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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Ballard: Path to Top Cop

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX - Susan Ballard: Path to Top Cop

 

The conversation with Chief Susan Ballard continues with insights into her almost-33 years with the Honolulu Police Department. She reveals the ways she had to prove herself as a rare woman on the police force and how she is breaking the mold of her predecessors by just being herself.

 

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Sept. 2, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Susan Ballard: Path to Top Cop Audio

 

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Transcript

 

You know, this lady, a nice Japanese lady, she let me come, she let me sleep on her floor.  For four months, I was there.  We had lunch maybe about a month ago.  And she reminded me, because I had started the process to go into the police department. And she said: Do you remember what you told me?  And this was not when I was living with her, but after I had moved out, but you know obviously, we stayed friends.  She said: You remember what you told me?  And I said: No.  And she says: I’ll never forget that I asked you, How long are you gonna stay in the police department?  ‘Cause she knew it wasn’t anything I really wanted to do.  And I said: Ah, I think I’m gonna stay until I make chief.   And I said: I really said that?  And she said: I will never forget that; and when you made chief, it was just like I was like, holy cow, that really happened.

 

Thirty-two years later.

 

Yup; thirty-two years later.  Exactly.

 

When Susan Ballard joined the police force in 1985, there were few women cops, let alone in high positions.  She didn’t necessarily plan to make a career of being a police officer, but she persevered, and overcame barriers. Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Susan Marshall Ballard grew up in the South, raised to be a proper Southern lady.  She moved to Honolulu in the early 80s with no particular plans, other than to look for work at McDonald’s as a manager, a job she’d done before, until she figured out what to do next.  Ballard became friends with police officers at the Central YMCA, and they persuaded her to apply at the Police Department.  Now, there weren’t many women cops at the time, and there were many male officers who felt that women were not up for the job and could put them in harm’s way.

 

I guess I’ve always been a rebel, too.  I mean, you know, even growing up, I was kind of a tomboy, you know, just because you sorta had to, to take care of yourself because of the situation. But when I went into recruit school, we had like about four women.  We started out with like four women in our class, which was a large amount at the time. And unfortunately, I think we only ended up—I’m sorry, started with five, and we graduated with three that continued on, actually all the way through retirement.  Two of ‘em retired already; I’m the only one left.  But you really did have to prove yourself.  I mean, when you went to defensive tactics, it was like, you know, they would try their best to try and, you know, get you to quit, you know, to give up.  You know, I always tell the story that, you know, there was a bunch of men in the class who formed the I Hate Women Club.  You know, because they didn’t think that women should be in the police department.  Well, I didn’t care.  I would jump in the truck with them and say: Well, sorry, I’m going with you regardless. You know, and I think after you kinda push yourself on ‘em enough, and they see that you can, you know, take care of yourself and you weren’t gonna back down, then you know, things became easier. Is it right?  Well, no, it wasn’t, but you know, that’s the way it was going through recruit school.

 

But you didn’t take offense?

 

No; I really didn’t.  You know, it didn’t really faze me.  Maybe because I was just kind of oblivious, or maybe I was in my own world somewhere, but I didn’t pay that much attention to it.  I’ll never forget when I first went out on the road, the first case that I went to, you know, the guy who was supposed to be covering me off—and it was a domestic.  So, I went in and I said: Are you coming in?  And he’s standing outside the door of this, and he says: No.  And I was like: Okay.

 

No backup.

 

Yeah; yeah.  So, I went in, and you know, resolved the situation and stuff.  And then after that, he was okay.  But I had to prove that, you know, you could.  And you know, couple of the other stories, you know, that I tell is that when I was down in Waikīkī, we had a hostage situation, so we had to call out SSD. At that time, it was the SWAT team. And it was my beat, so it was like, whoo, I was all excited because, you know, I was gonna, you know, be there, you know, and you have this case.  And so, the SWAT team came, and the SWAT major was there.  And my lieutenant, you know, bless his heart, Wally Akeo, he was like the best lieutenant ever.  But you know … he came, and I says: Okay.  I said: You know, I’m gonna go ask, you know, what is it that I can do, because it’s my beat, I want to make sure that I do what I can.  So, I went up to the major of the SWAT team and I said: Excuse me, sir. I said: What is it that you want me to do?  He said: Be a good girl and go get us some coffee.  Well, me being the person I am, I was ready to rip—I didn’t care what his rank was, I was ready to rip into him.  God bless my lieutenant; he grabs me by the shirt and just pulls me out.

 

And he tells me: Calm down; go over there, just calm down.  But did you hear what he said to me?  And he says: Just take it easy.  But you know, those are the types of things, you know, that we had to deal with.  Even at the main station … I don’t know, way back when, our director said that women had to wear brassieres.  It was required.  And so, during our lineups, our lieutenants would come behind us like this, the women, and check like this to see if we had a brassiere on.  Yeah.

 

Wow!

 

Yeah.

 

It sounds like the Middle Ages.

 

Exactly.  Well, I mean, uh, even the weight room.  The weight room was behind the men’s locker room.  And so, for us to go workout in the weight room, we had to walk through the men’s locker room.  And so, we were only allowed to go down one side of the locker room, and as we approached the door, we had to yell: Woman coming through, woman coming through! Well, I mean, let’s face it; all that’s gonna do is egg ‘em on.  So, you can imagine.  Man, we got flashed, I mean, anything that you can imagine.  They always told us: You don’t look, you keep your eyes straight ahead.  It didn’t make any difference what they did.  It was: You look straight ahead.  But, yeah.  So, it was an interesting time.

 

And there was a time when an interview board asked you what rank you thought you thought you would want to be, and you said captain.

 

I did.

 

And they said?

 

They laughed.  They said: Oh, there’ll never be a woman captain.  Okay, well … good.  Okay; whatever.  You needed to ask me something, I answered.  I didn’t even know what a captain was at the time, actually.  So, you know, I figured, hey, that sounds high. I’ll just shoot for captain.

 

 

Along the way, I’m sure you made friends and got advice, too.  What kinds of advice helped you along the way as a, at the time, rare woman, and still a rare woman in the police department?

 

You know, I go back that, you know, I was very lucky as I came through, because I had a lot of really good supervisors.  And obviously, they were all men, because at the time, there weren’t that many women supervisors.  But Bill Clark was my major at the training division when I had become sergeant.  And you know, I guess one of the things I always remember about him is that he would just tell us, he says: You guys do whatever it is that you need to do; you go create programs, do whatever.  And that’s kind of what I got from—you know, take risks and stuff.  You know, try it.  If it doesn’t work, it’s okay.  Then I had Steven Watarai, Chief Watarai at the time.  And everybody was just in fear of him.  I mean, it was like when they told me I was gonna go and work for him, I was like: Oh, no.  I said: I’m in trouble now.  But you know what?  He sat me down and he says: You know what?  He says: I trust you, until you show me that you can’t trust you anymore.  And you know what?  And he always … he would support you, he would, you know, go to bat for you.  You know, and he was true to this word.  And as long as you didn’t do anything that caused him not to trust you, he was behind you one hundred percent.  So, I mean, like I say, I was very lucky.  And like Wally Akeo, when I was in Waikīkīwhen I first went down there, you know, because there were very few women, but he always encouraged me to like, take the sergeant’s test.  He would encourage me to go out and do things that, you know, I wouldn’t normally do. And you know, he would basically tell me: You can do whatever it is that you want to do.  And you know, and that was back, you know, in ’88, you know, back when it was unheard of.  So, like I said, I’ve always really been lucky for the most part, always working with some good supervisors who were very supportive.

 

And then, you dismissed the flack, pretty much. You just decided that you weren’t gonna deal with that.

 

Yeah. Yeah.  You know, I gave this talk to my managers.  And one of the things that I said is, you know, I learn a lot from my dogs.  And one of ‘em is, if you can’t play with it, you can’t eat it, pee on it and walk away.

