The 2013 EPIP National Conference included an awards ceremony. The EPIP Unity Award, which honors the chapter that has grown the most over the past year, went to EPIP Hawai’i, recognized as a chapter at the 2012 National Conference in Los Angeles. During the awards ceremony, Kevin Chang of the EPIP Hawai’i chapter and Executive Director of the Hawai’i Community Stewardship Network, sang and played the song Hawai’i 78. The following is a series of excerpts from a letter he wrote to the EPIP staff.
Mahalo nui (big thank you) for including a sense of Hawaiʻi in your conference and for the opportunity to share a song. For all you knew I was going to do my best Jerry Lewis impersonation so I appreciate the trust you had in us. Although, since Jerry Lewis was a philanthropist, too, maybe it would have gone over quite well! I wanted you to know that my EPIP Hawaiʻi Chapter friends work hard to bring people together here at home to tackle the wicked issues of our time. It was important to us to express that we are not just an island but part of a larger context and we have role to play.
The phrase that makes up the song we presented –“Hawaiʻi 78 “- is for some of our community a veiled kāhea (or call) of independence, the chorus: “Ua mau ke ea o ka ʻāina i ka pono”- our state motto: “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness”- relates to a time in history when the Native Hawaiian community had regained control of their destiny. The term “Ea” means both life and independence. Waves, however, continued to wash ashore and all waves give and take. Hawaiian leaders too were aware of a growing world exchange and interdependence, as we are more keenly addressing today. In this sense, the spirit of the song “Hawaiʻi 78” straddles the place where we all strive to preserve or renew the uniqueness of our community and sense of destiny while reconciling the changes of our world and our interdependence. This theme was impressed on me by the discussions I had with my fellow attendees at this year’s EPIP conference, my first experience with EPIP.
I appreciate the good works you are doing to get our young people thinking about new ways to address the issues of our changing world. The discussion on tackling complex issues through collective impact was refreshing to me. It reminded me of an essay by Wendell Berry where he says: “The proper business of a human economy is to make one whole thing of ourselves and this world. To make in to a practical wholeness with the land under our feet may be not altogether possible – how would we know? – But, as a goal, it at least carries us beyond hubris, beyond the utterly groundless assumption that we can subdivide our present great failure into a thousand separate problems that can be fixed by a thousand task forces of academic and bureaucratic specialists. That programme has been given more than a fair chance to prove itself, and we ought to know by now that it won’t work.”
Leadership, at least like the type described by Deborah Meehan of the Leadership Learning Community, is an ancient concept, one embraced by my Chinese ancestors (and many others) so long ago that it is engrained in our mythology and embodied in the characters you see adorning Chinese public places. One story is informative: the great Liu Bang was a commoner and not the progeny of Mandarin blood or ever expected to be a source of great leadership. He was supported by some of the greatest warriors and advisors yet what he brought to the table seemed unquantifiable. At a banquet to celebrate unity attendees, Liu Bang inquired with his assistant Chen Cen how it was that he was the leader and he said “what determines the strength of a wheel?” “Is it not the sturdiness of the spokes?” one responded. “Then why is it that two wheels made of identical spokes differ in strength?” asked Chen Cen. After a moment, he continued, “See beyond what is seen. Never forget that a wheel is made not only of spokes but also of the space between the spokes. Sturdy spokes poorly placed make a weak wheel. Whether their full potential is realized depends on the harmony between.”
This series, “Conference Reflections,” will feature a new post from one of our 2013 National Conference participants. To check out more of what happened during those three magical days, check out this site. And follow these posts to hear more from the fabulous leaders who made it what is was.