pet Lions in an upcoming Chicago performance: Schubas Tavern: 8.31.2013
Shuhei and his band members, Pet Lions.
What songs are currently on repeat on your iPod? Local Natives released a stunningly good album back in January called Hummingbird and I still can’t stop listening to it six months later. Other than that, “William’s Heart” by Camera Obscura and “Song For Zula” by Phosphorescent are both really beautiful songs that have been on repeat lately.
Shuhei playing a show with his band, Pet Lions.
You were born in Tokyo. How has that culture impacted you? Given my family’s Japanese background, I still carry a lot of Japanese social values – for example, I still value social interdependence over individualism. Being a first-generation immigrant has also allowed me to appreciate and experience empathy in a way that’s unique to being steeped in two very different cultures at a young age. Honestly, these values are part of what drew me to working for Teach For America and for social equity.
What’s next on your “Life to Do” list? I’d like to get a dog soon. Maybe a corgi. I feel like having a corgi around just makes everything better. Look at them. They always look so goofy and happy.
In 2012, you were named one of Chicago’s most eligible singles. What would be your perfect date? You know, this is an incredibly boring answer, but a perfect date for me is really simple: A quiet bar, a couple of drinks, good music and no distractions. A game of pool would be nice, too.
Shuhei out with friends.
What are your favorite spots in Chicago? Coincidentally, I actually just wrote a guest blog post for a company called SideTour about my favorite spots in Chicago.