51Oakland was established in 2011 by Yoshi Akiba, co-owner of the renowned musical venues Yoshi’s Jazz Club Oakland, and Jason Hofmann, an Oakland-based entrepreneur and former educator, who, since 2001, has been involved in philanthropic activities benefiting youth.
51Oakland’s founders see their roles and those of their non-profit as a funding conduit for inspirational music and arts programs developed by a synergistic partnership of Oakland Unified School District’s (OUSD) principals and teachers, professional musicians and artists and involved community members.
YOSHI AKIBA, CO-FOUNDER
Born in Japan during World War II, Yoshi lost both her parents at the early age of five. Raised in an orphanage near a U.S. military base, as a girl she was exposed to music and dance through USO events organized to entertain the neighboring troops. At the age of 19, she caught the eye of a U.S. military officer who soon proposed.
Yoshi and her American serviceman husband moved to Baltimore, MD in the early 1960’s, where she studied Art and Dance at the prestigious Peabody Institute. She soon found she was unsuited for the role of conventional housewife, however. Inspired by the cultural revolution sweeping through the San Francisco Bay Area at the time, she packed two suitcases and headed west.
Returning to her passion, Yoshi continued her dance studies at UC Berkeley. But money was tight, and she longed for a taste of home. Borrowing $7,000 from friends and acquaintances, she and two partners – Kaz Kajimura and Hiroyuki Hori – opened the original Yoshi’s Japanese restaurant near the Cal campus in 1972. The tiny eatery thrived, and relocated from Berkeley to a larger space on Oakland’s Claremont Avenue in 1985. The more spacious location allowed Yoshi to incorporate her love of jazz. Open seven days a week, the new Yoshi’s served as a link to the golden age of jazz, bringing internationally-acclaimed musical acts to its stage. For Yoshi, the addition of live music advanced her search to find a “new way” in the “the new world.”
In 1997, Yoshi’s moved to its third site, a 330-seat club and adjoining restaurant in Jack London Square. A decade later, a second location was established in San Francisco’s historic Fillmore district. The Oakland venue continues successful operations as one of the world’s most highly-regarded jazz venues.
Yoshi is a practicing Buddhist whose self-proclaimed aspiration is to “keep up something beautiful and make people happy.” Today, she achieves this goal not only by maintaining the popular restaurant and jazz club that bears her name, but also through her steadfast support of Art and Music opportunities for Oakland youth. She is uniquely-qualified to appreciate that the value of music, dance, and the arts lies not only in the joy and hope that they inspire, but also in the life lessons that they provide. She hopes that the innovative music and arts programs 51Oakland supports will help to fill some of the gaps created by cuts to education funding, build students’ self-esteem and self-worth, and create positive outcomes by instilling the values of diligence, commitment, and hard work.
JASON HOFMANN, CO-FOUNDER
The son of a Civil Rights attorney and an ethics-focused healthcare professional, Jason learned the value of diversity and the importance of community service at an early age. Raised in a diverse, multi-cultural community in Atlanta, Jason moved with his family to the SF Bay Area in the late 1980’s. After lettering in numerous sports at Campolindo High School in Moraga (Contra Costa County), Jason went on to play college football for the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Guilford College in Greensboro, NC.
When his athletics career was cut short by a serious shoulder injury, the former Quarterback completed his studies, and embarked on a quest to discover what lay ahead. Funded by substitute teaching, the development and sale of an advertising magazine, teaching English in Spain, and working as the Sports Editor and travel writer for a newspaper in Caracas, Venezuela, Jason worked, lived, and traveled in over 60 countries on six continents in a five-year period. Eager for some geographical stability, he eventually accepted a multi-faceted position at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School in St. Thomas, USVI. Besides serving as Spanish teacher and academic counselor, as Athletic Director he rebuilt an athletic program that had been dormant for more than a decade.
Having seen the world, Jason returned to the Bay Area in 2005, and found himself drawn to the unique and vibrant community of Oakland. Calling on his academic background in management and economics, he worked to establish a successful independent financial planning practice, focusing on socially-responsible investing. Committed to bettering his new community, Jason sought out philanthropic activities where he could make an impact, serving on the board of a health-focused non-profit, and hosting fundraisers for several charitable organizations. The venue for one of these fundraisers happened to be Yoshi’s Jazz Club & Restaurant, yielding an unexpected and fortuitous introduction to club owner Yoshi Akiba. A friendship between like-minded spirits was born, and an eventual partnership followed – leading to the creation of 51Oakland.