 

And sometimes, you know what?  If something doesn’t serve you, if it’s not working for you, you know what, you just gotta walk away from it.  You can’t pay it any mind.  It’s like it’s not worth you spending time to worry about.  And I think that’s kind of been, you know, my philosophy all along. ‘Cause you can find yourself getting caught up in things and going: Oh, well, this person’s out to get me, and this person.  But you know what, then you’re letting them control your life.  You have to control your own life.  You can’t let people make you upset because they control you. You’ve gotta control the way that you feel.  And it’s a constant reminder.  I mean, even to this day.  But you know, I mean, that’s one of the things.  If you find yourself getting caught up in stuff, you know, it’s like: Okay, stop. You need to control your own destiny. Don’t let other people control what you think, or what you say.

 

And don’t spend one more moment on it; right?

 

Exactly; exactly.

 

Former Police Chief Louis Kealoha was running the Police Department when Susan Ballard turned in her retirement papers.  Morale in the Department was low, as the police force watched and waited for the Chief to be indicted in a Federal corruption case. A series of events during this time turned Susan Ballard in a new direction.

 

You’d been through years and years of police being unhappy with chiefs.

 

Kinda interesting.  When I was commander of District 4 out in Kāneohe and Kailua, I had said that, you know, when I hit, I think it was like twenty-eight years, I was gonna retire.  So, I was at twenty-seven, and Chief Kealoha and Deputy Chief McCauley were in power.  And they really started … and for whatever reason, you know, I don’t know what it is, and obviously when you have power like that, you have people who are gonna kowtow to you and do whatever it is that they want, so that they can get ahead. And you know, and I saw that.  And so, one person did that, and they made allegations, you know.  Oh, well, you know, she’s not being a team player, or whatever.  And it’s like without even asking me why I was doing what I was doing, it was like: Okay, well, you’re out of there.  You know, you’re going down to Central Receiving Desk, which was, you know, like the place where you buried people.  It was the bad place to work, you know.  We only send people down there who were you know, not doing well, and all this other stuff.  So that’s what happened.  And instead of retiring, I said: You know what?  I’m gonna stay around, and I’m just gonna be a needle in their side. So, I thanked them for transferring me out of District 4, because if they hadn’t, if they’d let me stay there one more year, I would have been gone.  But they didn’t.  Once again, as I said, everything happens for a reason.  So, I went down to the desk.  And I was quite unhappy when I went to the desk.  It was like, you know, I’m not gonna do anything.  You know, it’s like, you know what, the heck with these people.  But then, after about a week or two, you know, I started meeting the people who were working down there and says: You know what, these people don’t deserve it. And so, you know what?  I made up my mind at that point in time; I says: We are going to make Central Receiving Desk the best place to work in the Department. We are gonna take care of our little corner of the world.  We didn’t care what was happening on the outside.  They can do whatever it is that they were doing, but we were gonna take care of Central Receiving.  And that’s exactly what we did.  And I got a team together, the sergeants, the lieutenants, you know, the officers who were down there.  Awesome group of people.  I mean, all of a sudden, it went from a place where half of ‘em would transfer out. Every time that there was a transfer, the people were putting their names in to come and join us down at Central Receiving Desk.  So, I decided, you know what, it was great.  And I knew that they would never transfer me, because they weren’t gonna put me anywhere.  So, it was like, great; just leave me down here.  I was having a great time, you know, I had a great group of people to work with.  And so, lo and behold, you know, all this started happening.  Well, we kinda knew what was going on, I think, long before, you know, the public. And so, you know, when it came out, and then he finally retired … because the indictment was taking so long, I thought, you know what—I mean, ‘cause it was like, two years, three years, or whatever that it took.  And I thought: You know what, I’m just gonna retire.  I said: You know what, I’ve got thirty-two years in the department, um, you know, I’m not gonna, apply for the position.  But what had happened was that officers, not just the people who were working down at the desk, but the officers would coming in, and they would ask me: Are you putting in for Chief?  And I said: No, I think I’m just gonna retire.  So, it was actually the officers, they said: Please, we’re asking you, please put in to become Chief.  And I said: All right.  And I did. And so, I put in.  But honestly, I never thought that this would happen, because of what was going on, you know, with the Chief, that obviously the public, the commission, everybody thought, you know, we’re gonna go on the outside, we’re gonna pick somebody who’s not in the department, ‘cause everybody in the department is corrupt.

 

But it helped you to be sidelined.

 

It was.

 

You were on the outs.

 

Everything happens for a reason.  It was great. I mean, otherwise, you know what, I probably would have, you know, never been selected because, you know, I would have been tainted, you know, with that administration.

 

On October 25, 2017, the Honolulu Police Commission announced its appointment of Major Susan Ballard to become Honolulu’s eleventh Police Chief, and first woman at the top of the Department.

 

When you’re the police chief, you run on O‘ahu. I don’t know if it’s still true, but it was once the eleventh largest city in America, the whole island.  But essentially, you’re running a mini city.

 

Right.

 

What’s that like every day?  When do you start, what do you do?

 

Well, I mean, I do all my workout in the morning.  Because I know that once my day starts, I’ll lose control.

 

Are you a gym person, or do you do that at home?

 

Actually, I’ve got my weight room at home, and then I do my yoga at, you know, a couple of different yoga studios in town.  And then, you know, I’ll jog on my treadmill like three days a week, or whatever. And then, kinda like do a boot camp type workout.  But it’s all within my house.  I really don’t belong to a formal gym, other than the yoga studios.  Because I’m an early morning person, I mean like, really early.

 

Early; how early?

 

Like, I wake up like, midnight.  I mean, because I have a hard time sleeping.

 

When do you go to sleep?

 

That’s why the nighttime events are so hard sometimes, because I usually try and get to bed by about seven-thirty.  And so, yeah, my sleep … I mean, I had insomnia for quite a while, so now that if I can get four or five hours sleep, I’m like: Yes!

 

And then, you wake up around midnight?

 

Yeah. And so, I usually do my workout, and stretching and then, you know, getting ready, and then go do my workout and stuff.  And that usually takes me ‘til maybe about two o’clock in the morning, two-thirty. And then, that’s when I walk my dogs.

 

Wow …

 

So, everybody in Kailua knows, here’s the crazy chief, she’s walking around.

 

It’s funny, because the newspaper people delivering newspapers, they stop by and say good morning.  You know. And then after that, when I come home, then I usually have time to take like about an hour nap.  And then, I get up and then I go do yoga or whatever usually around five, five-thirty, six o’clock.

 

You’ve had a full day by the time you get to work.

 

I do. And that’s why tell people; I said: You know, your five o’clock in the afternoon is my like, midnight.  Okay?

 

Right, right.

 

Yeah. So, yeah.  And then, I usually get to work, and then you know, try and you know, clear up the email.  But like I said, a lot of times, I just have um, events and, you know, those types of things.  And then, we have what we call chief’s reviews, so I, you know, go out to the different districts and the divisions and, you know, talk to the officers.  And we do a little different.  Before, it was very formal.  Now, I like, you know, the officers just to sit down, and I want ‘em to ask questions.  And they can ask questions about anything.  And I told ‘em; I said: If I can answer ‘em, I’m gonna answer ‘em.  If I can’t, I’m gonna find the answer and get back to you.  And they know, I’m not gonna take offense to anything that you ask.  And I think the officers, you know, are realizing that. If I’m lucky enough to have a block of time free, I’ve been trying actually go out and jump in a car with one of the officers, and then, you know, go patrolling with ‘em.  Because you know, you learn a lot from ‘em, sitting in the car with them, you know, talking.  I was down in Chinatown couple days ago, you know, and I was talking to some of the homeless when we were getting ‘em to move off the sidewalk. So, you know, I try and do that, you know, because at the same time, you know, the officers want to know that you’re there for them as well.  So, I mean, it’s not just the community like I said before, but you know, it’s for the officers as well.

 

It’s true; you have a lot of constituents.

 

You know, one thing that people get upset about more than anything else is like parking, and being stopped.  You know, and and they’re all: Oh, you know, you’re just giving us a parking tag, or you’re just giving us a citation because you need the money.

 

Yeah; you should chase real crime.

