The Fire Right Now

The following remarks were delivered at The Roast of John E. Kobara in front of 350 of my eclectic friends and colleagues at the Palace Theater in Los Angeles on February 19, 2020. The event raised more than $200,000 for LA nonprofits. The title was inspired by James Baldwin. 

Thanks to the FOKU (Friends of Kobara United) for organizing and underwriting this craziness

Fred Ali, Wendy Garen, Antonia Hernandez, my UCLA mafia: Rob Ettinger (his wife Jane), Peter Taylor and Craig Ehrlich and the FOKU chair Alan Arkatov.

Thanks to the entire cast who made this roast possible, my assistant Jason Boone.

And to all of the speakers—not enough time to rebut, refute or respond to the numerous allegations made tonite.

My family–please stand they have made the greatest sacrifice of all–enduring me, loving me, and the time they gave me to be with YOU. Bobby, Malia, Jenna, David, and my partner of 35 years, Sarah. 

I am standing here filled with gratitude for all of the sacrifices that have been made for me and for all us to be here.

I feel very fortunate to have been in Philanthropy these last 12 years.

FOKU JEK on stage

Photo taken by: Stephanie Tran

Suddenly I was so much better looking and funnier……

Felt like an attractive tall well-endowed blonde (get it endowed)–with very very large grants.     I would tell people–Look up here at my eyes, at my face and quit staring at my grants!!!

Let’s take a quick stroll down from the philanthropic penthouse to the ground floor of ground truth.

People have been calling, e-mailing me. What is happening? You are not retiring! Tell me the truth! Why are you leaving this great job?

I have been meeting with the parole board for years and they have declined my requests. But this year they approved my release! I am free! I am no longer institutionalized!

Some of you know I battled epilepsy for 10 years when I was young, got me interested in neuroscience. I met with the leading neuro scientists, including Dr. Phelps who performed the first hemispherectomy. I explored the plasticity of the brain—why and how people use more of their brain, get off the neural pathways, live longer and avoid dementia. They told me the key was “playing out of bounds”. Playing out of bounds is out of the box, out of your comfort zone thinking and living. And what I learned was out of bounds is so much bigger!

I am ready to play OUT OF BOUNDS, full time!!!

And why a roast John? Philanthropy just enhances privilege. I have been honored, feted, and awarded without merit. I wanted the roasting I deserved. To turn up the flames of humility. To acknowledge our imperfections, especially mine.

I have tried with great inconsistency and great flaws to live a life of commitment and service and compassion and morality.

Please forgive me if I did not listen to you. Forgive me for taking your time and not giving you enough. Forgive me for laughing at you. For what I said or did not say. Forgive me for not giving you a grant or giving you one you did not deserve.

For I have tried to be a philanthropic arsonist.  Trying to light fires. Annoying little fires. To create some light and some heat. Burn some things down and warm some things up. To help us assemble our kindling our logs and our sparks of energy to light up our purpose, our reason for being. And hopefully to see the interconnectedness, the amazing inter-dependency of everything, of all of us. For we are just molecules and atoms bouncing off each other—in a beautiful fiery dance of life, of continuous change, in pursuit of harmony.

Tonite’s roast is brought to you by a new drug:

Introducing PHIL-AN-THRO-PY!

Philanthropy makes you feel good about yourself for extended periods of time, it counters that malaise of uncertainty, anxiety and stress that raise doubts and anxiousness about your goodness. Side effects include taking random jobs that give you the false impression of helping others. Flashes of false empathy and even heart palpitations that mimic compassion. Dizziness and the vertigo of self-importance. Restless strategy syndrome caused by knee jerk reactions to personal experiences. The self-delusion that money alone will solve problems. Other side effects include the elimination of guilt, increased blindness deafness, and dangerous levels of ego obesity. Philanthropy has not been approved by the FDA because it is just a placebo.

Philanthropy IS a very privileged place. And privilege is a function of the awareness of privilege. We are privileged. What have we done, what will we do, with OUR privileged lives?

No matter our point of view, what side we sit on, we agree that the status quo is unacceptable. The suffering around us is intolerable. Philanthropy will never be enough.  We need to change systems, policies, and budgets. We have to become advocates and activists. That is the only way to restore hope, equity, and opportunity. This is an All-In MOMENT. To use everything we have at our disposal. Our moral, spiritual, emotional, intellectual leadership, and yes our money.

For choice IS the enemy of commitment. We have to commit.

Commitment is the biggest human challenge. Full unconditional commitment to ourselves, to others, to our relationships, to our work–to truly becoming who we are and need to be -our best selves. What is our plan to become better humans? Not just skilled humans who are competent and content, but aware of our purpose, passion and potential.

