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INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
Office of Hawaiian Affairs At-Large

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I: Office of Hawaiian Affairs At-Large

 

The next INSIGHTS features candidates for the At-Large seats for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. It’s a statewide race in which six people are vying for three seats. All three incumbents and three challengers advanced through the primary election to face off in the general election.

 

 

Join us during our live discussion by phoning in, or leaving us a comment on Facebook or Twitter. INSIGHTS is also live streamed on pbshawaii.org and Facebook Live.

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.

 

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Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

To see an archive of past INSIGHTS ELECTION 2018 shows, click here.

 

 

 

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.

 

 


BREAKING BIG
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

 

Discover how Sen. Gillibrand started out representing a conservative district in upstate New York, then made a name as a politician willing to transcend simple ideology. Learn what drove her unlikely rise and her role as a leading voice for women’s rights.

 

 

MISTER ROGERS:
IT’S YOU I LIKE

 

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the pioneering PBS series that premiered nationally 50 years ago, is an enduring landmark in the world of children’s television and beyond. Hosted by Michael Keaton, this commemorative special features Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Kratt, John Lithgow, Yo-Yo Ma and Esperanza Spalding, along with and neighbors “Handyman” Joe Negri and David “Mr. McFeely” Newell.

 

 

Changing Season:
On the Masumoto Family Farm

 

Review a transitional year in the life of farmer, slow food advocate and sansei David “Mas” Masumoto, and his relationship with his daughter Nikiko, who returns to the family farm with the intention of stepping into her father’s work boots.

 

 

PACIFIC HEARTBEAT
Visions in the Dark: The Life of Pinky Thompson

 

This film is a Hawaiian story of pain, promise, challenge, triumph and leadership. Sustaining a serious eye wound in Normandy during WWII that left him in the dark for two years, Myron “Pinky” Thompson emerged with a clear vision of his purpose in life. Thompson would go on to be a social worker, mentor and revered leader in the Native Hawaiian community who left a legacy of positive social change, pride in Pacific heritage and a strong sense of native identity among Hawaiians that flourishes today.

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
What Happens to Hawai‘i Elders Who Don’t Have a Personal Safety Net?

 


Whether it’s job loss, illness, divorce or other life circumstances, some islanders find themselves at wit’s end, running out of money in retirement. What options do they have? And how are Hawai‘i taxpayers affected? What happens to Hawai‘i elders who don’t have a personal safety net?

 

Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.

 

Phone Lines:
973-1000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Karen Radius

 

Growing up in Chicago, Karen Radius learned values from her working class parents, neither of whom attended high school. After passing the bar exam in Hawaii, Radius’ first job was with Legal Aid, serving some of the poorest people in Hawaii. As a Family Court judge, Karen Radius learned that juvenile girls who haven’t succeeded on regular probation needed a different type of juvenile justice system. So she created Girls Court. “Girls Court is all about…working on the relationships…within the family,” Radius explains. “(it’s) not just, ‘Did you comply with the court’s order and what the court told you to do’ … but let’s figure out your life and let’s come up with a life’s plan for you.”

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Nov. 1 at 4:00 pm.

 

Karen Radius Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

You know how bad things can be.

 

And I also know how good they can be. If we only focus on the things that have gone wrong, life gets to be pretty heavy and unhappy. And if you don’t see the potential in things, it’s just not right. I still get, when I’m out in the shopping center, I’ll get a girl who will come and say, Judge Radius! And I’ll say, Oh, how are you doing? What are you doing? And she’ll say, Oh, I’m graduating from Windward Community College next week. And so, we show up and give her a lei. Because those kinds of stories keep you going.

 

Judge Karen Radius, a resident of Windward Oahu, has spent her career seeking the potential in people facing troubled situations. Family Court Judge and the founding judge of Girls Court, Karen Radius, next on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Family Court is often regarded as a place of pain and anger, filled with divorces, child custody battles, families in crisis. Judge Karen Radius has spent decades there. She retired, but returned to serve on a part-time basis. The judge is no softy; she’s regarded as tough, but fair. In her juvenile cases, she tries to look past the pain, toward the potential good within the youth offenders who come before her. To help Hawaii’s troubled young people, Judge Radius in 2004 was the driving force behind Girls Court, an innovative program designed specifically for at-risk girls on Oahu. The judge and others in the field say that juvenile court is framed around boys, who tend to commit different offenses than girls, for different reasons. Judge Karen Radius knows firsthand about life struggles, having grown up on the south side of Chicago.