 

Right; exactly.  You know. And we tell ‘em, we says: Okay, well, first let me clear up a misconception.  HPD doesn’t get any of the money from the citations.  It all goes to the State; nothing comes to us.  But you know, we tell ‘em.  You know, I mean, one of our biggest complaints—like I had one gentleman at one of the talks, and he was very outspoken, that he felt that it was highway robbery that we were stopping people, you know, for different types of traffic violations, and that we should be out there solving the real crimes. And I told him, I said: Do you know what the number one complaint is from the communities, from almost every single community, besides the homeless—we’ll just leave that out for now. But it’s parking problems, and speeding, and other types of traffic, you know, violations.  I said: So, we’re out there doing what the community is asking us to do.  And you know, I mean, it’s just like DUIs.  You know, you stop someone who’s drunk, and they go: Why you stopping me, I didn’t kill anybody.  Not yet.

 

That guy’s drunker than me.

 

Yeah.

 

Do you feel like people are really watching closely?

 

They do.  You know, and I think more so initially.  Like for example, you know, before, if I went out to dinner or, you know, or I’d meet my friends over at Whole Foods in Kailua, and we’d have, you know, a couple of beers or whatever.  I mean, I ride my bike everywhere, I don’t drive my car.  But now, as Chief, I you know, choose not to ever drink in public or have a drink, because people don’t know, they don’t know that I’m not driving. You know, they see me and they think: Oh, well, here she is, having a beer, and you’re talking about drinking and driving.  So you know, I’m very careful about that type of thing.  Um, so that, you know, on the weekends, after I come back from a hot yoga class, I like to have a beer.  So, you know, I’ll have that at home.  But, yeah. So, I mean, that’s something that you know, I force on myself not because, you know, anybody else had said: Oh, well, you can’t do this, or that anybody ever made a comment.  I guess I’m probably my worst enemy.

 

In the more recent past, police chiefs haven’t served all that long.  It hasn’t been a long tenure for them, maybe seven years, five years.  Before, there were long-serving police chiefs.

 

Right.

 

What do you think you’ll do?

 

You know, I’m older than most.  So, you know, like I tell people; I said: You know, we’re just taking it one year at a time. You know, I don’t know, in five years, you know.  And a lot of it is the tenure is shorter because there are just so many issues.  It’s not like before, where it was a more, hate to say, simpler time.  But it was. But now, I mean, I would not want to be an officer out on the road now.  There is so much stuff that they have to deal with and do that, you know, we didn’t have to do coming up.

 

Yeah; I was just thinking about men in the police department over the years, and you know, there is a certain amount of stoicism and, you know, a face that doesn’t show emotion, and sunglasses, and not talking too much.

 

Yes.

 

Did you ever feel like, hey, that’s kind of a model, strength; quiet strength model.

 

It is, and it’s still.  And I mean, even you go up to the chief level.  Because, I mean, you know, all the other chiefs have been pretty stoic, and you know, the model that you’re talking about.  And I think that might have been a big difference, big change for people, you know, the officers who are in the department, ‘cause now all of a sudden, you’ve got somebody who is, for lack of a better term, I’m very loquacious.

 

And you know, we laugh and we joke.  I mean, before, if you went up on the fourth floor, which is where the assistant chiefs and our offices are, you could hear a pin drop.  I mean, it was dead silence.  I mean, you know, it was like you went into this—it’s almost quiet as a cemetery.  Now, you go up there, and people laughing and joking, and you know.  I mean, it’s a big change.  And even the officers, it’s like all of a sudden now, they seem to have permission to smile.  It’s okay to smile, it’s okay to laugh, it’s okay to be happy.  You don’t have to always put up that face.  Unfortunately, we’re still trying to, you know, like with the public, you don’t have to be that robot, that perfect person.  I said: You know, you can come out of your shell. Because, I mean, most of ‘em are very personable people, you know, once you get to know ‘em.  But it seems like, you know, all these years, that is you know, the way that officers are portrayed.  So, we’re trying to break that mold, you know, and trying to move out of that realm.

 

Well, you heard what the Mayor’s representative—I think the Mayor was out of town, but it was Roy Amemiya saying, you know, that you’ve been chosen, and your job is to restore trust in the police.  And it is true that there’ve been a number of scandals and incidents such as domestic violence, and an unwillingness to address that.  And how do you plan to restore that trust?

 

You know, it’s kinda interesting that when I first became Chief, it was during Christmas season, parade season.  And so, I was, you know, walking in some of the parades, and you know, people were, you know, yelling and cheering, and stuff.  And I was just walking down.  It’s like, wow, they’re really excited about their parades.  And one of my deputy chiefs turned to me and said: Chief … you know, I think they’re cheering, they’re yelling because you’re going by. And I’m going: What?  And so, I started going over and shaking people’s hands and stuff, and you know, and basically saying: Thank you.  And it was just so humbling that everything that this department has gone through, you know, in the last several years, that the community—and this was everywhere, was willing to forgive and forget.  I mean, maybe not totally forget, because it’s always gonna be back there.  It wasn’t just the community’s trust that was broken; our department internally, the officers’ trust was completely obliterated.  I mean, to the point where you had retirees that were embarrassed to say that they retired from the Honolulu Police Department, and that they would not say anything.  But you know what?  It’s nice to hear now that, you know, they’re proud of saying that they are, you know, retired from the Honolulu Police Department, ‘cause they see that we are trying to change.  And just like I tell people when we go outside, I said: It’s not gonna happen overnight.  And I’m not gonna tell you that our officers aren’t gonna do anything wrong, because they absolutely will; it’s no different from your children.  They’re gonna make bad decisions, and they’re gonna make bad choices, but we are going to address it.  I tell people even now, the people who get promoted; I said: You know, the higher you go, the more humble you need to be.  Why do you need to flaunt your power?  I mean, yeah, you’ve got it, it’s there.  But why?  I mean, if you have to do that, then obviously, you’re doing something wrong. I said: You know, you should be the most humble person in the world, the higher up that you go.  Because you know, that way people feel comfortable around you, and you can get a lot more things done.

 

At the time of our conversation, Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard was eight months into her five-year term as Police Chief, and one month shy of her thirty-third year in the Department. Mahalo to Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard of Kailua, O‘ahu for sharing your stories with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

You know, I always tell people; I said: You know, as long as you do the right thing, for the right reason, in the right way, then I feel fine.  I mean, you’re never gonna get everybody to agree.  There’s always gonna be somebody who disagrees with you. And that’s just the world that we live in.  But as long as you don’t do anything, you know, mean or retaliatory, but you do it for the betterment of the community, the betterment for the officers, then how can you go wrong.  You know. And if I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit, okay, well, we messed up.  Or if a law is passed and says: Oh, well, you can’t do this anymore.  Okay, well, you know, you’ve given me my direction, you know, and we’ll have to move in that direction.  But as long as long as you do it with a good heart, and you’re doing it for the right reason, you know, I can go home and I can sleep at night.

 

 

SEASONING THE SEASONS SPECIAL
Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i, Part 1: The Women Pioneers

SEASONING THE SEASONS SPECIAL - Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i, Part 1: The Women Pioneers

 

This program focuses on the Japanese women of Hawai‘i, going back to the time when they first arrived in the Islands to work the sugarcane fields. We also hear stories of the women who supported themselves through the cultivation of the anthurium flowers, and of a hotel passed down from grandmother to grandchildren.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Ballard: Finding Strength in Childhood

 

Honolulu Police Department Chief Susan Ballard reflects on her formative years growing up in the South and the difficult experiences that drove her to develop strength and resiliency.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Aug. 26, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Susan Ballard: Finding Strength in Childhood Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

It was a very interesting upbringing with my mom.  She was really into the manners, and the whole Emily Post.  And believe me, it stuck with me.  When you were at the table, if you ever tried to, like, reach across the table, your hand would get smacked, you know.

 

You always made sure you passed things around the table.  You had to have conversation.  And you know, when you think back, to this day, I really think that that’s one of the things that’s missing from so many families.  That, you know, if you really sit down and have a meal with your entire family, and you force the kids to talk about their life or what happened, you know, during school or whatever, you know, I think, one, social skills.  You know, instead of always looking at the computer.  And two, I think that, you know, we would have a lot less problems than we would have today if we still had family dinners.

 

The young life of future Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard was a mixture of practicing good manners, while learning to stand up for herself.  Sometimes, the two did not mix, but the result was that she grew up with strength of character, and people skills that helped her to become Honolulu’s top police officer.  Police Chief Susan Ballard, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Susan Marshall Ballard became Honolulu’s first female Chief of Police in 2017, and hers was not a meteoric rise.  Barriers take time to overcome.  She had already served thirty-two years on the force.  Ballard was born and raised in the South, with Southern manners required at home.  But the kids at school were not genteel in their teasing.  She says they made fun of her for being tall and wide, with buck teeth. Her parents’ divorce forced her to grow up quickly, and as a young woman, she says she experienced domestic violence by a boyfriend.

