With more than 40 years of experience in education and public service, Warren Furutani has always been a staunch advocate for equal opportunity.
Beginning as a civil rights activist in the 1960s, Warren worked tirelessly to establish admissions programs for students of color at colleges and universities throughout the United States. He helped many campuses establish ethnic studies programs and was instrumental in UCLA and Long Beach State University adopting an Asian American Studies program. Warren’s activism at this time has been documented in the Japanese American National Museum’s exhibit “Common Ground.” He was also interviewed in the anthology, “Roots: the Asian American Reader.”
In 1969, Warren was one of the founders of the Manzanar Pilgrimage, an annual event to honor the 110,000 Japanese American men, women and children who were forced to leave their homes and were incarcerated during World War II. In 1970 Warren helped to create the Manzanar Committee that worked to get Manzanar designated as a national historical site. Today, thousands of people participate in the Manzanar Pilgrimage every year on the last Saturday of April.
In the mid-1970s, Warren worked as a counselor at the Central Continuation High School in Downtown Los Angeles. He later joined the Asian American Student Services Center at UCLA where he worked as an administrator and developed programs to recruit, mentor and tutor students as well as encourage them to be active in community projects.
In 1987, Warren was the first Asian Pacific Islander American to ever be elected to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education – the largest school district in California. In 1999 Warren was elected to the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) Board of Trustees – the largest community college district in the country.
During his time with LAUSD and LACCD, Warren was known as a problem solver and consensus builder. He brought parents, teachers, staff and the community together to develop “school-based management” which improved our schools. He was an early and strong advocate for the LAUSD and LACCD construction bonds, which directed billions of dollars into repairing and building new schools and remodeling and constructing new facilities on our community college campuses.
While a Board Member at LAUSD, Warren led the effort to grant honorary high school diplomas to Japanese Americans who were unable to finish high school because they were forced into internment camps during World War II.
In the California State Legislature, Warren was appointed Chair of the Public Employees Retirement and Social Security committee, where he introduced pension reform measures, including Assembly Bill 340 to end the abusive practices of pension spiking and double dipping. He is also Chair of the Select Committee on Career Technical Education and Workforce Development where he is focusing on preparing students with the training they need for 21st Century jobs. He also founded the Community College Caucus and is a member of the Higher Education Master Plan Review Committee.
Warren’s work in the Capitol includes legislation related to career technical education, community colleges, clean air quality, and support for small businesses. He has successfully advocated for State resources to help rebuild the Gerald Desmond Bridge in the Port of Long Beach, which is expected to generate 4,000 jobs in the community for at least five years.
In 2008, he authored Assembly Bill 37 which granted honorary college degrees to Japanese Americans whose education was disrupted due to their wrongful incarceration during World War II. Since the bill was signed, thousands of Japanese Americans have received honorary degrees from college campuses throughout California.
Born in San Pedro and raised in Gardena, Warren is fourth-generation Japanese American. His grandfather was a mechanic on Terminal Island in San Pedro who repaired motors on tuna boats. During World War II, Warren’s grandparents and father were forced to leave their home with only 48-hours notice and were sent to an internment camp in Rohror, Arkansas. Warren’s father was in high school at the time, and while at camp he met Warren’s mother who was from Elk Grove, California. Warren’s father was drafted into the military while still incarcerated. After the war, his parents returned to San Pedro to start their family.
Warren is a product of the Los Angeles public education system. He graduated from Gardena High School in 1965. He earned a liberal arts degree from Antioch University. He is married to Lisa Abe Furutani, and they are the proud parents of two grown sons.