This Month, Local Organizations Will Mark Black August with Events Aimed at Education, Understanding and Building a Better Future
Peaceful Black Lives Matter protests across Hawai‘i in June overflowed with anger and tears in response to police killings of Black people in several states.
Breyahna King at the State Capitol
Passionate, emotional and powerful.
Peaceful Black Lives Matter protests across Hawai‘i in June overflowed with anger and tears in response to police killings of Black people in several states. This month, local organizations will mark Black August with events aimed at education, understanding and building a better future. Allana Coffee is a practicing psychologist who has lived in Hawai‘i most of her life: “I’m a local Black person. I’m from here, I’m local but I’m also very Black.” She was impressed by June’s large and peaceful protests in Honolulu. “That 10,000-person march was organized, led and primarily populated by young people, and that’s always so inspiring,” Coffee says.
Coffee points proudly to the diversity of her extended family, evidenced in their holiday gatherings: “If you see us at Christmas, it’s like a beautiful rainbow of everyone and the food reflects it: Filipino, Hawaiian, Japanese, Portuguese, everybody’s at the table.”
But she acknowledges that growing up Black—part of a community that makes up about 3% of Hawai‘i’s population—could be challenging. At ‘Ewa Beach Elementary, she was the only Black student in the school; at Wai‘anae Middle, she was one of two. The popular 1970s TV miniseries Roots gave her classmates an excuse to call her by the name of every character in the show. She’s hopeful about changing attitudes and proud that one of her 22-year-old twin sons joined the protests, then quarantined himself.
— AKIEMI GLENN
At the protests, Ashley Dee was among those leading the chants. She believes the thousands of people—many out of work, weary of being indoors and outraged by the video of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck while he struggled to breathe—were driven to join the march, despite the risk of COVID-19, to say: “This isn’t right. I’m coming outside my house, whatever I’ve got to do to make my voice be heard.” Dee says, “That’s what happens when you watch a man get the life squeezed out of him within 10 minutes with your own eyes.”
Dee moved to Honolulu from Louisville in February 2019, seeking a fresh start after a divorce. She works in quality assurance on the rail project and as a comedian. Recent killings on the Mainland upset and inspired her to act. Emergency room technician Breonna Taylor was shot to death by Kentucky police in Dee’s hometown.
Akiemi Glenn is a scholar and linguist who moved to Honolulu after college. She’s the founder and executive director of The Pōpolo Project, which explores Blackness in Hawai‘i and the larger Pacific. “All of those things together, the pandemic, the careful organizing of Black Lives Matter activists, the careful organizing of people here in Hawai‘i, I think, really converged.”
Kenneth Lawson, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa professor and co-director of the Hawai‘i Innocence Project, speaks at one of the protests in June.
Glenn encourages people to keep talking and learning. To help with that, The Pōpolo Project will be sponsoring online activities to mark this year’s Black August events. “I think a lot of people are doing a lot of thinking and reconsidering things that they thought they knew,” she says.
A strong voice at the protest belonged to Kenneth Lawson, who teaches at the UH law school, where he serves as co-director of the Hawai‘i Innocence Project, which works to free prisoners who have been wrongfully convicted. Lawson says he was moved to tears by the turnout and hopes that more community awareness will bring about increased police accountability here. “I do see where there’s still excessive force being used, especially killing people in custody.”
Lawson says the protest shows that people can make a difference and hopes the march spurs more action. He urges everyone to register to vote, and to vote. “It wasn’t just about people saying Black Lives Matter,” he says. “We don’t have time for systemic racism. I’m hoping that momentum continues, that it turns into activism.”
Find a list of Black August events at thepopoloproject.org