Watch CBS News

Glide Church Co-Founder, Poet and San Francisco Activist Janice Mirikitani Dies at Age 80

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Janice Mirikitani, Glide Memorial Church co-founder, activist, poet and wife Rev. Cecil Williams, died Thursday morning, according to an announcement by the church. She was 80 years old.

The post on the Glide website said Mirikitani passed away with family and friends by her side.

Janice Mirikitani
Janice Mirikitani. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Wong)

"Our hearts are full with both grief and the tremendous love that she embodied. Janice brought fierce courage and spirit to everything she did," the statement read. "She spoke her truth and inspired others to accept and celebrate themselves, each other, and all our differences."

Mirikitani was born Feb. 4, 1941, in Stockton, to a couple who were Japanese immigrant farmers in the San Joaquin Valley. During World War II, she was interned along with her family at the Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas.

She would go on to study English and creative writing, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree from UCLA and at one point working as a teacher in Contra Costa County before finding her calling working for Glide Memorial Church in the Tenderloin in the late '60s.

Mirikitani went from working as an administrative assistant at the church to becoming its program director, beginning a lifetime of activism and advocacy for marginalized people and communities through her work with the church.

"Janice co-created so much of the early vision and the roots of GLIDE's impact," the statement from the church read. "Her work touched many areas, both in the Church and on the street in the Tenderloin and in San Francisco."

Mirikitani would marry Glide co-founder Rev. Cecil Williams in 1982, the same year she became the president of the Glide Foundation. She also continued her work as a writer, poet and editor, writing a number of books and becoming San Francisco's second poet laureate in 2000.

A number of San Francisco officials released public statements after news emerged of Mirikitani's passing.

"Jan Mirikitani was one of our City's true lights. She was a visionary, a revolutionary artist and the very embodiment of San Francisco's compassionate spirit," read a statement issued by S.F. Mayor London Breed. "As a poet, including as Poet Laureate of this City from 2000 to 2002, she used the power of her words to further the fight for equality and to call for a more just and peaceful world. Through her work at Glide Memorial Church, along with her husband the Reverend Cecil Williams, she served our most vulnerable residents for decades and provided a place of refuge and love for all."

"Whenever I went to Glide it was Cecil and Jan," Breed told KPIX. "Whenever there was any interaction, it was the two of them and she loved him so much. She had a way of making you feel like you were important to her. Especially because she genuinely cared about what was happening in your life. She cared about including people and she cared about feeding people and supporting people and lifting people up with her words of wisdom but also her poetry."

San Francisco state senator Scott Wiener posted a memorial tribute on Twitter, saying "I'm heartbroken that our beloved Janice Mirikitani has passed. Jan was one of the most exceptional human beings I've ever met, combining strength & love like no one else."

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin posted a brief clip of Mirikitani reading a poem during a recent online summit on hate crimes and keeping the AAPI community safe.

SF Supervisor Matt Haney also posted on Twitter in tribute.

A memorial for Mirikitani is being arranged. A cause of death was not announced.

© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and KPIX 5's Andria Borba contributed to this report

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.