Masaji Inoshita was 22 and farming with his father in California when FBI agents knocked on the door and handcuffed his father to take him to an internment camp. Pearl Harbor had just been bombed, and the government was afraid Japanese-Americans would collaborate with the enemy.
Inoshita and his parents and eight siblings spent four years at the Gila River Relocation Camp south of Phoenix. But instead of being bitter, he has spent his adult life as a historian and civil rights advocate, teaching about the need for diversity of races and religions in the workplace, schools and society.
His family had to give up their 55-acre farm and all their animals and equipment. Neighbors couldn't speak to them. But Inoshita enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in Army Intelligence as a translator in Burma, India and China.
After World War II ended, he returned to Arizona to farm, getting married and raising three children. He became active in the Japanese American Citizens League and the Arizona Buddhist Temple Board, and eventually he began speaking at local schools, churches and civic groups about his experiences in the internment camp.
Since then Inoshita has spoken before many national groups and is a frequent guest lecturer for the Arizona Historical Society and the universities. He has won awards for workshops on race relations. His audiences are fascinated by his stories, but his main lesson is one of love and respect for fellow man.
Now 89, Inoshita has won many awards, including the U.S. Army Presidential Merit Citation and the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame. On the local level, he was named outstanding Washington School District volunteer for serving as a full-time volunteer librarian for six years. ASU is proud to honor him as the 2009 MLK Servant-Leadership Award winner.
Elodie Billionniere is an extraordinary young woman who was raised in Paris, France by a French West Indian mother without a high school diploma who worked several jobs to provide for Elodie and her brother. When Elodie came to America in 2001 she wanted to achieve her mother’s dreams of a higher education.
Blessed with her mother’s work ethic and a keen intellect, Billionniere has proved herself not only an exceptional student but an unselfish leader who extends herself personally to others in every aspect of her life.
Currently she is pursuing two graduate degrees at ASU. She is studying for a master’s of education and a Ph.D. in computer science. Even more unusual is her example of service, serving as president of the Black Graduate Student Association, reaching out to students at all four campuses to support their educational, cultural and social needs.
Billionniere volunteers regularly to watch children at a YWCA Haven House shelter for abused women, nurtures a child as a Big Sister, held workshops at First Institutional Baptist Church on resources available to homeless persons, organizes community service projects at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, mentors undergraduate students studying science, technology, engineering and math, and has worked with refugee families through the COAR advocacy group.
Her energy and dedication are inspiring. She single-handedly raised funds for a Women’s Empowerment Speaker Series, working with organizations across ASU, and she founded an annual community service project called WE Care : YOU Care, to help the homeless population in Phoenix with housing, health, education and employment services.
Billionniere believes in the worth of every individual, regardless of race or gender, and she demonstrates ethical leadership in all her efforts toward service. ASU is proud to honor this exceptional student with the 2009 MLK Student Servant-Leadership Award.