Dr. Elliot Kalauawa

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Community Stewards

 

This special features three previous “Long Story Short” guests whose personal values and passion for community have informed their career paths: Dr. Elliot Kalauawa, Chief Medical Officer at Waikiki Health; Dr. Kent Keith, President of the Pacific Rim Christian University; and Connie Mitchell, Executive Director of the Institute for Human Services.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, June 10, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Community Stewards Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Maybe because I’ve been given so much, and I feel so blessed, that for one, I think everyone … it’s a basic need, a basic right, you know, to have healthcare. And I really want to make sure that people are afforded that opportunity.

 

It’s real sad, because we’ve got this population of patients that cannot get the things they need, and yet, we’re surrounded by wealth in this land. But we never give up, we never turn our back, we never say we can’t do it. We still do what we can.

 

I like to say servant leadership is about identifying and meeting the needs of others, rather than acquiring power, wealth, and fame for yourself.

 

All three speakers are in professions that uplift members of our community. And it isn’t just a job for any of them. Rather, it’s an extension of the deeply-held values that guide their lives. Community stewards, 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. A steward is someone who looks after other people or things, like finances. A community steward looks after the members of a community, especially when it comes to basic wellbeing: healthcare, food, housing, safety, and evening meaning in life. In this edition of Long Story Short, we’ll revisit three previous guests, all of whom can be called community stewards. We’ll learn more about how their personal values and passion for caring led them into career choices in which they’re helping those in need. We begin with Connie Mitchell. She’s the executive director of Hawai‘i’s oldest and largest nonprofit agency dedicated to homelessness. It’s the Institute for Human Services; no small task in an expensive state that has one of the highest homeless rates in the nation.

 

My parents, being really open, said: Why don’t you go to church? You know, and they actually encouraged me to go. And I went to a church on Judd Street for many years. And, you know, that helped shaped my own faith.

 

Was it the same faith church that they believed in?

 

No. You know, they weren’t Christian. And I think there was a woman that went into the neighborhood and was just, you know, looking for children that might want to go to church. And so, I started going to Sunday School, and then ended up really just learning so much about God’s love, you know. And that was like, a little foreign in some ways, you know, from the culture that I was coming from. But I’m thankful for that, and I think that my faith has actually inspired a lot of the choices that I’ve made, you know, throughout my life and work, particularly. So, I kind of like, you know, was embracing the Christian faith, and then at the same time, you know, my parents practiced their own cultural practices and faith. So … I think it’s in some ways typical, you know, of people who grow up in Hawai‘i. You know, you’re exposed to a different way of thinking. And I’m thankful for the way that Hawai‘i is, you know, that we are able to … no matter how we think or how we believe, that we’re able to get along most of the time. I think as a child, you just know if you’re playing with other people, you’re playing with them, you’re getting along with them, and you don’t think about those other things. But that kind of childhood, growing up in a diverse community very much shapes how you feel when you grow up in a lot of ways. And so, yeah, you know, I think when I think back to the people that I did know and … in the work that you’re doing, or the things that you’re trying to do, you know, it’s just really great to know that you have friends of different kinds. We are, despite the diversity, very much a connected community. You know, people have relationships, strong relationships that go on for a long time.

 

What do you see in the homeless community in that sense?

 

I think one of the things that I’ve struggled with is that, you know, sometimes I see people that I have known from before also. And it makes me particularly … wanting to find a way to help people. And at the same time, we have a lot of people who are not from Hawai‘i, and I have often thought about how I really would want to impart knowledge about the values that we have here in Hawai‘i. Because so many people come, and I feel like they, not knowing some of the practices and the values, seem to not be so respectful, and really have a lot of expectation of the people here. And while we should be helping them, you know, when in actuality, if you come and you have an understanding of the values, you know that you want to be a part of the community, and to give back to the community too. You know, so I’m not saying that everyone like that who comes just wants to take, but there are some people who, you know, don’t have a sense of responsibility or kuleana. And I think that that is something that is very strong and, you know, just really wanting to encourage people to understand that if you come here, can you be a part of our community in a constructive way. What I envision is being able to try to convince people that they can be a part of the community again. You know, they don’t feel a part of the community; that’s why they’re out there. You know, they don’t have a place to go, and we have to, as a community, figure out how to do that. I believe that every one of those people who is capable of working could work if they weren’t using drugs, or you know, their mental health was stabilized.