 

I was born in Norfolk, Virginia.  But unfortunately, I was only there for about maybe five years before we moved away. And we moved to Jacksonville, North Carolina, and that’s where I started school.  And then, I was only there for about a year, and then, we moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina.  And no, my family was not in the military.  But my father was into the manufactured homes, so we always seemed to end up in large military cities.  So I went there.  I finished elementary school and junior high school, and high school in Fayetteville.

 

So, was he a salesman in mobile homes?

 

Yes, he was.  And then, he eventually became president of the company, and doing the manufactured homes. So, I lived in uh, mobile homes. I was the typical Southern type girl. You know, we started out in a single wide, and yeah, got to play out in the yard barefoot.

 

You know, run around in the South.  You know. And then we moved to double-wides, and then I think it was probably about junior high school, we had our first house.  We bought our first house in Fayetteville.

 

And your mother?

 

My mom was a homemaker up until my mother and father got a divorce.  And so, she took care of the house, and took care of us.  And then, she went back to work as a secretary at an insurance agency. Speaking of my mom, she used to always tell us when we were growing up that it’s not your kuleana.  And this was from the South.  And so, you know, we knew that it meant responsibility.  And this is like, North Carolina, and this is like, way back.  And so, when I came over here and I found out kuleana, and I was like … they said: Oh, that’s a Hawaiian word.  I says: No, it’s from the South.  And then, because, I mean, my mom—so I have no idea how she ended up getting that.

 

That’s so interesting.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah.  Yeah. ‘Cause she used to always tell us: Don’t pay any attention, it’s not your kuleana, just let it go.

 

Did you have any idea how that came about?

 

I have no idea.  And she was not really—well, I would ask her things, like: What about this?  And ah, she never really—you know, she was—

 

So, old—

 

I couldn’t get information from her.

 

Old school.

 

Yes.

 

They don’t like to talk.

 

Yes.

 

Right?

 

Very much so.

 

Would you consider it a middleclass, non-dysfunctional childhood?

 

Yeah. Growing up, I would say that very much so is what, you know, would describe.  It was just like a normal upbringing.  You know, did school, did after school types of things.  And you know, one of the things when I was growing up is, I was … uh, quite large.  I was fat. I guess obese is more what the medical community was calling.  So, it was a interesting upbringing, because you know, when you’re in school, you know, you found out the kids were actually pretty mean when you’re overweight.  And my nickname was uh, Tub, Tub of Lard. So, all the way, even through high school until I left Fayetteville, even though I had lost weight in high school, I was still called Tubs.  Yeah.

 

How did you deal with that?

 

You know, I guess I was able to uh, carry my weight.  I did a lot of activities.  I was really good at football; they always wanted me to play the line in the neighborhood.

 

Were you tall as a child, too?

 

I was. I’ve always been taller than everybody else.  And so, I got to be the line in our neighborhood football team because, you know, I was so big, I could just knock people over.  I know, I know.  It sounds bad, but you know, I mean, you just kinda dealt with it.  But I mean, it was a name, you know, but we were still able to get along and, you know, do different things.  But it definitely does make a mark on you, you know.

 

And did it change your social life, do you think? I mean, do you wish you’d had a different social life?

 

Yeah, I think so.  You know, my mom was the typical Southern belle.  You know, we were raised with Emily Post.  So, you know, everything was manners and, you know, had the right way of sitting at the table.  We had to have dinner every night; Mom, Dad, you know, the kids.  My father traveled, so he was only at home on the weekends, most of the time.  But we were always required to have dinner, you know, as a family.  And then, she wanted us to go to learn to cotillion and go to the dance, and all like that.  So, like I said, I was large, so nobody wanted to take me to cotillion. So, I’ll never forget that my mom had to talk to the teacher, and had to ask one of the guys to please ask me to cotillion.  And that’s kinda something that sort of always stuck with me.  You know.

 

Was he good guy?

 

He was; he was.  He was very nice.  I mean, back in the South, doesn’t make any difference, ‘cause if you didn’t say, yes ma’am, yes sir, and treat people nice, you’d always get a whack one way or the other.

 

And you would actually do what your parents said, it sounds like.  Which often doesn’t happen nowadays.

 

Oh, yes.  And don’t ever bring a note home from the teacher.  Because if you got a note from the teacher, it didn’t make any difference; you were wrong.  The teacher was always right, so you shook in your boots if you had to bring a note home from your teacher.

 

And these things stay with you, as far as what seems right to you?

 

Yes; it really does.  And I think a lot of it is just, you know, how you treat people, you know, and just being able to talk to people, you know, and have a decent conversation. You know, ‘cause you were brought up to always appreciate, you know, everything that you have, and not take it for granted, ‘cause it can be gone the next day.  Which is what happened, like, when my parents got divorced.  It was like, we lived comfortably, and then when they got divorced, all of a sudden you had nothing.  So, you know, when you look back, you appreciate everything that you had, you know, when you were growing up.

 

Obviously, not everything was polite.  I mean, you were teased at school, and for a long time. How do you think that affected you, now that that weight is certainly not a problem?  I mean, how do you look at that experience, and how did it affect you?

 

Well, I think a lot of it, as far as affecting, you know, when I look at people, if they’re large, it’s like, you know, I can kinda empathize with them. And then, you know, a lot of times, you see people who are exercising who are large, and you know, human nature: Oh, look, that person’s fat, or whatever.  And I’m looking at ‘em going: At least they’re doing something.  You know, they’re out exercising, they’re out walking around.  So, you know, you give people more slack.  I mean, there’s no such thing as, you know, this whole perfect body thing, you know.  And especially for women; you know, we’re brought up that you’re supposed to, you know, look just so, and you’ve gotta be skinny.  ‘Cause my sister was completely opposite.  She’s probably about six inches shorter than me, she never had a problem with her weight.  The other thing I had, I had buck teeth, I had to wear braces.  But you know, she was always like … I don’t want to say perfect, but she never had to worry about, you know, her looks or anything. And she used to have guys always coming over to the house.  Where for me, it wasn’t until I lost weight that I actually really was able to, you know, really start dating.  And so, you do know that, you know, the whole body image, you know, is an issue.  And it does stay with you.  So that to this day, I mean, I make sure that I exercise and I eat right, because you know, I do know that even—is it right?  No.  But you know, I mean, if you see kind of an overweight man, you know, it’s like: Okay, well, you know, it’s okay.  But if you see an overweight woman, then it’s like: Oh, look, she’s not taking care of herself.  So, you know, especially in the position I’m in, you know, I always try and make sure that, you know, I exercise and eat right.  And I think that just always goes back to the childhood, that I never want to get to the point where I was overweight again, because I know how hard it was too, to lose weight and to keep it off.

 

Well, how did you do it, and when did you do it? You graduated still overweight?

 

No. I lost it when I was in high school. So, actually, I did it relatively quickly.  It was about four or five months.  It was like, from the end of my—I believe it was my sophomore year of high school, towards the end.

 

Was there something that made you do it?  I mean, was that some inspiration caused by an event?

 

There really wasn’t.  I think I just had gotten to the point where I was just tired of being made fun of, and it’s like, you know, it’s time.  I needed to lose weight, and you know, so I put my mind to it, and I did.  And of course, when you’re younger, it’s a lot easier to lose weight than when you’re older.

 

And you did it by a combination of dieting and exercise?

 

Diet and exercise; yeah.  Yeah. And from that point on, I have always exercised.  I mean, I was able to play on the softball team in high school, play on the basketball team in high school, because you know, I lost the weight and I was able to, you know, function in those type of sports.

 

No more linebacker stuff?

 

No more lineback.  I still played football, but you know, they let me be receiver now.

 

And so, then all of a sudden, guys came calling?