 

My mom is the oldest of ten. By the time she graduated from eighth grade in 1932, there were seven kids; the seventh child had just been born a couple of months before. So, her mom said to her, We just don’t have the money for you to go to high school, you need to find a job. My grandpa was a janitor, and finding a job, for him, depended on what manufacturing plants or what buildings were open, and what businesses could hire him. So, he was getting piecemeal work at about a dollar a day. So, my mother found a job being a maid and mother’s helper for a lawyer’s wife who had one son. So, after being the oldest girl of seven kids, that was a walk in the park, quite frankly.

 

But she had to be away from her family.

 

Absolutely. So, she earned a dollar a week, and she had Sundays off, so she’d come home on Sundays, bring her dollar, and her mother would give her a dime.

 

Tough times.

 

Yeah, yeah; absolutely.

 

People had to really pull together and sacrifice themselves.

 

Right; right. And so, the theory was that her younger sisters would all take a year off of high school, but it didn’t turn out that way. She stayed working at that job.

 

Never graduated from high school?

 

Nope; nope. She took a typing and a bookkeeping class at night school, but other than that, she didn’t go to high school.

 

Did she talk about that, her regrets at that?

 

Not so much her regrets. That’s the generation that doesn’t focus on themselves. But my sister and myself, there was no question; we were gonna get every ounce of education we could.

 

She was gonna do for you what she couldn’t do for herself.

 

That’s right; that’s right. My dad had been in the military, actually, here in Hawaii, and had gone back to Chicago and was a bus driver. And he saw her walk on his bus, and he said, That’s the most lovely pair of hands I’ve ever seen somebody putting fare in my farebox.

 

He said that to her?

 

To her. And she fell for it.

 

And the rest is history. Yeah; yeah.

 

Wow. And he stopped being a bus driver after that?

 

Right. When I was about three, he became a life insurance salesman, and did that ‘til he died.

 

So, he was a good salesman, charming?

 

Oh; yeah. He could tell a joke and a story. He was a schmoozer; yeah.

 

Judge Karen Radius became the first person in her family to graduate from high school. Her mother believed that Karen should receive the best education possible, even though money was scarce. She was accepted into George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and left the Midwest for the first time in her life.

 

I found George Washington. My mom said, Okay, we’ve got enough money for one semester. Go, see if you like it. We’ll do what we can; you gotta work. I went to GW ‘cause I thought I was interested in international affairs. I had read some books about Russia, and that was when the Cold War was big. And Russia seemed such a fascinating place. So, I went to study international affairs. But in my sophomore year, when you begin to think about what major you’re gonna declare, and the counselors are talking to you, I told them that that’s what I was interested in, and maybe the State Department or some kind of foreign job. And he says, Do you know what women do in the foreign service? I said, No, that’s what I’m here to learn. And he said, They stamp passports. And I was silly enough to believe him. So, I switched to political science.

 

So, that wasn’t true; he was just trying to … what was the point of that, of dissuading you?

 

I think that was probably true back then, so that would have been 1968; ’67, ’68.

 

So, he was trying to let you know that it may not be—

 

In reality, if I wasn’t willing to stamp passports for the rest of my life, which is probably what women mostly did back then, but things, as in all fields, has moved quite a bit.

 

So, you could have done it and broken those barriers.

 

Maybe. But I didn’t listen. I mean, I listened, but should have not listened. I kind of wonder what would have been, had it taken different turns. So, I went into political science. My junior and senior years, the Vietnam War booming, literally and figuratively. The protests were beginning. You know, being in campus only five blocks from the White House, there were tanks rolling down the street sometimes, and tear gas being thrown on the campus, which wasn’t fun. So, I decided, okay, I’m gonna work on The Hill, because that’s where change could come from, through senators and congressmen.

 

Who did you work for?

 

Senator Charles Mathias from Maryland; he was a progressive Republican at the time. People wrote to their senators and congressmen, and we’d get bags, and bags, and bags full of mail. And we had to respond to each piece. So, my job was, when there were over ten letters about a single topic, you’d write a form letter that sounded like you were talking directly to that person. And then, there was a machine that would … way pre-computers, but there was a machine that would match the address of the writer and the body of the letter. And then, it’d be signed, and you thought you got your own personal letter from the senator. Which he read the generalized …

 

M-hm.

 

So, he knew, and he knew how many. We kept count of X-number are in favor of this, and Y-number are against that. But it didn’t feel like democracy like I had studied it as political science, and I didn’t feel like we were making the kind of change that as a Baby Boomer, I thought we needed.

 

Oahu judge Karen Radius did not want to get channeled into a typing job, as were many women of the time. She wanted to be part of bringing change. So, she set her sights on a new career path.