 

Those are big ifs.

 

Yeah; but we could do it. I believe that it can be done, if we have the will to provide the services, you know, and to walk alongside some of these people so that they can believe also. Because I don’t think they believe it right now; they don’t think that there is a way out. And I’ve seen it happen, that when they start to believe and they actually take a chance on us, they’re able to get out of that situation.

 

You’ve got to talk to lawmakers.

 

Absolutely.

 

You’ve got to talk to funders. You’ve got to talk to homeless people, and supervisors, and community leaders, and business owners.

 

So, there’s no usual day at IHS. Everything is urgent. And you’re right; you know, we really look at the community as a major stakeholder. You know, we serve not only the people who are homeless, but we serve our community. You know, and as a part of that community, we have people who are policymakers, we have people who are funders. People who are just the public. You know, we really want to help people understand better what homelessness is about in Hawai‘i, and we want them to understand how we all can help them better.

 

What keeps you going?

 

That’s a good question. I think it’s really seeing people turn their lives around when we are able to help them. And it happens quite often, I have to tell you. ‘Cause, you know, we’re always sharing among the staff. We basically do a little blast, you know, to let everyone know when someone’s getting housed or exiting into housing, or they got a job, or they’re really on their way. Some of it is getting them back home to the mainland. You know, we started a relocation program, and that has been really successful. You know, I believe it’s a win-win-win for the person who’s going back to the family, the family, and for the State of Hawai‘i. So, I think just, you know, being able to do some new things, find some new solutions, partner with new people who have similar passion and just really want to make a difference, you know, that’s really exciting to me, to see so many people like that.

 

Dr. Elliot Kalauawa is the chief medical officer at Waikiki Health, a nonprofit community clinic that provides medical and social services to all comers, regardless of their ability to pay. Dr. Kalauawa started his life on Hotel Street in Downtown Honolulu, where his single mother spent much of her time drinking and gambling. Yet, he grew up with strong, positive values.

 

Even though my mom lived that lifestyle, I always felt loved by her. I never felt like she was neglecting me. I felt like that was just normal, to grow up there. And then, because of my other family, my godmother, my aunts, my uncles, they all showed me love. And so, I always felt like I was loved. And that’s why I never felt like I had to join a gang to get love there. You know how some of the young ones go to, or to belong. You know, I felt real love. And that, to me, was the key.

 

Did your entire childhood go this way?

 

I would say it started to change some when I went to ‘Iolani from ninth grade. Because the thing was, when I was growing up, part of me felt like I didn’t know where I really belonged. ‘Cause I was growing up in the housing, and all my friends in the housing were people that, when we’d go to school at Palolo Elementary, they were in the special education class. And I look back, and I think I could have got into trouble with them. But I give my mom a lot of credit. My mom was very strict, even though she was doing that type of lifestyle. Her feeling was, she never wanted me to have the kinda lifestyle she had. So, she would always tell me that. She would tell me: You study. And even though she wasn’t home when I’d come home from school, I guess because I knew she could be so firm, and because I knew she really wanted me to do that, when I came home, I would study. I got all my homework done, then I would go out and play with the housing kids. Her influence was so strong, even though she wasn’t physically there, I sort of always felt the need to obey. You know, she’s the kind of person who really didn’t care what others thought. This is what she told me, and she would tell me this several times. She said: Don’t care what people think if they’re not feeding you. And so, that’s why I grew up having that kind of a … you know, that tough thing, where it’s hard to offend me, because I have a tough skin. And I tell people, you know: Just tell me what you think. Because I like it to be constructive, and to me, in order for it to be constructive, the person has to tell you what they feel.

 

And that probably helps you as a doctor; people can tell you things.

 

Yeah.

 

Right?

 

Yeah.

 

Do you ever judge people?