 

Well, I mean, yeah, more.  But I’m kind of selective too, so—

 

 

You know, we’d go out on dates and, you know, if I really didn’t like ‘em.  But I had a serious boyfriend in high school, and you know, we almost got married.  And then, I’m the one that’s kinda like: Um, this isn’t really what I want. And so, I usually get into long-term relationships, but I’m usually the one that—because I value my independence, and I think that came from when my mom and dad got divorced.  Because I saw my mom, who hadn’t worked, and all of a sudden, she had to get a job, and that you know, we basically lived from, you know, paycheck-to-paycheck, and you know, where was the next meal gonna come from. And so, I said to myself: I’m never gonna be like that, I refuse.  So, from that point on, I mean, I think I started working when I was like, fourteen years old. And actually, at that point, I really started saving for retirement.  Because I said: When I get older, I want to make sure.  I said: I can suffer when I’m young, but when I get older, I want to live like a queen.  And I said: I never want to be dependent on somebody, where I need them to the point where I can’t live my life.  And so, I think that’s really, you know, caused me to take a look at a lot of things.  And I think that’s why probably I’ve never gotten married, is because I like my independence, and I don’t like to really answer to anybody, you know, when I get home.  Other than my dogs.

 

What was life like when your dad left, and your mom was in reduced circumstances?

 

I mean, it was difficult.  I mean, one, because they didn’t get along.  You know, it was kind of an ugly divorce, and we had to leave our house and move into a two-bedroom apartment.  So you know, very small.  And my sister at the time, she and I didn’t get along at all, she didn’t get along with my mom.  So, it was just really—

 

Lots of conflict all around.

 

Yeah. It was just conflict everywhere. And then, so my sister ended up leaving, moving away, and so it was just, you know, me and Mom.  And you know, I mean, the fact that, like I said, you know, where was the next meal coming from.  And then, she had to go out, you know, and get a job.  And you know, all of the luxuries that I was used to no longer had.  And so, that’s why I went out and you know, got a job, and I figured I’d just, you know, take care of myself.

 

How old were you when you got the job?

 

The first job I had, I believe I was fourteen, close to fifteen years old.

 

So, this was all around the time that you lost the weight, as well.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

All of it happened around the same time?

 

Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

 

Really kind of a pivotal period in your life.

 

Yeah. It really was.  Yeah.  And then, decided: Okay, well, I’ll go to college.  But there was no money for college, either.  So, my grandmother, when she was alive, every Christmas, I’ll never forget, my sister and I both, we would get savings bonds from her. We’d get hundred-dollar savings bonds from her.  And you know, when you’re kids, it’s like: Why are you giving us savings bonds; we want toys, we want material things.  Right?  But it was like she’d give us a savings bond every single year for Christmas and for our birthday.  And so, it had gone into the bank, and so because of that, I was able to pay for the first year of college.  And then, you know, while I was there, I was able to get, you know, a couple of jobs and was able to, you know, uh, earn enough money to pay for tuition and a place to live.

 

After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Susan Ballard went on to graduate school in Tennessee, where she stayed and worked after receiving her master’s degree in athletic training, now called sports medicine.  She says she and her boyfriend decided to leave Tennessee and travel west.  They got all the way to Hawai‘i.  And it was here, she says, that her boyfriend smacked her. It was a turning point in her life.

 

When I left Tennessee, a friend went with me and we had stopped in California. And you know, obviously, looking back, you know, even when I was dating him in Tennessee, there were instances where he was very controlling, and you know, did things that he shouldn’t have.  But you know, you’re young, and it’s like, you know, you get into that: I’m sorry, but you know, you kinda made me mad, and—

 

And I’ll never do it again.

 

Right; never do it again.  That whole type of thing.  And so, you know, it didn’t happen like over, and over, and over again.  It was just occasionally.  And so, you know, you kind of put it out of your mind.  So, when we came over to California, and decided that you know, we weren’t gonna stay in California, and so we continued over here to Hawaii.

 

Now, why did you come to Hawai‘i?

 

Well, one, because there was no way I was driving back across the United States again.  ‘Cause we drove from Tennessee to California, to Los Angeles.  And I just was not gonna drive back.  And plane ticket is eighty-nine dollars one way.  So, jumped on a plane, came over, you know.

 

What were you thinking you would do?

 

Well, I figured if nothing else, I could go to McDonald’s and work as a manager at McDonald’s.  Because, you know, it was something that I had been doing working, so it was just kind of a stopgap and, you know, I figured I could get a job.  And that’s what I ended doing when I first came here.

 

And is what did he do?  What was his plan?

 

He really just kinda lived day-to-day.  And so, he got a job, you know, at one of the restaurants and stuff here. And then, we ended up getting an apartment, and then things just sort of kinda snowballed at that point.  I mean, he … you know, I caught him a couple times with other people.  He would come home drunk, you know, kinda force himself on me.  And then one time, when it got to the point where he hit me one time, I said: That’s it.  I said: You ever hit me again, I’ll kill you.  Because I knew at that point in time, I’m either gonna stay here, or I’m gonna get out. And obviously, it was hard, because I’m in a place where I really didn’t know anybody.

 

And cost of living was high.

 

Well, you know, I guess back then, I didn’t really notice it that much.  I mean, things weren’t that expensive.  And I guess, you know, I was doing okay, and I had money saved.  And money really never came into the equation as long as we were together, because we could split the rent, you know, and whatever that way.  But then, when I made that decision that I was gonna leave, it was like one of those, oh moments, and you’re like: Okay, now what.  So, I thought: You know what, if anything else, I’ll just get on a plane and I’ll just, you know, fly back to North Carolina. But you know, I had met some really nice people from Central YMCA, and they were officers, a lot of them were officers.  Funny thing about Central YMCA; you you had cops, and you had crumbs.  You know, so it was a really interesting combination. But the officers, I met this one guy, and I used to play racquetball a lot.  And so, I kinda told him what was going on.  And so, he came and he stood by.  He did what you call the standby, while I packed everything up to move out. Now, I’m standing there in the hallway and I’m thinking: Okay, so where do I go now?  So, he called a friend of his, who talked to another friend, and then I swear it was no more than maybe an hour later and he says: Okay, come with me, I’ve got a place for you to stay.  And so, this lady, her name’s Marsha, and she lives in Seattle now. But she had a studio apartment out in Makiki.  She actually allowed me to come to her studio and live on her floor, not even knowing me from Adam.  I mean, I could have been a serial killer, for all she knew.  But you know, this lady, a nice Japanese lady, she let me come, she let me sleep on her floor.  For four months, I was there, until another studio came open in the same building.  It was a little walkup in Makiki.  And you know, I mean, she taught me so much.  She taught me about taking your shoes off, going in.  You know.  The guys at the Central Y took me to the Korean bar for the first time, which was really an experience.

 

You know.

 

I mean, she was an awesome cook, too.  So, you know, I mean, I got to—

 

Local foods.

 

All the local foods.  I mean, you know, if it wasn’t for the folks at the Y, and then for Marsha, I’m sure that there was no way I would have stayed over here.

 

And what happened to the boyfriend?

 

You know, I don’t know.  I saw him one time, in town.  But I don’t know if he went back to the mainland, or if he’s even still over here.

 

So, you had to make a decision that enough is enough.

 

Yeah; enough is enough.  And you know, at that point, I said: You know, nobody’s gonna ever touch me again. You hit me, and literally, you’ll be dead.  Because you know, there’s no way that I would allow that to ever happen.  And you know, sometimes, you know, you just have to stand up for yourself.  And thank God that I learned to be independent, so the fear of going out on my own was not something that I was worried about.  You know, because, you know, especially if you’re young.  You know, if you’re young, it’s like you don’t worry about a lot of things, that you know, if they happen when you’re older that, you know, you can, you can just go forward and make it happen. Yeah.

 

When you came here, what did you think of the mix of races?

 

It was really a culture shock, because you know, you had all these people who didn’t look like you.  And so, you look around, and it’s like: Ooh, okay.  And then, you know, people would explain to me about all the customs and everything else.  And I was like: Wow, okay.

 

It’s a lot to take in.

