Living a life of art and activism is something that many of us who work 9-to-5 jobs can only dream about.
Singer/songwriter Andrew Koji Shiraki (Koji) says that choosing this path has allowed him to connect the dots between the things that he feels most passionate about.
“My lifestyle gives me the opportunity to not only pursue music, which I love, but doing it in such a way that is thinking about community and thinking about service and taking action,” said the Harrisburg native. “I think it’s a really powerful thing that not only do I get to play 150 shows a year, put out records and tour the world, but I’m also able to facilitate a dialogue and create the space for a different conversation to happen around music.”
Koji has been involved with numerous social justice projects throughout the years, and he says that one of his career goals is to honor these kinds of opportunities.
Recently, he was approached by a friend who works for The Giving Keys, a California-based company that sells jewelry with inspirational messages stamped on old keys, to come up with a message for a custom key. Since the company’s mission is to address the enormous homeless problem in Los Angeles and beyond by employing people who want to transition out of homelessness, Koji jumped at the opportunity.
When thinking about the message to put on his Giving Key, Koji decided on “Peacemaker” in memory of friend and fellow activist Nate Henn, who was killed during a terrorist attack in Uganda at a screening of the 2010 World Cup final.
Henn, a former college rugby player who toured U.S. colleges and churches urging people to help children in that war-plagued country, had been visiting some of the youth that he had helped when he was killed. The following year, Koji wrote the song “Peacemaker,” which he dedicated to his friend.
“I thought, for my key, I’d like to honor his story and his mission in terms of bringing peace to Africa,” he said. “But I also wanted to celebrate local leaders here in our communities.”
The Peacemaker key first became available during a concert last month at The Millworks in Harrisburg that featured The Koji Band. The concert was an exciting one for Koji, who often performs solo, because it was the first time in a long while that he was able to bring his band to his hometown. It was also a chance to celebrate with friends and family before heading out for the summer to perform on the Vans Warped Tour.
The Millworks concert was particularly special because three Harrisburg-area residents—Ashlee Dugan, Loretta Barbee-Dare and Stephen Michael Haas—had been chosen to receive a Peacemaker key in recognition of their community leadership.
“Brad Coletta and Dani Fresh, who are a part of the art and activism organization Colormake, were the ones who selected the Peacemaker key recipients,” said Koji. “They both are helping to promote the key, too. Their efforts have helped to forge a connection between The Giving Keys, which is a national initiative, and our Harrisburg community.”
According to the Colormake website “Ashlee Dugan, Loretta Barbee-Dare and Stephen Michael Haas are much like keys themselves; unlocking the goodness, the potential, the beauty of their communities and allowing us into the places that we need most.”
Dugan and Barbee-Dare have had a rich history together of activism and community work, ranging from their time with Food Not Bombs, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and Pennsylvanians Against the Death Penalty. Dugan currently works as the interim market manager at the Broad Street Market, and Barbee-Dare works to get members of the community into homes they can love and afford. Haas is a multimedia artist known for his colorful, multi-dimensional works that have honest, positive messages that encourage self-discovery.
In The Giving Keys tradition, Dugan, Barbee-Dare and Haas are encouraged to “pay their keys forward”—giving them away when the right time comes.
To find out more about The Giving Keys, visit www.thegivingkeys.com. To learn more about Colormake, go to www.clrmk.com.