 

Oh, not at all. No. Especially when I look at, you know, my lifestyle, what I grew up in. There’s no point judging anybody. Because on the surface, we might be different, but below the surface, we’re all the same. One of the things like to tell students and residents at our clinic, ‘cause we see homeless patients, I tell them; I say: If you take a homeless person, put him in one exam room, tell him to undress, and you’ll be back in to examine him, you take another person, say, a doctor or lawyer, tell him to undress, you’ll come back in and examine them. And this is where people who have a stereotype about the homeless won’t really understand. So, if you did that, and then you go back into either room, sometimes you can’t tell who the doctor or who the homeless person is. Because the homeless person has the same desires. And some of them are very clean, they’re not like what the stereotype you always see. I mean, there’s some that are dirty and, you know, don’t shower. But some are very clean, some are very educated; they just had bad things happen to them, you know, are very intelligent. So, that’s why I was raised never judging people.

 

You really can’t cure everything that’s wrong with them.

 

No. One of the things in medicine, especially in my field, you know, internal medicine, because we’re a primary care field is, if the patients can come in and just talk to someone about their problems, it’s amazing how much good it does. Because I have patients who will come in, and I just let them talk. They talk the whole visit. At the end of the visit, I haven’t given any recommendations, and they’ll tell me: I feel so much better. And that, to me, is the joy. But I just enjoy the interaction so much, even though I know that medicine today is limited on how we can help them. The point is, I just enjoy that interaction so much, I don’t get frustrated. The patients that I see, in general, a lot of them are from the same background that I’m from. So, that’s more so. In fact, two homeless patients I saw over the years were kids I grew up with. One of them, I saw his name in the chart, and I went in, and he didn’t know who he was gonna see, and he had his back towards the door. I went in, I called his name, he turned around, and he didn’t recognize me, ‘cause it was years. When I told him my name, he said—and he was homeless. And I told him my name. He said: You know, I remember as a kid, you always talked about being a doctor, and I wondered if you made it; and I guess you did. You know. And then, another one of my patients, I played Little League Baseball with him. And then, couple weeks later, after I saw him, I’m coming into the clinic, I’m walking through the waiting room. He’s with another homeless patient, and he stops me, and he says: Hey, tell my friend here that you and I used to play baseball together. And I said: Yeah, we used to play baseball together. I guess his friend couldn’t see that his homeless friend grew with a doctor. You know. And so, yeah, when I see these patients, you know, I see patients that are like my mom, I see patients that grew up the way I grew up. And I really enjoy that. I remember some years ago, one of the Waikiki small newspapers was doing a report, and they asked me: What is it like treating at Waikiki? And I said: Treating at Waikiki Health is like being in a third world country. And said: It’s real sad, because we’ve got this population of patients that cannot get the things they need, and yet, we’re surrounded by wealth in this land. But we never give up, we never turn our back, we never say we can’t do it; we still do what we can. And I’ll give you an example. If somebody comes in, doesn’t have insurance, and I suspect he has pneumonia, instead of getting a chest x-ray, ‘cause I know he can’t afford it, I might treat him, then have him come back the next day or few days later to see how he’s doing clinically. You know, see if he’s making progress. Because I can’t do the chest x-ray, so I’ll have to rely on what he’s told me and my physical exam, and how he responds to treatment. Other patients, I tell them; I say: Okay, we need to get this test. And if it’s a test that’s not urgent, I say: This is the cost of the test, so why don’t you try to save your money, and I’ll give you two months to try to save your money, so that we can get the test. And some of them will do it; they’ll cut back on different expenses. Maybe they won’t eat out, you know, at fast foods as much. So, we have to kind of plan it. So, our whole approach to treating somebody without insurance is different. So, it’s not quick to do the test. And then, when it comes to medications, we rely on samples that the drug companies give us. Or again, sometimes, some of them will go and ask maybe a family member to buy their medication for them. I’ve been at Waikiki Health now thirty-one years. In fact, two days makes thirty-one years. And I look back, and I say, I feel real fortunate, ‘cause I’ve got a career that I truly enjoy. I mean, it’s not work for me. You know, you hear the cliché that, you know, when you enjoy, it’s not really work. Well, for me, it really is. I go to work, and I just enjoy every single day.

 

Dr. Kent Keith is president of the Pacific Rim Christian University in Honolulu, and former head of Chaminade University. Back when he was a sophomore at Harvard University, he read a motivational guide for high school student leaders. Thirty-four years later, he published these life lessons in a book called: Anyway, The Paradoxical Commandments. It’s been translated into seventeen languages and sold around the world, and guess who often gets credit online for these penetrating lessons? No less than Mother Teresa. But no; she never made such a claim. The book is based on what Dr. Keith gleaned growing up in a military family that relocated often. It reflects his passion of helping others to find personal meaning in their lives.