Sometimes we have to see the end to appreciate the present. We are just temporary stewards. Time is limited, and we must do what we can, where we are. NOW.

We are just footprints in the sand, sources of energy that hopefully influence other footsteps, generating more energy and ripples of change to bend that arc towards justice…. Change is inexorable and inevitable. It seems to come at inconvenient times. The truth is nature abhors a vacuum. And things adjust quickly, and the void is easily filled.

Legacy is a shadow. Immortality a facade.

Yet, we all just want to be remembered

Remember that Asian guy nice guy yeah he was at the California … the California Foundation, no the California Endowment. Yeah nice guy who thought he was funny, there was that roast, remember, Yeah Joe no Jim Kob, Koba Yeah Jim Kobayashi…..Good guy

The truth is I will never forget you. 

We have been on this amazing journey together. Some of you have been part of the caravan and some of you have been at these incredible destinations where we worked together, cried together, cared together. You showed me so much kindness you laughed at my jokes you laughed at me and made me a better human. Isn’t that the goal? Helping each other become who we need to be. This journey is not about jobs or careers not about money or wealth. It is about the connection of souls who rise above self-interest to make a dent in the universe to relieve the suffering. It is an accumulation of love, brutal truths, joyfulness, broken hearts and gut hurting laughter, that slaps us upside our heads and kicks our asses to awaken our souls and open our eyes and hearts to what is real and essential.

This roasting eulogy is a living moment for all of us to take inventory. To reflect on where we are in our journeys to become better humans.

Wherever you are right now is perfect. But time is not your ally. Now is the time when the conversation you continue to have with yourself has to get real.

Even now you are making promises to yourself you will never keep

That’s why you need one of these: (Hold up KICK MY ASS)

The Kick My AssDo It Yourself Ass Kicking Kit.

You need this.  A gift I made for you. Pick one up when you leave.

Seeing our true reflection, really seeing it, is the greatest reality check. The most powerful point of friction with our hypocrisy. The friction of the truth within us and the lives we lead. That friction can wear us down, exhaust our capacity to hope. It is that same friction that can opens our eyes and hearts and sparks ideas and energy. It is that friction that can build a small fire that becomes a blaze of light to show you the way.

I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light, the astonishing fire of your own being. Hafiz 

Thank you for making me feel welcomed here, that I belong. For giving me your attention and talent. I have tried to be helpful–to put your needs above mine. To put the needs of the community above ours. Thank you for forgiving my faults and appreciating my intentions

Thank you for roasting me tonight. To light a fire under me. And perhaps reignite the fire within us.

For me, philanthropy begs the question: How do we comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable? How do we reinvigorate our sense of compassion? Because sympathy is arrogant, and empathy is always insufficient. How do we reinvigorate our compassion? For compassion comes from the root, passio or pati, which means “to suffer.” How do we suffer with others? How do we suffer together?

We live in such a profane world of broken promises and dreams. Of untapped and wasted human potential. Unnecessary suffering. And the layers of embedded racism and colonialism that we still have to reconcile and rectify. And yet in the face of what seems impossible odds there are energizing signs of change and hope, where justice and equity can get a foot hold. And we see the prize, and we keep fighting.

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. Jiddu Krishnamurti

James Baldwin: I know that what I am asking is impossible. But in our time, as in every time, the impossible is the least that one can demand — and one is, after all, emboldened by the spectacle of human history in general, and American Negro history in particular, for it testifies to nothing less than the perpetual achievement of the impossible.

Here’s to the history we are still learning, to the history we are living and mostly to the history we are yet to make!

Yeah yeah, I have been freed from the institution and retiring to play out of bounds, but I will never retire from the fight and the work.

While my philanthropic aura is fading….

And I am shorter of stature, my endowment sags, my attractiveness wanes, I have a lot more snow on the rooftop–but still a fire in the belly!

It is my time to move on. One must recognize that time before others do. Cede things to the next gen— to you, the newer and perhaps younger stewards to keep the flame stoked, burning hot and burning brightly.

To continue doing the impossible.

Love you all. Thank you.

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3 thoughts on “The Fire Right Now”


    Beautiful John! What a night! I need a Kick My Ass book! Hope you saved one for us. ;). You have lit so many many fires in your life and continue to do that every day. Those fires, most of them are burning brightly and are in turn lighting others along the way. Love you!!!! x <3

  2. John, as always, you continue to inspire and the fires you light will hopefully become a conflagration of newly inspired members!
    With love,

  3. You know I’m going to give you grief the next time you put a shot OB. The world is anxiously awaiting your next chapter, dear friend.

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