Q: Where did you grow up? What schools did you attend?
Mirei Takashima Claremon: I grew up in Tokyo, where I attended international schools from preschool through high school. I grew up thinking about global issues and poverty. My parents were both born in Japan. My dad, Qunio, was a consultant, and my mom, Reiko, is a pharmacist and pianist. When I was growing up, my mom’s father, a Korean immigrant, ran a hospital in Japan. He would feed and treat other Korean people in need for free. That has always inspired me.
I went to Cornell University for undergrad (with a psychology major) and then went back to Japan for five years to work in brand management. I then decided to come back to the United States to get an MBA. Getting to Ithaca, New York, from Tokyo was not easy, and my parents basically said: “You’re not going to the East Coast again.” My sister was living in L.A., and UCLA was the best choice among all of the schools, so it was not a hard choice. I went on to get my Ph.D. in consumer behavior and, through UCLA Extension, certification in sustainability and sustainability studies.
Ben Claremon: I grew up in the small Arizona border town of Nogales. I knew people who would drive across the border from Mexico to come to school. Some had five sets of clothes, one set for each school day. There was enormous poverty on the Mexican side, and that was always really striking to me. It was so different from what you see on the U.S. side.
Tucson and Phoenix were a different world. I’ve also spent a lot of my time in the Bronx, where my family’s real estate business is located. My grandfather had moved there from Poland. The Bronx is also a poor, challenging place to do business. I’ve been surrounded by people who are less fortunate than I am. That gives you a certain empathy for their circumstances. My father, Neil, is a writer and real estate mogul. My mother, Judith, was a hypnotherapist and is now an administrator for nonprofit groups focused on domestic violence. I got my B.S. in economics and real estate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School before studying investment management at UCLA Anderson. I started at UCLA during the financial crisis in 2009, when there were no jobs in investment management.
Q: What are your current jobs?
MTC: In December 2016, I became the founder and chief executive of Illumirai LLC., a consulting company. We provide insights so that businesses can understand their consumers. I also worked for four months as a marketing and communications-strategy consultant in the UCLA Office of Sustainability.
BC: I am a principal, portfolio manager and research analyst at Cove Street Capital in El Segundo.
Q: What prompted you to start the $50,000 GoFundMe?
MTC: When I was in the sustainability program, I became friendly with Nurit Katz (’08), UCLA’s chief sustainability officer. Even before the crisis, she told us that one-third of UCLA students (and 40 percent of students throughout the UC system) were food insecure, meaning that they struggled to gain regular access to food. Usually, UCLA’s Community Programs Office (CPO) operates a food closet on campus. It relies on food donations from local stores and is open to all students. Because of the COVID-19 lockdown, the closet had to close. We started talking about the domino effect it would have on different populations, especially in underprivileged communities. I reached out to Nurit and asked how we could help. She said the CPO, which had been distributing Target and Ralphs gift cards to food-insecure students, needed cash to help students get food and other essentials.
BC: I had a contact at DoorDash. He put me in touch with Sueli Shaw, the head of social impact, and we learned about what they were doing to help underserved communities and elderly people. We put her in touch with the manager of the CPO. We also want to help the budget of the CPO in general. Given the combination of lockdown and lack of job prospects, these are unprecedented times. We’ve used our networks to generate the first nearly $11,000 through our GoFundMe and are trying to tap other networks to continue to try to reach our goal. This is an ongoing issue that won’t abate anytime soon.
Q: What have your lives been like during the pandemic?
Class of 2011’s Ben and Mirei Claremon with their child and future Bruin Kaisei Claremon (’50)
MTC: It’s actually been positive for us. We have a baby, Kaisei, born in December. For us, it has been a blessing, since Ben can work from home and spend more time with the baby. It’s been quality family time.
BC: We live in Manhattan Beach, near a park. We haven’t been seeing people. We self-quarantined even before Governor Gavin Newsom shut down the state. It’s really been our little unit, although we do FaceTime with family and text a lot with our friends. This is time with Kaisei that I never would have had otherwise. We’re highly cognizant of how unique our situation is compared to that of many others. We have sympathy and empathy for the plight of others.