“Talk Story” at KCC: Government and the Universe

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

The last few weeks have been so full of growth and productive contemplation — both for my father and I. It seems like even technology can’t keep up with the pace of our livesI had the opportunity to “talk story” with a photography club at the Kapiolani Community College recently. It was a late night talk and I was unfamiliar with the campus, so I walked towards a glowing map hoping for some direction. I was feeling a little anxious about the presentation for some reason, and laughed out loud when I read what was written on the map: “Kūlia i ka nu‘u.”

Following the sign from Derrick -- Kulia i ka nu`u (strive to the summit).

Following the sign from Derrick — Kulia i ka nu`u (strive to the summit).

The message couldn’t have been any clearer. I smiled as I thought about Derrick and the words he shared with me that morning after I had gone on-air for the Sunrise Show. It was another sign — everything would be alright. I was where I was meant to be.

And thank goodness for that sign because the talk definitely tested my comfort level with discussing homelessness as an “issue.” I shared my thoughts on the social circumstance of being homeless in my previous posts, and recognize that Hawai`i has been the focus of national and international attention because of the “rising rate of homelessness.”

So what exactly tested my comfort level? After I had shared our story, my photography, and a few video clips, I opened up the opportunity for the audience to ask questions… I expected questions like, “How did it feel when your father was on the streets?” or “What was the hardest part about the whole experience?”. And instead, one of the first questions I was asked was:

“What do you think the government can do to fix the homeless problem?”

This wasn’t entirely the first time I was asked this question, but there was something about the way it was asked… and the context… that really struck me. The room was filled with folks who were a lot more distinguished than my previous talk with the high school students at ‘Iolani School. This crowd most certainly had more life experience…. so, as I gazed at this gentleman, I paused and sighed out loud.

They heard my sigh.

I half-heartedly attempted to first acknowledge what “the government” has already done and is trying to do. I recognize it isn’t easy and that our leaders in both the public and private sector are trying. My years of training in academia prepped me just fine to talk about the various factors that are contributing to the rate of homelessness — the lack of affordable housing, jobs, low socio-economic status, and the list goes on. As I listened to the words coming out of my mouth, I felt this nagging pull in my heart to say what I felt… 

It’s interesting what happens when you feel intimidated by someone — what it felt like to be intimidated by his question. I guess I felt intimidated because I knew what I wanted to say, but I was afraid of being judged. I was afraid that he would think that it was a stupid answer. And that wasn’t really fair to the gentleman who asked me the question, because I wasn’t being honest.

I could see him nodding at what I was saying… it started “smart enough,” right? And then I shook my head and caught myself mid-sentence…

“You know… actually, I don’t think it’s completely up to the government to ‘fix’ the ‘homeless issue’… there is no sweeping policy that is going to ‘fix’ homelessness because this is about life. These people are at the bottom of their barrel for whatever reason and each person is different… it might be because of mental illness, substance abuse, being an immigrant or migrant, or just out of choice… whatever the reason is, they’re there and from my experience, these people really need to feel loved and respected before they can ever get out of where they are. They need someone to believe in them — and no amount of money or social service is going to mean anything unless they’re ready to receive the help that the government and organizations provide. They need to want different for themselves, but the tragedy is when they’re mentally incapacitated and can’t make that decision… like my dad… then someone needs to step in… I just sit there and spend my time getting to know the person, and talk about their dreams, their goals… what they hope for and how they envision their future.”

I thought about all of the men, women, and children I have met on the streets; I thought about what they shared with me — and what they needed to thrive. Yes, we do need more affordable housing, we do need more jobs, and people need a livable wage, access to quality care, and access to quality education. I know our legislators are working on that — the system might not be perfect, but at least we live in a democracy where we can participate in shaping our system to fit the needs of our time.

That single question opened up a web of other inquiries relating to mental illness rates and other policies within our State. I felt as if I were back in a law classroom for a few minutes. 🙂

After the talk was over, I was greeted with warm hugs and words of encouragement. I appreciated the intellectually stimulating conversations and the prospect of working with others and participating in the ongoing discussion of how to address the social circumstance of homelessness in Hawai`i. One woman who was sitting in the front row approached me afterwards and asked what my plans were after I graduate from law school. There it was… another question that made me feel uncomfortable… this time, I answered honestly:

“I’m just going to leave it up to the universe and stay open to the possibilities.”

She grinned and gave me a curious look. I wondered what that look meant. Immediately after I had responded, the organizer of the talk came over and said, “Oh! You met Judge ______!”

My first thought was, “Oh geez, you just told a judge that you were going to leave it up to the universe…” *sigh* Yep, I told her I was going to leave it up to the u-n-i-v-e-r-s-e. And you know what? It really is the truth. I did manage to explain that every time I try to make these grand plans, it always seems like another opportunity takes me down another path. She smiled and replied, “Maybe you could work for the government.” I’m not sure what she meant by that, but I nodded and say, “Sure, maybe!”

A group photo with the photography club members at KCC.

A group photo with the photography club members at KCC.

What I found to be really interesting about that evening was that the room was full of working professionals, retired physicians and health workers, current department heads, students, and even a judge… and they all had an interest or passion in photography. I was in good company. I was surrounded by people who appreciated the power of the visual medium in sparking social change. That made me smile on my drive home.

It seems like that evening started the avalanche of inquiries from family and friends about what I’m going to do after graduation. I may not have the exact answer to that right now, but what I do know is that I’m on the right path… right here, right now. And even with the uncertainty that lies ahead, I know that as long as I am following my heart, things will always work out.

There is so much more to share, but I really need to get back to writing my research paper on the intersection between mental illness and homelessness (no, I’m not kidding)! As a reminder for the next post… I want to share what my father had to say about my upcoming graduation… and the lovely lunch we had celebrating his belated birthday and his huge accomplishment in passing the taxi-cab test! Until next time… 🙂

Hugs, Diana


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