 

It was; it’s a lot to take in.  And then obviously, you know, sometimes, you know, the discrimination against being Caucasian, Haole, whatever when I first got here.  And I think I took the bus for the first and got lost.  I ended up going around the island to get to Ala Moana Shopping Center ‘cause I didn’t know what I was doing.  I remember I was on the bus one time, and this guy looks at me and says: Eh, you F-ing Haole, get in the back of the bus.  And me, I’m just oblivious.  I’m like: Oh, who are you talking to?  I had no idea.  And it was the first time.  Because being from the South, I mean, basically you have Black and you have White. I mean, it’s pretty much that’s it. You come over here, and you know, all of a sudden you’re in a minority.  And it was something that I never really experienced before, you know, any type of racism, and it was sort of an eye-opening experience.  In the first six months, I was almost ready to pack up and leave.  But it was like all of a sudden at six months, you know, I looked around, and I was like … well, once again, people are just who they.  And it’s not like, you know, well, what is her nationality? I don’t know.  I mean, you know, Asian.  Are they Japanese, Chinese?  I don’t know; they’re just people.  What difference does it make?  You know. And so, it was, it was really a learning experience, and I absolutely love it because I love all the culture, the different cultures and stuff.  But you know, once again, you had to learn because you didn’t want to offend anybody.

 

Let’s see; you’re eight months into your five-year term as police chief.

 

Right.

 

You’ve gone through a lot of things.  Is there a common thread?  I mean, how do you decide?  ‘Cause you’ve always been in positions where you might be a one-of.

 

Yeah.

 

How do you know who you are?

 

You know, I’ve always tried to be myself.  I never tried to be someone I’m not.

 

You didn’t try to emulate anyone?

 

No; not really.  I mean, you know, as I was growing up, there really was nobody that I really wanted to emulate.  So, I sort of developed who I was along the way.  A good example is like, you know, on the weekends, I just wear my hamajang shorts and tee-shirts.  And people go: Oh, you’re the chief, you should dress up.  I’m going: No, that’s not who I am.  You know, and it’s the same thing about, you know, wearing makeup and things like that.  You know, ‘cause when I first became chief, they put all this makeup on me and made me take this picture.  And I saw it, and I said: No, take that down; I look like a hoochie-koochie mama.

 

You know.  But I just try to be true to who I am.  You know, I don’t want to be someone that I’m not.  Sometimes, I say things that you know, afterwards, they’re going: We can’t believe you said that.  But I mean, you know, that’s how I am.  You know, I try and be cognizant, and make sure that, you know, I don’t say anything inappropriate, you know, considering my position now.  But sometimes, it just comes out.  And honestly, you know what the best compliment I’ve gotten throughout my career with the police department, and even up to being chief, is people tell me: You have not changed one bit from the time that you became a police officer.  And that is probably one of the biggest compliments that they could have ever given me.

 

You’re at what, thirty-three years and counting in police work.

 

Yep; August 22nd, I’ll make thirty-three years.  Yeah.

 

We continue our conversation with Susan Ballard about her path to becoming Honolulu Police chief in the next Long Story Short.  Mahalo to Susan Ballard of Kailua, O‘ahu for sharing your story with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

 

I know you always have loved pets.

 

Yes.

 

Is it since you were a little girl?

 

It was. I’ve always had either a dog or a cat, you know, in the family and stuff.  So, I’ve always been a consummate animal lover.  So, currently, I have three dogs.  I have Mango, who’s an English Setter; he’s the youngest.  And then, Kai; he’s a Golden Retriever.  And then, Kona, who’s the oldest, and she’s a Border Collie/Spaniel mix.  And she’s the boss of all three of ‘em.  And then, of course, I can’t forget Koa Kitty, who’s my cat who has no eyes.  He was born without any eyes.

 

How did you come to be his owner?

 

His mom.

 

Mom.

 

Yes; his cat mom.  Well, believe it or not, I actually happened to be on Craigslist, which you should never go on Craigslist.

 

Never, ever, ever, when it comes to animals, ‘cause there’s just a million of ‘em out there that need to get adopted.  I emailed, and so, this wonderful couple emailed back, and so we arranged to meet out in Waipahu.  Well, that’s all you need, of course.  Yeah. Okay; I got me a sucker, you know. So, I went down there, and I met them, and that’s how I ended up getting Koa Kitty.

 

And it worked out with the dogs?

 

It’s worked out well, and the cat walks around.  He’s learned how to go in and out the doggy doors.  I mean, the cat is absolutely amazing.  He’s been a wonderful addition to our family.

 

 


NĀ MELE
Chad Takatsugi

 

Chad Takatsugi has found his voice as a haku mele, a songwriter. While this isn’t his first Nā Mele – he performed on the program with his band ‘Ale‘a in 2003 – this performance, alongside guitarist Ryan Gonzalez and bassist Glenn Mayeda Jr., finds him in a new season of his life, with a different story to tell.

 

For Takatsugi, ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i is the cornerstone of his songwriting. Using the Hawaiian language, a lot can be said with few words, with Takatsugi’s songs capturing snapshots in time. His songs speak to universal themes of his present world – family, love for his wife, home – with firm roots to the past.

 

“Ka Lei Hiki Ahiahi” is a song Takatsugi gifted to his second daughter. The Lopes family – “friends that became ‘ohana,” as Takatsugi puts it – perform the song together, with Keawe Lopes on piano, and wife Tracie and their daughters performing hula.

 

 

Written by Takatsugi’s wife, Lisa, “He Aloha Nu‘uanu” tells the story of their beloved home in Nu‘uanu, with hula accompaniment from Lisa and her sister, Diane Paloma. Also featured is “Kaulana Ka Inoa ‘O Hōkūle‘a”, a playful tribute to Hōkūle‘a’s return, with hula dancers from Hālau Ka Lā ‘Ōnohi Mai O Ha‘eha‘e.

 

 

The backdrop of this Nā Mele reflects how ancient and modern sensibilities can co-exist, with tropical flora and kalo silhouettes set against a nighttime cityscape. Takatsugi echoes this sentiment, about the dynamic nature of the Hawaiian culture and how he doesn’t consider it to be a “museum culture.” “It’s still rooted in something that is very uniquely, very intrinsically ours,” he said. “It’s from this ‘aina, but it’s developing, it’s evolving, it’s
moving forward. I think that’s really exciting.”

 

NĀ MELE: Chad Takatsugi

NĀ MELE
Jerry Santos

Na Mele: Jerry Santos

 

When we hear his distinctive voice, there is no mistaking the music of Jerry Santos. And when we listen to his lyrics, there is no mistaking his connection with the memories and emotions of our own lives. In this NA MELE, Jerry has woven together a story of home. “The idea of home was the driving force for the content. Most of the songs speak to the idea of ku‘u home, a personal, endearing way to refer to our place in the world. It becomes ku‘u because we attach to it our familiarity, what the wind and the rain are like, how the mountains smell, what is in the river, who our people are, our attachment to them and the things we have learned by being of a place,” Jerry says.

 

Jerry mixes “All of That Love from Here” with his signature song, “Ku‘u Home ‘O Kahalu‘u,” as well as “Tewe Tewe,” a playful song that pays tribute to the slippery o‘opu. He also performs “Seabird” and “Ku‘u Makamaka,” among other songs. Joining Jerry are musicians Kamuela Kimokeo and Hoku Zuttermeister.

 

 



NHK SPECIAL
Rescuing the Lost Battalion: The Story Behind the “Heroes”

 

Through interviews, reenactments and archival material, this documentary recounts the story behind the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of Japanese American soldiers who rescued a battalion of fellow US troops surrounded by German forces in France during the latter part of World War II. These Nisei soldiers became instant heroes – but at a steep cost.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Puanani Burgess

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Puanani Burgess

 

Puanani Burgess is a Zen Buddhist priest, poet and community mediator from Wai‘anae, O‘ahu.

 

Burgess was once a committed protestor and resister. She developed her skills as a law student to become what she calls a “dragon feeder” – someone able to navigate the complex rules of a large system like government or the DOE the way one might negotiate with a stubborn dragon.

 

 

She discovered that the people who were on the other side of the issue were not monsters. So Burgess embraced a role as a mediator, creating a safe space for people to come together and speak earnestly. She asks them to “dig the lo‘i deep” with her to understand each other, as she says in her poem “He Alo Ā He Alo” (Face to Face).

 

Today, she likes to describe her work as the community’s aunty. “Aunty is such an important job,” she says.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Aug. 19, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Puanani Burgess Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I remember you in the 1970s, ‘cause I was a news reporter, and you were, I would say … a protestor, a resistor, an activist, and an advocate.  And some would say, radical.

