A voice for unity – MidWeek


Through leadership positions at the Grassroot Institute of Hawai’i and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Keli’i Akina was able to use her voice to effect change while fulfilling an initial promise to live a life of service to others.

When Keli’i Akina was a child, he had one simple task every time he came home from school and that was to immediately pick up a storybook and start reading his little heart.

Even before he was allowed to run away and play with his siblings or friends, reading time was a priority as his comprehension and verbal skills required exercise and refinement. These were Mother’s orders. Dutifully, he would comply by climbing onto his knees and flipping through page after page, eager to practice projecting his small but developing voice.

“I still remember her saying, ‘Read more expressively. Read louder. Pronounce it better, ”Akina recalls.

Keli’i Akina has used his voice in a number of ways over the years, most notably as a court cantor while attending Kamehameha schools in the 1970s. PHOTO COURTESY OF KELI’I AKINA

While his mother’s motivation behind these reading sessions was not immediately apparent to him, they became clearer to Akina in the years that followed. Although she does not have a high school diploma, Marian Akina was adamant that her children receive a proper education and learn, in part, to use their voice effectively and to express themselves clearly.

“From the very beginning I have tried to live my life by the statement which says, ‘Reading makes a man broad, writing makes a man precise and speaking makes a man ready,” said the man. born William Keli’i Akina, who adds that one of his mother’s proudest moments came when he became a champion debater and speaker in his alma mater, Kamehameha Schools.

This ability to clearly express his thoughts through written and spoken words has served him well in his current roles as President and CEO of the grassroot Institute of Hawai’i (GIH) non-partisan think tank and as deputy head. of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). Equally important has been his unwavering belief that no problem is insurmountable as long as there is room for people with opposing ideas to freely express their views in the pursuit of mutual understanding.

Akina and three of her children (left to right) Ho’onani, KeAupuni and Kamana attend the lei draping ceremony for the statue of King Kamehameha in the nation’s capital. Wife Liz and her son Mauloa are not pictured. PHOTO COURTESY OF KELI’I AKINA

Despite what Akina calls “the enormous challenges Hawai’i faces,” the public policy spokesperson and community leader remains optimistic about the state’s future, simply because he has confidence in his fellow citizens. .

As he explains, “We have a tremendous resource, and it’s the people of Hawai’i. Throughout my professional and adult career, I have believed in people, developed people and tried to bring them together to find solutions to our challenges.

“I’m trying to practice a little phrase called ‘e hana kākou’ – which are three little Hawaiian words that literally mean ‘let’s work together’,” Akina continues. “If we can look beyond our differences and find common ground, then broaden that common ground, we can solve all of our problems and challenges.

The OHA deputy head keeps his promise of greater accountability for administrator expenses by returning his discretionary allowance to OHA grantees. PHOTO COURTESY OF KELI’I AKINA

“I always thought it was time to stop dividing us and start uniting.

Akina is fortunate to be able to make changes from his perspectives at GIH – which he joined in 2013 and celebrates his 20th anniversary this year – and at OHA, where he was first elected in 2016.

Since joining GIH, Akina has viewed his role as operating from a “10,000 foot level” in search of sound public policy solutions for the state.

“We always work to promote individual freedom, economic freedom, and responsible and limited government at the Grassroot Institute, and these three values ​​come together when we look at the government’s handling of the pandemic, for example,” says Akina, who oversees a team of 18 staff who produce policy research, videos, editorials and cartoons as an “independent voice” representing the people of Hawaii.

“My heart breaks when I see the division that has grown between our fellow citizens,” he continues. “Many of us support the important role of government in managing the crisis situation; many of us support the protection of individual rights and the right of businesses to operate as freely as they see fit. Unfortunately, when these two perspectives are seen as antithetical, misunderstandings arise and spirits heat up, and we find ourselves with increasing tension. “

But while he recognizes the vital role government plays in any crisis and strongly believes that state and city officials are doing “what they think best” given the circumstances, he advises caution in moving forward.

“The government must not overstep its constitutional limits and end up violating the freedoms it is in fact responsible for protecting,” Akina said, adding that it is only by proceeding “in a rational manner, based on factual and respectful “that the state can avoid” trampling on the rights of individuals “and” solving our problems “.

As the CEO of the OHA, Akina sees things more at the ‘ground level’, in which he and other board members are responsible for maintaining a trust fund while ensuring that the housing, employment, education and health care needs of Native Hawaiians are being met. During his five years at the state agency, he is particularly proud to collaborate with his colleagues and to have put in place the necessary reforms, which he says has not only helped to protect trust, but to increase it so that it can be used “for appropriate purposes”.

Ultimately, operating from two perspectives at the OHA and the GIH helped Akina understand “the different ways we can help people of all backgrounds, perspectives and beliefs work together.” .

“Of course we’re going to have differences and that makes us who we are,” he adds. “However, if we start with our differences and use them to create distance from each other, we’re never going to come together at the pace we need to. This is why I continue to emphasize the e hana kākou spirit.

As he thanks his mother for helping him find his speaker’s voice and Hawaiian culture leader Winona Beamer turned him into a court cantor for his halau in Kamehameha (“I still practice the art singing to this day, “he notes), Akina designates a famous reverend for inspiring him to live a life of service to others.

“When I was in my last year at Northwestern University, I attended a national conference where Billy Graham spoke,” Akina recalls. “I was so impressed with his message of bringing the love of God to the whole world that I made a commitment to dedicate myself to the service of humanity.”

His career would then shift from Christian ministry on the Wai’anae Coast – where for three decades he led crisis intervention programs for Youth for Christ and served as its president, and eventually founded the Center for Tomorrow’s Leaders in nonprofit – to toss his hat into academia. He did so first as an exchange professor at Peking University, which lectured him throughout China to discuss human rights issues, and later as a member faculty assistant at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa and at the University of Hawai’i Pacific.

Despite the different paths taken by her career, Akina’s initial commitment to serving others remains the guiding principle of her life. This is why he continues to have faith in humanity, why he continues to use his voice to preach a message of unity and why he still believes in better days for the Hawaiian people.

“The past eight years with the Grassroot Institute have been exciting for me and a wonderful opportunity to practice bringing people together around problems while we find solutions,” he concludes. “It’s rewarding to work with such talented people who all have a passion for making Hawaii the best place in the world where our freedoms and opportunities can flourish. “

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