 

By the time I was fourteen, I arrived in Hawai‘i when I was fourteen, I’d already crossed the country nine times by car. And each time, we went a different way; national monuments, natural wonders, historic sites. So, it was very educational. It was also educational in learning that, you know, we are one country, and we have common beliefs and values, but we also have different subcultures. And so, you get a sense of, you know, within one nation, there are differences. It was hard, because I was almost always the new kid in school. So you know, you have start making new friends, and by the time you’ve really made friends, you’re moving again, and you’re leaving them. That sort of had an impact. But it had one benefit, which is that you didn’t bring any baggage. Nobody knew who you were before.

 

You could start again.

 

I got all these fresh starts when I was growing up. So, yeah, I think for us as a family, it just pulled us closer together, because we were our community. We were the people we relied on.

 

So, you didn’t complain every time your dad got transferred? Oh, no, not again; I gotta meet a whole bunch of new people.

 

No, actually, what happened was, after a while, I began building walls. I began saying: Why make friends if you’re gonna lose ‘em, you know, nine months later. And then, I figured out that didn’t make any sense; I still wanted to have friends, and I still wanted to connect with people. So, it’s all part of growing up is figuring out, you know, things like, what does friendship mean, what do relationships mean. And so I mean, on balance, I think it had quite a bit of impact, and for me, I think it was positive.

 

You made friends at Stevenson, and they went up to Roosevelt with you. But what was it like? You were in many different school environments. What was it like?

 

You know, the most interesting environments, really, was getting a sense of what it was like to be a minority. And my first experience that I remember was in eighth grade in Rhode Island, when the school was mostly African American. And then coming to Hawai‘i, and realizing, you know, we can work together. I was in lots of activities, and that really helped. Got into student government, I was in the band, I was in different clubs, and so on. And so, if you focus on doing things together, you focus on, you know, what do we want to achieve, a lot of the things don’t matter, and you can belong, everybody can belong no matter where they’re from. So, I think the extracurricular program is what really helped me the most. It wasn’t so much what happened in the classroom.

 

Did your father and mother give you advice about breaking into new schools and new communities?

 

You know, I don’t remember them doing that. What I remember was that my family wanted us to behave the way they wanted us to behave. And we were a little bit different. We had chores. And if the other kids were out playing, that’s fine. You’d have your time to play, but right now, you need to mow the lawn, or you need to pull weeds. You know. So, the idea was, it’s who we think we are, you know, what our values are and what we think a family means. I mean, we’re all gonna be home at dinner, we’re gonna talk about what’s happening. And so, the worst argument I could make as a kid about doing something was: Everybody else is doing it. That was not an acceptable argument. That didn’t mean anything in our family. The idea was, well, you know, what’s worth doing and what’s balanced, and are you helping out with the family, and you know, are you learning what you need to learn. You know, they were both wonderful. I was so blessed to have them as parents. And they were a great team together, and we never doubted that they loved us, we never doubted that they cared about us. And I was always proud of them.

 

When you were a nineteen-year-old at Harvard University, you wrote … some ten thoughts, and they’ve resonated around the world. They were found posted on a wall at Mother Teresa’s children’s home, and in fact, she was given credit for writing them. In fact, it’s you, a former nineteen-year-old, writing some very wise and clever sayings.

 