 

One of the young male staffers who was an attorney said to me, Karen, just take the LSAT. Which is the law school admissions test. Don’t tell anybody you’re gonna take it, don’t send the scores any place. If you totally bomb out, you’ve wasted a day, fifty dollars to sign up for it, and two Number 2 pencils. So what? If you do well, send the scores some place. And so, I followed his advice, and here I am.

 

You hadn’t considered law school?

 

No. No.

 

That’s really open. So, you went and took the test, and did well. It’s a tough test.

 

Yup.

 

And what proportion of students in law schools were females then?

 

About three or four percent.

 

Is that right?

 

Yeah.

 

So, you were an oddity.

 

Right.

 

Did you feel like you had to prove yourself?

 

There were still professors who would do things like say, Can you please stand up as you give your answer, because I like to see the proportions of my opponent. And you walked in the library, and people closed the door as you entered. So, it wasn’t blatant. You didn’t get worse grades ‘cause you were a woman. You didn’t get worse classes.

 

It was a social atmosphere.

 

I had one young man say to me, You know, my friend didn’t get in; you’ve got his seat. But generally, people were nice, and I just stayed, and as more women came in, life went on.

 

After her second year at George Washington University Law School, Judge Karen Radius joined her college roommate Judy Sobin on a trip to Hawaii for the summer. She didn’t know it at the time, but Hawaii would become her permanent home.

 

I had come here to Hawaii between my second and third years of law school for a summer job, ‘cause there was no UH Law School at the time, and my college roommate had come here with her husband, and he was going to UH master’s in urban planning program. There was something about Hawaii. I just felt at home when I got off the plane.

 

What made you feel at home when you got off the plane? I mean, you hadn’t seen it yet.

 

I don’t know; I just did. I worked for Brook Hart’s firm the summer between second and third years of law school. They were doing a lot of law reform cases, they were doing a lot of criminal cases, but doing them very well, and lots of interesting cases. So, the work seemed exciting. I was meeting a lot of younger lawyers. The racial and ethnic makeup and background of so many different kinds of people. And the mountains and the ocean. You know, it just felt good.

 

A year later, after graduating from law school, Judge Karen Radius returned to the islands to take the Bar Exam.

 

I came here to take the Bar, ‘cause I had a federal job offer in North Carolina, and you could be licensed any place. So, I came here to take the Bar, hedging my bets that while I’m here studying for the Bar, I could still be looking for work here.

 

Because you didn’t want to go to the safe federal job?

 

I might own that horse farm in North Carolina now if I’d done that safe job. I don’t know. Oh; as opposed to my little plot.

 

But this was where you preferred to be.

 

Oh, yeah. I got offered a job two weeks before the Bar. Legal Aid called two weeks before.

 

How’d you feel about working for Legal Aid?

 

It was fine with me.

 

Yeah?

 

Yeah.

 

So, that means you served many of the poorest people in the area.

 

Absolutely.

 

Lots of family law.

 

No; actually, at that point, we were divided into divisions, and I was doing welfare law. So, I was doing your benefits were stopped, or the State wasn’t complying with the Federal laws about welfare benefits, food stamp benefits, Medicaid. So, I was doing more the keep your life and soul together …

 

So, that means you met people and saw individual stories of things that had happened which required government assistance.

 

Absolutely; yeah.

 

So, in two jobs, then, with the defense law firm, Brook Hart’s firm and with Legal Aid, you’re basically on the other side of the State; right?

 

I’m meeting the real people; yeah.

 

Yeah; yes.

 

Absolutely.

 

Underdogs, is what I would call it. How’d you feel about that? And it’s not big money jobs, either, necessarily.

 

Correct; right.

 

So, is that what you were looking for? You didn’t care about the money, and you wanted to help people who needed the help, who didn’t have much? Was that a goal, or just how that unfolded?

 

I didn’t become a lawyer to make money. I became a lawyer because … I didn’t want to type. And because I believe that some of the most resilient people I’ve met are people who have been, quote, underdogs. And they had potential, and good things to add to the state. So, doing that kind of law was perfectly fine with me.

 

You saw a lot of misery.

 

Yes; yeah. But the people who are in the midst of their problems don’t come in with, I’m in the midst of a lot of misery. They come in with, I’ve got this problem, and I gotta solve it because I’m getting evicted, because I can’t feed my kids, ‘cause … they weren’t drama queens. Let’s put it that way. So, they had resiliency, despite the fact that they lived in situations that were really challenging. When I left Legal Aid, you knew when it was time to leave. Because I used to keep graham crackers in my desk, because the people would come and they’d always bring their kids, and their kids were always hungry. So, I gave the kids coloring stuff and graham crackers while we talked about the case. And you knew it was time to leave when you just got a little bit tired shopping for graham crackers.

