Dean Matsubayashi, Our Lasting Inspiration

For the past month, the Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) family has been mourning the loss as well as celebrating the life of our Executive Director, Dean Matsubayashi. Many know that in May 2018, Dean was diagnosed with glioblastoma, succumbing to the disease on September 4, 2019. It was a life cut short, but also one that was lived to the fullest. In his 49 years on this earth, Dean accomplished so much, not just for LTSC, but for the entire Little Tokyo community, for the city of Los Angeles and for communities of color throughout the U.S.

Dean spent 21 years with LTSC – 14 years as the Director of Community Economic Development and seven as Executive Director. And while there are many physical buildings and affordable housing projects we can point to as part of his accomplishments, it’s the way he lived his life and led others that will be his lasting legacy.

So many from all over the U.S. made public statements and paid tribute to Dean over this past month. Their collection of memories, words and strength helped carry LTSC through a difficult time while capturing the essence of what made Dean special.

“Always inclusive, always embracing the messiness of lots of perspectives around a table, always open to big and out-of-the-box ideas, you created a space where everyone felt safe and welcome and valued. You were the magnetic force pulling all of us together – up until the very end.” Rémy De La Peza, Consultant and former LTSC staff

“Dean was a selfless person who was a fierce advocate for his community, putting selfless service beyond all else. He always greeted everyone with a smile, a warm sense of humor and as if they were a long lost friend.” – Paulina Gonzalez-Brito, Executive Director, California Reinvestment Coalition

“Dean was about connecting people in a truly intersectional and community-minded way.” – Lisa Okamoto, former LTSC staff

“He was a fighter who worked to build a better future for his family and the people of Los Angeles.” – Assemblymember Miguel Santiago

“Dean worked tirelessly to not only champion the rights of dispossessed stakeholders of Little Tokyo, but to work with his staff to realize the “nexus” between social services, community-based arts and culturally-pertinent “place-making.” – Abraham Ferrer, Visual Communications

“Dean was an advocate not just in Little Tokyo or the Japanese American community but for the entire broader Asian American and low-income communities of color; I daresay his colleagues in community service would compose a racial diversity resembling the United Nations.” – Bill Watanabe, co-founder of Little Tokyo Service Center

“Dean worked hard to solve the most critical problems facing not only Japanese Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders, but also those impacting all communities of color.” – Manjusha P. Kulkarni, Executive Director, A3PCON 

“With his brilliant and strategic mind, open heart, and good humor, Dean amplified the impact of numerous organizations and leaders across the country” – National CAPACD

“Dean represented the best of us.” – Dennis Arguelles, LTSC Board Member

Dean lived as a slobster who happened to have his master’s degree in public policy from Harvard. He was down-to-earth, funny, usually had holes in shirt and was often the smartest person in the room. He never took himself too seriously, which made him approachable and likeable. He had the ability to get along with anyone and everyone, regardless of title, ethnic background or economic background. This is how he was able to build bridges between communities and earn the respect of decision makers. This is how he was able to successfully create lasting positive change. 

We at LTSC were so fortunate to have someone like Dean showing us the way. And while our hearts are heavy, our will is strong. We will continue to fight the good fight for all those in need. We will do so by building bridges, embracing others, remembering to laugh and never taking ourselves too seriously. And we will do it all to a soundtrack that would’ve made Dean proud. 

LTSC will continue from this day forward powered by the memories of our fearless leader, our funny friend and our slobster, Dean Matsubayashi. Rest in power.