 

Yes.

 

Are all those things true?

 

Yeah.

 

She started as an activist, but now helps to bring opposing sides together to build what she calls Beloved Communities. Puanani Burgess, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Puanani Burgess is a Zen Buddhist priest, a poet, mediator, and community builder.  In the 1980s, she was part of a group that helped bring about community-based economic development in Wai‘anae, and later other communities.  This started during the controversial development of West Beach, known today as Ko Olina Resort, which Burgess and her allies started out opposing.  She’s been married for more than fifty years to activist, attorney, and retired executive director of the Wai‘anae Community Mental Health Center, Hayden Burgess, also known as Poka Laenui.  Puanani Burgess spent the first twenty-five years of her life with a Western first name, but later embraced her Hawaiian identity and the name Puanani.

 

I was born in 1947.  And I think a little bit of time went by after World War II.  But during that time, parents were very cautious about what they named children.  And coming from both a Japanese and a Hawaiian background, they were doubly cautious. So, in those days, they were giving children English names; that’s what we called them.  And so, it was beautiful American kind of names so that when we went to school, we wouldn’t be … looked down upon if we had a Japanese or a Hawaiian name.  So, my parents named me Christabelle, and I was named after my father, who was Christopher, and it’s Yoshie after Yoshiyuki.  And Sonoda is my family name, and Burgess is my married name.

 

Where does Puanani come in?

 

My mother told me that she stuck in Puanani just in case when I grew up, if I wanted to be attached to where I come from, I would have something.

 

But those were the days when people wanted to be known as Westerners.

 

Yeah.

 

Americans.

 

And hid all of their children’s identities behind that American Western name.

 

Well, so you were called Christabelle or Christy?

 

I was called Chris.

 

Chris?

 

Yeah. Throughout all of my high school, up until college, I was known as Chris Sonoda.

 

Now, Hawaiian, Japanese is your ancestry.

 

Yeah.

 

With some …

 

Chinese, French, German.

 

Most of the blood is Hawaiian, Japanese.

 

And Japanese.

 

So, your dad Japanese, your mom was on the Hawaiian side.

 

Yeah.

 

Did that create any cultural crosscurrents?

 

Oh … those two races were always in conflict with each other, and I could not understand why.  I just knew that it was.  I wrote a poem called Choosing My Name.  And in it, I put a line in there that my father’s family would call my mother kuroi mame, which meant black bean.

To her face?

 

In back of her, but in front of me.  And so, I really didn’t know what that meant until I got older, and then I understood what they were saying about her, and that notion of color.  And it reminded me of how my mother would introduce me when we’d be going to somewhere, to a store, and she’s see her friend.  She’d introduce me: This is my daughter; look at her, she’s so fair, isn’t she beautiful. It was the color of my skin that really was important to her, that I was light.

 

So, that’s the Japanese side.  What did the Hawaiian side say?

 

Well, they didn’t much care for her being married to a Japanese man.  And I never understood the racial tensions; I just knew that they were there, and they were played out in different ways. It made it very uncomfortable to go to family gathering, ‘cause you never knew where you stood.  And so, you just sort of made your way.

 

What did your parents do, and what were your parents like?

 

You know, I remember my mother as being a civic leader.  So, she was someone who could organize people.  She also was pretty well educated for her day.  She went to Mid Pacific Institute when it was sort of the Punahou for the middleclass.  And she turned out to be a really good teacher for me.  She was the one who really pushed me toward education and reading.  So, she taught me how to read when I was very young.  And that that saved my life.

 

Where were you living then?

 

At that point, we lived in Kalihi, on Colburn Street.

 

Now, you moved around quite a bit in your youth; right?

 

Quite a bit.

 

Wai‘anae, Liliha?

 

Liliha, we lived at Damon Tract before going back to Wai‘anae.  I think, you know, it’s really hard to talk about poverty and being poor.

 

What was the reason for the poverty?  Was it employment?

 

I think it was employment, but it was also … I think, you know, my mother suffered a lot.  She had various degrees of mental illness.  And so, her life had never been happy, and she’d always been trying to figure things out.  And I think the marriage between my parents was not always the best and most comfortable. But I think they both tried the hardest that they could to make a good life.

 

And stayed together?

 

They divorced when I was eighteen.  And I continued to live with my dad, and my mother lived on her own.  So, it was a very chaotic childhood, and yet, I’m here. So, I went to the University, and my major was English, and I thought I wanted to be a writer.  And poetry was something that I didn’t know I could do, but I did.  And so, I started to develop that part of me.  And so, my poetry has been the way for me to really start to deal with some of the hard truths of growing up.

 

While Puanani Burgess—still going by the name of Chris Sonoda, was discovering her talent for poetry at the University of Hawai‘i, she met and fell in love with Hayden Burgess, the future attorney and community activist from Wai‘anae.

 

I think, you know, Leslie, the thing that changed most in my life was meeting the man I was going to marry.

 

Is that right?

 

Yeah.

 

In Waianae?

 

I met him at the University.  But he and I knew each other when we were children.  So, he lived around the corner from where I lived.  My family lived in a row of Quonset huts on Halona Road in Lualualei Valley, and his family lived on Puu O Hulu, which is right around the corner from us.  And then, we met when we were at the University.  I was a freshman, he was sophomore.  And it was very clear that we were made for each other from the very outset, I think within the first couple of months.

 

What made it clear?

 

I think his confidence.  He was sure that this was the relationship for him.

 

And you were young when you got married; right?

 

Yeah; I was twenty.

 

Twenty.

 

That’s fifty years; that’s a lot of time.

And?

 

And I still like him.And we still get along.

 

And you have children together.

 

We do; we have three incredibly interesting children.  And so, when we married in 1968 … I like to tell this story; I like to remember it.  He told me in the first month of our marriage: Your job is not my wife; I’m gonna do the work I’m put on this earth to do, so that means you have to do the work you were meant to do, and it’s not my wife, so you gotta figure that out.

 

Did you know what the answer to that was?

 

I had no idea.  And I was mad.  Because I had been brought up to be a good local girl, I’m gonna be a good wife and a good mother.  And here’s this guy that I just married telling me: That’s not your job; you gotta go find your job, ‘cause this is not it.  And I thought: Oh, what did I step into?

 

At the age of twenty-six, Chris Sonoda Burgess embraced the Hawaiian name given to her by her mother, and began calling herself Puanani Burgess.  But she was still figuring out what job she was meant to do.  While in her second year at the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawai‘i, she began to find her way.

 

The childhood that I had created where I wanted to go, but I didn’t know what that was called.  So, I tried law school.  And a really interesting moment was in my second year of law school, I clerked for Cynthia Thielen.

 

The Republican lawmaker.

 

Yes. She was Legal Aid attorney, and she was the attorney for the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana.  And Cynthia was a great mentor.  So, she assigned me to the PKO.  So, I did research, and I helped negotiate things.  So, one of the things I helped negotiate with them was the building of the first hālau on Kaho‘olawe.  And the ‘Ohana thought: We cannot be there always, but this hālau will stand for us, and it will remind the Navy that we have returned, and we’re here to stay.

 

A lot of people disagreed, you know, with what they were doing and the style that they did it.  But if you ask those same people today—and there have been articles written by people who had been critical about that movement then, you ask them today, and they will tell you that the ‘Ohana and Kaho‘olawe has done more to spiritualize Hawai‘i and Hawaiians than anything that has come out in a long, long time.

 

You know, once I got bitten by the activism bug when I went to law school …

 

The Hawaiian Renaissance was in full swing at that time.

 

Yeah. Everything was happening.  And we were engaged in working with some of the people at Makua and Sand Island, who were pushing back against evictions.

 

All social justice projects.

 

Yeah; all of them.  And so, we entered the stream just at that time.  And we entered with education.  And we entered with being able to organize a cogent strategy.

 

What was life like at that time?

 

Wild.

 

Wild and heady?

 

It was wonderful.  I mean, because I was organizing with a group of people who were my age: Eric Enos, Gigi Cocquio, Hooipo DeCambra, Sister Anna McAnany; a whole group of leaders. We were all in our twenties and thirties together.