Well, it was the 60s, and I was in student government here, and then I went on to Harvard, and I continued to work with high school student leaders. But it was the 60s, so you know, a lot of conflict and confrontation, turmoil. And yet, a lot of idealism and a lot of hope that somehow, we could make the world a better place. So, what was disappointing to me was seeing so many young people go out in the world to bring about change, and then seeing them come back much too quickly because the change they wanted wasn’t achieved, and people didn’t seem to appreciate what they were trying to do. So, I had a couple of major messages for them. I was traveling around the country speaking, and working at high schools and student council conventions. I said: Well, first of all, you gotta love people, because that’s one of the only motivations strong enough to keep you with the people, and with the process, until change is achieved, ‘cause it usually takes time. It could take a lot of time. And secondly, I said: You know, if you go out there and do what you believe is right and good and true, you’re gonna get a lot of meaning. That should give you a lot of meaning and satisfaction. And if you have the meaning, you don’t have to have the glory. The meaning should be enough. People appreciate you, that’s fine. If they don’t, you’re okay, you still got the meaning, and that should keep you energized. So, I decided to write a booklet for them. Took me a long time to decide whether to write one at all, ‘cause I figured well, people know this, and you know, it’s already been said. But I started writing this booklet on how to bring about change by working together. And one chapter was about love, about brotherly love we called it then, about caring about people. And talked about this issue of meaning. In order to get across my point about meaning, I wrote The Paradoxical Commandments. So, each one starts with a statement of adversity, but it’s followed by the positive commandment to do it anyway. So, people are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway. So, you start with a statement of adversity, you go into the positive commandment. And they’re meant to be examples of an attitude.

 

How did you learn all of that so early?

 

Yeah. Well, I’ve been very blessed. I mean, there were two major sources behind this. One was just my family. I mean, I grew up in a family that lived that way. And so, I wrote The Paradoxical Commandments. I showed the manuscript to my dad, for example, and I remember him looking at them and going: Uh-huh, yup, we know this, nice of you to write it down. I mean, my parents, my aunts, my uncles, they did it anyway. They were focused on loving people, and helping people, and doing what’s right, and they were not after power, wealth, and fame. They did what was meaningful.

 

You’ve had some very prominent positions, but you haven’t handled your career in the traditional ways.

 

Right.

 

You’ve come in, come out, gone here, gone there. And as you look back, what do you think about your progression?

 

You know, I just feel very fortunate. I feel very lucky, because each job was meaningful; it was about something I really cared about. I believe that each time, I was able to work with a team to produce results that helped people. You know, it’s interesting. Years ago, I read a book; the author suggested that traditionally, men’s careers were like the search for the Holy Grail, and women’s careers were like knights-errant. The search for the Holy Grail, the idea being that you start at a profession or an organization, and went as far as you could go in search of the highest position you could get. But because of the way our society was structured then, with couples, men and women and so on, careers, men tended to move around as their career developed, and so, they would be changing locations. So, that disrupted the wife’s career. And so, when they moved to a new location, the wife would look around and say: What needs doing, and can I do it, and can get a job doing that? So that, that was more like the knight-errant who went out each day to find someone who needed help, and then helped them. I like that, because I think I’ve been more on the knight-errant side. You know, find something that is worth doing, and if you have the opportunity to do it, go in there and do your best. But if we know what’s meaningful to us, then we look for things in that arena. What you have is, you have this dissonance or disconnect between here’s what our culture says, you know, are the symbols of success, we’re gonna measure you by those, but here are the sources of meaning that are really gonna energize you and make your life worthwhile. Can you bring those together, is the question. So, if you start with the meaning, and you end up being successful, that’s terrific.

 

Dr. Kent Keith, Dr. Elliot Kalauawa, and Connie Mitchell; each comes from a different background, but all grew up feeling loved, and now carry that love into their work as community stewards. Mahalo to our three guests, all of Honolulu, for sharing with us your passion for caring. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a 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.

 

Do you think you would be unhappy in a place that had well-heeled patients who could pay their bills with insurance, and cash?

 

Yeah. Because I would feel like I’m not doing all that I can do.

 

You’re gonna be more accurate and better connected, and more likely to do the right things if you’re focused on serving others, rather than just looking at your own power, wealth, or fame.

 

When you think back to the people that maybe were your mentors, I think back about the people that were mine. If there were not those people in my life, then I don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Dr. Elliot Kalauawa

 

Dr. Elliot Kalauawa’s childhood in Palolo Valley’s public housing helped fuel his desire to enter the medical field. He discovered his life’s purpose at Waikiki Health, where he has worked for over 30 years, offering compassion, guidance and hope to his patients.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 18, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Oct. 22, at 4:00 pm.

 

Dr. Elliot Kalauawa Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

With my mom, I always felt real protected, because my mom was very tough herself—emotionally, physically. So, I had no problem. And especially going down to Hotel Street, I would enjoy. Because she liked to drink, she liked to play cards, so I would spend a lot of evenings in the bars on Hotel Street with her. And for a child, it was fun, because I was the only kid there, so different people were buying me sodas.

