Boston, MA — April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and perhaps nobody has a deeper, more personal understanding of its meaning than Juri Love.
The 41-year-old mother of two grew up in a small town in Japan where she faced countless obstacles including bullying, physical and sexual abuse, and homelessness.
Juri is a true survivor. She has been able to push aside dark memories and is speaking out, telling her life story as an inspirational lesson for others. She was bullied at school and abused at home between ages 8 and 13 when she escaped. She had to run from that state of emergency: Who would believe a teenager’s accusations against her father, a trusted town official?
It’s been said that nothing builds our strength like surviving difficulty. After escaping, Juri lived with her mother and her husband. Her parents divorced when she was 8. Her mother, also a victim of domestic violence, welcomed her daughter to her home. Yet when Juri told her mother about her father’s sexual abuse, her mother accused her of making up the story. “It was the 1980s in Japan when no one ever talked about children’s rights and advocating for victims of abuse,” recalls Juri. Retraumatized at age 15, Juri tried to commit suicide, cutting her wrist. Luckily, her mother found her in the process and stopped her.
Juri then suffered PTSD with suicidal thoughts and depression. Losing her motivation to survive haunting memories and failing in high school, she took a friend’s advice to become a volunteer, which changed her perspective on life. Her first assignment was caring for a wheelchair-bound adult. She recalls, “He couldn’t speak so he pointed to letters on a chart to tell what he needed. To eat, he pointed one letter at a time: first Ni and a few minutes later, Ku. Niku means ‘meat,’ so I fed him a small piece of meat.” Then he pointed out this sentence that took 30 minutes: “Last month was very hard. My mother died.” Juri continued following his fingers and the next sentence in caps: “IT WAS MY FAULT.” That moment changed her attitude toward life.
She realized that, despite her deep trauma, she should not complain. After all, she was born without a disability and realized that only one’s mind limits your potential. At age 17, Juri pledged to never complain and never say “I cannot do it.” She challenged herself, becoming a model in Tokyo, and applied for an exchange program in America. Juri kept pushing her potential, unlocking her limits by empowering her mind with the motto “It will be OK, I can overcome this.”
After a two-week exchange program in America during her senior year in high school, Juri returned to finish her high school in Japan but soon after went back to America and attended Burlington High School in Burlington, WA, for six months exchange program during her gap year. But the day she returned to Japan, her mother said she could not stay at her house because she had turned 18. Suddenly homeless, Juri stayed at a friend’s house, in a park, at a 24-hour restaurant, even at clubs in Tokyo. To avoid homelessness, she found a job at a resort hotel that offered room and board in exchange for her working every day from 7 am to 11 pm. After saving enough, she went to Tokyo, rented a cheap apartment, and started work at a commission job. But she got very sick and knew she would regret if she didn’t pursue her dream to become a musician and return to America. She started to work at a 5-star hotel in Tokyo, saving every yen, saving an impressive $30,000 between ages 19 and 21. Then the big news: She got a scholarship to the famed Berklee College of Music and came to Boston in 1998.
A New Beginning
After struggling with PTSD for 20 years, six years of intense counseling and a failed first marriage due to depression, her second marriage to her Nigerian husband Chukwunwike Onwuakor brought a wonderful son, Jaden in 2010, and adorable daughter, Jayla in 2016. In 2014 and 2015 she experienced two miscarriages, one was life-threatening with a massive blood loss at home. In the ER, it required a three-pint blood transfusion over 12 hours. Juri reflected on her life’s traumas and suicidal thoughts. She realized some generous people donated their blood for her to survive — an epiphany that changed her outlook: “I am meant to be living a little longer on this earth.”
Giving Back to the Community
After graduating Berklee, at age 26 Juri founded the nonprofit organization “Genuine Voices,” whose mission was to reform lives of at-risk youth through music, inspiring and teaching positive outlets with music production, building resilience and self-esteem in troubled youths’ lives.
She worked tirelessly as president and founder and the organization initiated music programs in juvenile detention centers and after-school programs in Boston and Washington state, teaching music to hundreds of juvenile offenders and at-risk youth. These initiatives provided hope and positive, creative paths for many who might otherwise have descended into a downward spiral.
Her work attracted attention. Juri earned the ‘Heroes Among Us’ award by the NBA’s Boston Celtics in 2013 — presented at TD Garden, celebrated with a standing ovation by 17,000 people. She also received the New England Patriots Myra Kraft Community MVP Award for volunteerism. Witnessing the impact that Juri’s work made in one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods, lifelong Boston probation officer Bill Stewart said, “Juri came to our community and replaced the sound of gunfire with the sound of music.”
Along with spearheading Genuine Voices for 12 years, Juri has performed at a wide range of venues including playing keyboard and singing background on a national tour with Kate Pierson of The B-52’s. She has told her life story at many schools and her story was featured on a popular Japanese reality show viewed by 7.5 million people in 2017. Her modeling and acting have brought work with Nike, New Era, Old Dog (Disney), Apple, Sony, CVS, Ford, Covidien, Coca-Cola, Bank of America and Microsoft.
Juri is a Community Committee Chair for The Foxboro, Mass., Rotary Club and is on the Peace & Conflict Resolution/Transformation Committee in Rotary District 7950. She is also a reporter for The Foxboro Reporter, volunteers at Foxboro Cable Access, and continues to mentor and help youths on the precipice.
Philosophy on Life: Silver Linings
Juri knows that her speaking, music, singing, teaching, mentoring and writing have helped many who lost hope to rebuild self-esteem and gain a renewed belief in their own potential. She says, “I could have chosen negative paths such as substance abuse or getting into trouble. Instead, I chose a positive path, channeled my boiling anger and frustration into creating something that can save others, especially many whose lives were
destroyed by parents, society or other forces beyond their control. Some important lessons are only taught through difficult times when it feels like everything is completely against you. But you can become the silver lining to the darkness.”
Juri continues, “If you want to realize your ideas and dreams, don’t be afraid to ask the right questions and find someone you think knows the answers. Many people are afraid to ask how to overcome adversity. I learned if there is a problem, there is a solution. The first step is to find the core of the problem — and that is when you know you can overcome it — and be able to see the other side.”