 

After five years, Judge Karen Radius left Legal Aid for private law practice. Along the way, she married future court administrator, Russell Tellio.

 

So, I worked for about nine months for Harriet Bouslog, who was a legend in her own right. And then, Norman Lau and Susan Arnett and I, all three of us at Legal Aid, decided we were gonna open our own firm. So, we did that January 2, 1980. And the three of us worked together for a while, and then Susan decided she wanted to do criminal stuff, and Norman and I didn’t. So, we became Radius and Lau, and stayed that way for thirteen years, until I got to be a judge.

 

Why did you become a judge?

 

This is gonna sound really silly. When my kids were born in 1985, I had twins. And Norman and I were doing a real varied civil law practice. So, you’d have to always be one step ahead of the clients, and learn a lot of different things all the time. So, having children, I knew that I needed to specialize in something, because trying to be such a generalist was … I needed time at home with the kids.

 

And you had two at once.

 

Yes. Yeah; yeah, yeah. Yeah. You know, you have to sleep once in a while.

 

In 1993, Karen Radius was appointed as a judge to the First Circuit Family Court on Oahu. She presided over cases involving divorce, child custody, domestic abuse, and juvenile law. Much like her time at Legal Aid, she matter-of-factly looked for the up-side in people facing tough situations.

 

It’s a place you could be a peacemaker. You may not be able to stop the divorce, but if you can focus the parents on the children and on preserving the assets they have for the children’s best interest, and coming up with a visitation and custody plan that’s in the kids’ best interest, you can bring peace. Or if not total peace, at least ratchet things down. If you’re doing an adoption, that’s the fun part of family law. So, you leave the stress and the sweat in the waiting room and come into the courtroom, where there’s balloons and happy people, and pictures and congratulations. The other thing about being a Family Court judge is, if the judge can portray some kind of calm and can manage the courtroom in a way that it’s not just total havoc, the people can focus a little bit better about what they need to do, and what’s next, and how to bring some kind of resolution to the problems that are there. And sometimes, you can’t bring peaceful resolutions; you just make a decision when it happens, and they’re unhappy with you, and they’re unhappy with their life.

 

While working as a Family Court judge, Karen Radius began to notice an alarming trend within the juvenile cases. The number of girls who were arrested and brought to court was dramatically increasing. In 2004, she confronted the problem head-on by creating a new program called Girls Court.

 

In the days that I was a Legal Aid lawyer in Waianae in the 70s, there was hardly ever a girl brought to juvenile court. Girls weren’t arrested. It was all boys. And over time, the programs and the method of dealing with things were built for boys, ‘cause that’s who the system was. But as time went on, more and more girls started to be arrested. And the programs weren’t built for them, and juvenile court really wasn’t helping the girls at all. So, in about 2003, I was sitting at detention home, where you go every morning for a week in a row, every four weeks. And all of a sudden, there’s just so many girls appearing in front of me. And I’m thinking, Maybe it’s just the luck of the draw, ‘cause that’s based on who got arrested. You gotta see a judge within forty-eight hours of getting arrested. And so, I went back to the courthouse and I’m saying, you know, Boy, out of thirteen kids, ten were girls. Is it just me? Am I somehow a girl magnet? What is this? And they said, No, no, no, we still have to do some research. And at that point, forty-two percent of the arrests in Honolulu were girls. Nationally, it was about between twenty and twenty-five percent, but Honolulu was forty-two percent.

 

I wonder why?

 

We arrest a lot for runaway, and we have a lot of runaway girls. And girls tend to act out not so much against other people, although there are some assaults on unrelated people, et cetera. But there’s a lot of act out against the boyfriend, act out against the mother. And then, drugs are a problem. Act out against themselves, by taking or possessing, or dealing drugs. So, I talked to Judge Wong, who was then the lead judge of Family Court, the senior judge, and she was doing some rearrangement of people’s caseloads, and so, she wanted to move some of my cases. She says, I know you’re gonna be mad. I said, No, I’m not gonna be mad if you let me do Girls Court. She said, What’s that? And I said, I don’t know, but we gotta do something. And she said, Okay.

 

So, you were convinced you couldn’t fix it by transforming juvenile court.

 

Well, it’s still a part of juvenile court. It’s a transformation of—not every girl who gets arrested in Honolulu goes to Girls Court. Girls Court is the girls who aren’t succeeding on regular probation. So anyway, we looked at what’s going on in the girls’ life, not just what she did. ‘Cause often, a sentence or a disposition is based on, You did X-crime, X-thing, and therefore, you must do the following community service, you must do the following anger management, et cetera. But what else is there going on in her life that gets her in the situation that make it that she’s acting out like this?