 

And that was the 1970s, wasn’t it?

 

Yeah.

 

And yet, you were in law school, and decided not to continue in, I think, your third year.

 

Yeah.

 

Why not?  That seems like a good thing to arm yourself with, if you’re an activist.

 

It was. And … I don’t know.  I didn’t want to be a lawyer.  Because I worked in my husband’s law firm in Waianae, I understood what the ordinary practice of law was like.  I didn’t want to do that.  I wanted to be more active.  So, the law school helped me develop infrastructure in my community.  So, we built organizations in which we were doing the work.

 

You were doing the incorporations.

 

Yup. And the 501c3’s and helping people establish themselves, and finding the funding, and talking.  I became a great dragon feeder.

 

What is a dragon feeder?

 

Dragons are systems, big systems, like government, like KSBE, DOE.  And dragons have lots of rules.  And they usually give you those rules in writing.  And your capacity to read and follow those instructions allow you to get into the dragon’s lair.  And so, law school prepared me so well to be a dragon feeder and a cultural translator.  So, I was working with community activists, and I was translating it into language that the dragon could understand.

 

I’m sure you helped get grants with byzantine rules too; right?

 

Yes. And I was giving them back the information that they wanted from us.  And so, the rule was, if you don’t want to obey or follow what the dragon wants you to give him or her, don’t apply.

 

During the 1970s, Puanani Burgess continued to involve herself in community struggles in Hawai‘i as an activist and advocate. In 1984, she and others from the Wai‘anae Coast community opposed the Ko Olina Resort development and what it meant for the land, other natural resources, and the way of life.  The mediation between residents and developers became a turning point in Puanani’s approach to community building.

 

So, it was at that time that we were doing the mediation with West Beach, was a really big deal.

 

West Beach is Ko Olina.

 

Yeah.

 

The future Ko Olina, now thriving Ko Olina.

 

Yup. And at that time, those of us in the community were pushing back against that.  And we were saying: You know, you folks going make money, but the only way we going make money is if we drive from here, and go over there and work. And then, maybe you going build houses, but the people who going occupy those houses will not be people from here. We need to have economic development that really is built from our value system.  And so, that conversation began to take place between us and the people who were the powerbrokers in the downtown business and political sector.

 

So, you mastered the cultural translation skills. Were you still a resistor, a protestor, an activist?

 

Yup.

 

So, you’re on the other side of the table, saying: This is what we want.

 

Yes; this is what we want, this is what we need, this is what we’re fighting for. And yet, I was beginning to listen to some of the things that they had to say.

 

Because it turns out, they weren’t monsters?

 

No; they weren’t.  And I think that’s the point about building Beloved Community, that you figure out a way that you can hear the other side of the story, and not necessarily fight against it, but create a space where I can show you who I am, and you can show me who you are, and collectively, we can figure out what parts of this work and we share.

 

And yet, at that time, I’m sure that was a brave stance, because in the parlance of the time, that was selling out.  Right?

 

Exactly.  And that was hard.  And that’s where that poem, He Alo ĀHe Alo, came from.  For me, it was a pushback against people who were criticizing us for doing the mediation with West Beach.  And I said: Come here; come stand in the lo‘i with me before you start yelling at us about what we should and should not be doing.  One of my best teachers was Tanouye Roshi, who was a Zen Buddhist priest at Daihonzan Chozen-ji in Kalihi Valley.  So, he was the mediator for the West Beach agreement. And it was interesting, because he could bring the Japanese side of the mediation.  Because they were Japanese developers that were doing the work at West Beach.  And so, culturally, he brought the owners of the development to the table, not just the highest administrative officer of the development company.  We were now dealing with the owners of the development. And Roshi Tanouye, the first thing that he said to me is: You have to always negotiate at the right level.  You folks are the owners of your community; you have to talk to the owners of that.

 

What was the result of that?  You know, were there compromises that had to be made, that you wish had not had to be made?

 

Well, the developer wanted to continue to build, and our effective stoppage of that really kept people from work.  And so, the compromise was, we resolved that they could continue, and that the funds that they contributed to the community were going to be used to build economic development from our point of view.  So, that was both the compromise and the promise.  My understanding is that they were soundly criticized for doing this. They didn’t have to; they could have held out.  But now, all the other developers are now having to think about and work with communities who are pushing against them.  So, there’s precedence.

 

Puanani Burgess continues to bring people and organizations together who at first see each other as opponents, or even enemies. She creates a space in which each can share with dignity what he or she believes is important.  She calls it Principles of Building a Beloved Community.

 

Well, I think, you know, I always long for calm, for a space free of tension. And … I’m always trying to figure out how I help other people enter that space.  I think a lot of my work is being a trickster.  And so, I use a lot of technique that looks like one thing, but it’s something else.  So, one of my tools is a ball, and I do a process called The Weather Ball.  And in it, I ask you to tell what the weather is like inside of you right at this moment.  And so, when people tell what their weather is like, they often tell you why it’s that way.

 

And do you think they’re really honest with you on that first go-around?

 

First go-around; yeah.

 

What do they tell you, for example?

 

They say: Oh, the weather is stormy, that you know, before I came here, I had a fight with my husband.  We do the story of your weather before I ask anybody even to tell their name, where they come from, or why they’re here.  ‘Cause in communities, certain names carry meaning.  So, in Waianae, if you say Burgess, have some people who like talk to you.  But if you say Burgess, have some people who never want to talk to you. So, no information in the first round. And so, when people do the Weather Ball, this is the first round, and you hear truth from somebody, as much as they can give it to you at that moment.  And because it’s a ball, the way people hold it is like this.  And if they’re scared, they squeeze it.  You know.  And that gives them comfort, so that they can release what it is.  And so, that as a first round really helps people to understand.  And for me, it’s a way of managing power in the circle.  So, most of my circles do not require anybody to raise their hand. Once you get to the point of asking people who’s ready, and somebody raise their hand, then you know the power going shift to that person, because they’re the ones who ready to talk.  And then, everybody else going follow, and then every other circle, they going wait ‘til that person raise their hand.  So, I don’t do anything like that.  It’s just, I start, and I’m not in the power grid; I’m facilitator.  And then, we just go around.  And so, it’s not anybody choosing to start.  A lot of, you know, what I’ve done in the past, I do things around vision mapping.  Helping people talk about what their vision is, and then having people show each other their vision maps.  And then, recognizing: Oh, we agree, I never knew that.  And because people don’t have a way of talking to each other deeply, they never get to see the depth of what they really mean, until someone like me facilitates a process in which they can both come in equally, and they can both show up as they are.  So, one isn’t mediating, and the other one is not the one who’s being victimized.

 

At what point could you tell your husband: You know, you told me go find out what my job is.  At what point could you come back and say: Hey, this is my job.

 

I still don’t know what my—I know what my work is.  My work is auntie.  That’s what I’ve become.  I’ve become auntie to so many people.

 

You know, there are a lot of women who don’t like to be called auntie, because they think it connotes age.

 

Yes.

 

Others say it’s respect, it’s a family spirit. You’re on that side of it.

 

Yeah; it’s all of that.  It is age, it is experience, hopefully wisdom.  But my job is auntie.  And I take it very seriously.  So, I get to work with all kinds of people and all kinds of different organizations, and I’m auntie to them.  And because I am auntie, the ways I’m able to teach them is not just modern ways; it’s also older ways.  I can teach them through poems, through stories, through experiences.  So, you know, auntie is such an important job.

 

Auntie Puanani also is an ordained Zen Buddhist priest.  She says the lessons learned from her mentor, Zen Priest Roshi Tanouye, have taught her how to breathe and remain calm during conflict, to help her see the multiple sides of situations and stories.  And she continues to share her thoughts through poetry.  Mahalo to one time fierce protestor and resistor, now calm community builder Puanani Burgess of Wai‘anae, O‘ahu.  And thank you for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawai‘i.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

So, when I wrote that poem, Choosing My Name, and I spoke about that very difficult part in our lives, and the place it was printed was the Star Bulletin, so everybody saw it, including my Japanese family.  And so, they started to call my father and asking: Why is she revealing these things? My father, to his credit, said: That is her life; it’s what she experienced, she has a right to it, leave her alone.

 

 


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