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  • Kīpuka, Native Hawaiian Center at Pu'uloa

January 17th: A Day of Reflection

This year, January 17th has the distinction of being both the day the Hawaiian Kingdom government was overthrown with Queen Liliʻuokalani being deposed from her throne, and it is the day we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. How profound and significant is it for these two powerful social justice agents to find themselves intertwined in history on such an important day?

When reflecting on these two historical figures, there are many parallels that can be drawn regarding the course of their lives.

In her earlier years, Liliʻuokalani felt a strong sense of duty to her community and was instrumental in organizing schools for Hawaiian youth. Her final legacy to her people was the creation of a trust dedicated to promoting the well-being of orphaned and destitute Hawaiian keiki. This trust continues to serve thousands of children each year.

Upon ascending the throne, Queen Liliʻuokalani understood the precarious state of her nation and surveyed her people to ascertain what they wanted from her as their new sovereign. She saw her people suffering and dying in droves from introduced diseases, and she contended with traitors to her government (many in her own cabinet) vying for control of the nation. Out of her love and sense of kuleana to her people, she was forced to abdicate her throne to the United States to avoid bloodshed. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also recognized the serious challenges facing his community. Segregation, discrimination, and violence was the standard endured by Black people in the United States. King held rallies, organized protest marches, and staged sit-ins at various businesses to spread the message that all people in the U.S. must have equal rights under the law.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was also influenced by what he encountered here in Hawaiʻi. During his first visit in 1959, he referred to Hawaiʻi as a “noble example of racial justice and harmony.” He went on to state that those fighting for equality in the South “look to you [Hawaiʻi] for inspiration.” During a march to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965, King and other activists wore lei gifted by Rev. Abraham Akaka as a symbol of the importance of aloha in the pursuit of justice.

Both Liliʻuokalani and King were educated people who felt a deep sense of responsibility to fight for the rights of those they led. For their efforts, they suffered many losses and were eventually imprisoned as they were seen as formidable threats to the powers that be. Although they were surrounded by subversive individuals determined to dismantle their work, they persevered. In the face of betrayal and great hardship, they clung to their faith and continued to follow their principles of non-violence.

When I reflect on the contributions both these individuals have made to the lives of so many, I am humbled and grateful. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to continue their work to impact equity for those I encounter.

On several occasions I have had the opportunity to visit the room Queen Liliʻuokalani was imprisoned in at ʻIolani Palace and think about what that must have been like for her and the strength it took to carry her people through that time. Several years ago, I was also able to go to Atlanta and see the place where Martin Luther King Jr. grew up which has been converted into a national park.

I came to a beautiful pool with the words, "We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream." This flowed to the graves of Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King. I remember standing there thinking about all that they and so many others had sacrificed. I felt a deep sense of sorrow for all the pain they endured and an abiding gratitude for the impacts that the civil rights movement has had, and continues to have, for countless people around the world. I saw that on Mrs. King's grave was a scripture verse that a Hawaiian composer, Robert Nawahine wrote into a song entitled Ekolu Mea Nui, one that I have sung so many times as a child.

ʻEkolu mea nui ma ka honua Three important things in the world

ʻO ka manaʻoʻiʻo, ka manaʻolana Faith, hope

A me ke aloha ke aloha ka i ʻoi aʻe And love, love is the best

Pōmaikaʻi nā mea a pau And everything is blessed

Pōmaikaʻi nā mea a pau And everything is blessed

To honor them, I sang that song at the grave through many tears. My experience there was incredibly impactful and humbling when reflecting on the example set by these peaceful warriors.

This January 17th, please take some time to reflect on how the efforts of these remarkable people have impacted your life and how that has shaped your kuleana.

Author: Piʻikea Hardy-Kahaleoumi, Associate Professor, Native Hawaiian Program Counselor



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