 

And she’s a revolving door.

 

And she’s a revolving door. You know, she’s not going to school for long periods of time. The old days, you would put her in detention home for two weeks and say, Okay, write an essay on why education is important to you. She didn’t know. And she’d write the essay, and she’d be scared for a while, and she’d go to school for maybe two, three weeks, and then the whole thing would start again. And the next run would happen or the next truancy would happen; back and forth. So, we weren’t looking at the underlying causes. So, Girls Court is all about getting, you know, the whole family working on the relationships within the family. And the probation officers are still probation officers, but they’re also not just, Did you comply with the court’s order and what the court told you to do, but let’s figure out your life and let’s come up with a life’s plan for you.

 

In 2010, Judge Karen Radius retired as a fulltime judge to help take care of her aging mother and her mother-in-law. At the time of our conversation in 2015, she’d returned to work as a per diem or part-time Family Court judge.

 

Let’s say the top three things you’ve done in your life that you really feel proud of.

 

My kids, number one. And watching them grow and develop, and lead their lives, and make the choices they make, one way or the other. Girls Court … jeez.

 

Well, top two is good.

 

We narrowed it down to two.

 

I don’t know.

 

I’m just thinking from a balance of power situation. You know, this is not the old model of husband and wife, where the wife is the judge. Was that hard to handle sometimes?

 

Not for me. No. We didn’t bring our work home. And those times that I would say something that I wasn’t happy about something, Russ would say, Slavery ended in the 1860s, if you don’t like the job, find another one. So, okay, I’m not gonna complain at home.

 

And you have twins.

 

Right.

 

Tell us a little bit about them, about how they were influenced by two parents working in the law.

 

My son’s a lawyer, although he has a sticker on his bike and it said, Born to fish, forced to work. So, in a perfect world, he might want to fish. But no; he’s a lawyer, he’s a good lawyer. My daughter, when she was probably about five or six, I said to her, You know, are you going to work when you get married and have children? Because being old school, I still felt a little bit of guilt about, I’m working. And she says, Of course, I’m gonna work. But I’m not gonna be a lawyer; that’s boring. So, at six, she already decided it’s boring. So, she’s a scientist; she’s a biomedical engineer, and smarter than me.

 

Did you think of your kids as you were in court, you know, passing judgments?

 

Yeah; I thought about my kids. Because of confidentiality of the cases, I couldn’t talk about the cases to the kids. But I’ve said things sometimes to the kids, and my son when he was little, used to say, Mom, you always know that all, and you’re all so worried about evil stuff. You know, you just don’t know the real world.

 

And I said, Oh, Andrew, your father and I have worked so hard so that you don’t know about the real world.

 

Founding Judge Karen Radius’ concept of Girls Court has now spread to several states on the continent. At the time of our conversation in the summer of 2015, she continues to be an advocate for at-risk youth inside and outside the courtroom. Judge Radius volunteers for several nonprofits, and is the president of Surfrider Spirit Sessions, a nonprofit that uses the lessons of surfing to help transform the lives of at-risk youth. Mahalo to Judge Karen Radius of Kailua, Windward Oahu for sharing your story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.

 

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.

 

What did your mother say to you after she saw you become a judge?

 

She wished I’d been a beautician, ‘cause I’d be home more.

 

Truly?

 

Yes; yeah, seriously.  When I first went off to college, she said, Do this for you and for me. And I was, quite frankly, a little bit … It’s for me; what you do mean for you? But having a daughter now myself, I understand.

 

[END]

 

PBS HAWAII PRESENTS
Haleakala: A Trek for Dignity

Haleakala: A Trek for Dignity

 

Mental health advocates, including those diagnosed with mental illness, trek from the summit of Haleakala on Maui to sea level. Their journey is an effort to demonstrate that those with mental illness are capable of extraordinary achievements, and to end the stigma and prejudice associated with having mental illness.

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
Follow-Up Discussion to Haleakala: A Trek for Dignity

 

Following the broadcast premiere of PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS Haleakala: A Trek
for Dignity, several individuals featured in the documentary will discuss
mental health, and local resources available to promote mental well-being.
Our guests, including mental health advocates and those diagnosed with mental
illness, trekked from the summit of Haleakala to sea level to seek empowerment
and relief from the social stigma associated with mental illness.

 

Please note the special time of 8:30 pm for this broadcast.

 

Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.

 

Phone Lines:
973-1000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
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