It’s a bright sunny day in July. The year is 2045 and you’re onboarding a flight to Hawaii on Alaska Airlines. Unbeknownst to you, your pilot is fellow Mercer Islander, Yori Tsunoda. From the jetway, you see the pilot greeting passengers and when you finally board you notice it’s Yori. He recognizes you and shakes hands. He notices you are with a child and quickly presents a captain’s pin. Casting a huge grin on your loved one.
Chezik Tsunoda would’ve been the person you called as soon as you landed to tell her how much you enjoyed seeing her son in the cockpit and how much he’s grown. Sadly, that day will not come because Yori fell to one of the most silent killers in our modern-day society. Drowning.
“Yori was a super energetic, loving, and adorable kid,” says Chezik. “He always wanted to be an Alaska Airlines pilot. After receiving a calendar as a keepsake, he studied the pictures and memorized every single plane.”
For Chezik, Yori is her north star, and he continues to guide his mother. He’s done an amazing job. With her guardian angel, Chezik has started a foundation, driven legislative action, and even debuted as a Movie Director and Producer.
For many, such an overwhelming grief might have silenced any spark of hope or purpose. But Chezik, driven by the profound love for her son, turned her grief into a mission. She resolved that no other parent should have to experience the heartbreak she felt.
“I know the hole in your heart.” She explains.
From this determination, she founded No More Under, a foundation dedicated to water safety awareness. Chezik strongly believes in education and a healthy dose of accountability. Chezik calls swimming a life-saving skill and it should be taught to all our area youth. This year, No More Under have given over 700 swimming lessons.
Chezik also reached out to Representative April Berg, who, having recognized the pressing need for change, joined forces with her. Together, they paved the way for the introduction of "Yori’s Law." This pivotal legislation consecrated May 15 as Washington Water Safety Day. On this dedicated day, parents, educators, and other key figures in a child’s life were urged to accentuate the importance of water safety. The essence of Yori’s Law mirrored habitual safety behaviors: Much like the automatic gesture of fastening a seatbelt in a vehicle, wearing a life jacket near any open waters was promoted as a reflex. The principal aim of the law was to embed these safety measures into daily consciousness, ensuring that everyone, regardless of age, understood the immediate actions to undertake in the face of potential drowning hazards.
And if this is enough, Chezik leveraged her background in journalism and film, embarking on a mission to chronicle her painful journey and honor Yori’s memory. She wrote, directed, and produced the movie, Drowning in Silence. Her film serves both as a touching homage to Yori and a compelling call to action about water safety.
In Chezik’s words, “The film is a way for Yori to live forever. It’s his legacy.”
The profound emotions and compelling narrative of the film resonate with audiences globally. It stands as a vivid reminder of the lurking dangers even in familiar surroundings. Due to its impactful message noteworthy film festivals like the Brooklyn Film Festival and the Santa Barbara International Film Festival have showcased "Drowning in Silence," amplifying the message of water safety.
Chezik’s journey has many highs and many lows. For support, she willingly credits her family, friends, and her wonderful Mercer Island Community.
Specifically, “I feel incredibly supported. I know I can reach out to my neighbors. From the day we moved in, I felt incredibly welcomed here.”
She fondly remembers everyone in the neighborhood coming to the film’s screening.
Chezik is an inspiration. She is blessed with off-the-charts energy, and you can feel her brilliance when you talk to her. When asked about a message to her neighbors and our Mercer Island Community, she had this sage advice.
“Let’s lean into wanting to keep our community safe. Holding each other accountable for water safety.” As if she was reminded by Yori, she quickly added, “That's what’s amazing about this island. There’s something so special about this place.”
“Yet, we can't deny we are surrounded by water. We can't take it for granted. When our kids are around the water, they need to let someone know if they’re going in and ask if they should wear a life jacket. Even for us, as adults. When we are on a boat, wear a life jacket.” Chezik’s messages resonate with many and I suspect that number continues to grow everyday with every viewing.
Through legislative action, her foundation, and her film, Chezik has transformed her personal heartbreak into a symbol of hope and proactive change. With Yori’s Law, there is a formal decree for Water Safety now on record in the State of Washington. “No More Under” actively educates on a group and individual basis, water safety and lifesaving skills. "Drowning in Silence" transcends its role as a film, becoming a rallying cry for communities to prioritize and champion the safety of their loved ones around water.
Altogether, quite a collection of ongoing legacy. Chezik has synthesized the message across these three meaningful entities.
Chezik continues her journey of education and awareness. Chezik seeks to enlighten more with her upcoming Ted Talk about “Looking Outward”. Chezik’s calling in thought leadership and film is only beginning.
For more information:
Drowning in Silence is on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.
@nomoreunder on Instagram and Facebook