 

Dr. Elliot Kalauawa grew up in a tough neighborhood. His mother spent most of her time drinking and gambling in bars. Yet, he says he never felt deprived or neglected. Dr. Elliot Kalauawa of Honolulu, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. Dr. Elliot Joseph Kalauawa is the chief medical officer at Waikiki Health. It’s a nonprofit community clinic that provides medical and social services, even when a person has no means to pay. Dr. Kalauawa is the recipient of numerous awards for his work with HIV/AIDS patients, and is widely recognized as one of the most respected HIV physicians in Hawai‘i. Dr. Kalauawa is well-known for his compassion and caring for patients. The circumstances of his childhood could have shaped his character much differently.

 

In the beginning, it was just my mom and I, because when my mom got pregnant, she didn’t want to marry my dad. So, she basically ended that relationship, and then she was on her own. And so, we lived in Hotel Street area, different kind of small rooms she could rent. I always felt real protected, because my mom was very tough herself—emotionally, physically. So, I had no problem. And especially going down to Hotel Street, my mom was like, you know, one of the bulls back then. And so, lot of people were afraid of her. So, nothing happened.

 

Does that mean she fought?

 

She did; physically, she fought. In fact, she likes to tell people a story.   You know, somebody she meets, some of my friends, and she’ll tell them, You think my son’s a good boy? And they’ll go tell her, Yeah. And then say, No, he was in jail. And then, they will look and say, What do you mean he was in jail? Because when she was pregnant with me, she was in jail.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And then, she was in jail again when I was about five. And then, I stayed with my godmother. So, I would go and visit her for the few months that she was in jail. But that’s how she was. In fact, she even had stabbed a sailor once. She used to carry this knife with her. And I remember seeing it later. And he basically got fresh with her, she pulled it out, and stabbed him. And her nickname was Unknown, on Hotel Street. And the reason was, whenever there was a fight, the police would come, and they would ask who was involved in that fight. And because people didn’t want to squeal on her, they would say, Unknown. You know, in a sense, we don’t know. And that’s how her nickname became.

 

That’s what it shows up on police reports.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Wow. Did you have a sense of fear?

 

No. And see, this is the thing. When I talk to others, you know, especially people who maybe come from broken homes … and people ask me what was it. And for me, it was, I always felt loved. Because even though my mom lived that lifestyle, I always felt loved by her. I never felt like she was neglecting me. I felt like that was just normal, to grow up that way. And then, because of my other family, my godmother, my aunts, my uncles, they all showed me love. And so, I always felt like I was loved. And that’s why I never felt like I had to join a gang to get love there. You know how some of the young ones go to, or to belong. You know, I felt real love. And that, to me, was the key.

 

Did you feel like your life was normal?

 

Yeah; I did. You know. And I felt it was normal to go to Hotel Street. I remember one time, I was about ten, I think, and she had this car; it was a standard. And we left the bar about three in the morning, and the car couldn’t start. So, we had to jumpstart it. And so, it was just her and I. So, she was behind the wheel in the middle of Hotel Street. And that was when Hotel Street was two ways. And you know, no traffic. So, I got out to push the car. So, I’m pushing the car at about two, three in the morning. And there was a young man about maybe in his, I don’t know, twenties, and he saw. And my mom was drunk behind the wheel. And he yelled, Woman, do you need help? And she thought he was getting fresh, so she swore at him. And so, he just kept on walking. And I thought to myself, I need the help, why’d you do that? You know. But finally, we were able to start the car. But again, that to me wasn’t anything unusual.

 

Did your entire childhood go this way?

 

The thing was, when I was growing up, part of me felt like I didn’t know where I really belonged. ‘Cause I was growing up in the housing, and all my friends in the housing were people that, when we’d go to school at Palolo Elementary, they were in the special education class.

 

And when did you go to Palolo Housing? How old were you?

 

I was about six.

 

Six?

 

First grade.

 

What was that like? Did you feel comfortable there?

 

I did; I felt completely at home. You know. And there, you know, we all knew each other, and everything, you know.

 

Okay; and then, did your mom’s lifestyle stabilize?

 

No; continued the same.

 

What was your routine like at home in Palolo Housing?

 

The way it was, was Monday through Friday, I’d get up to go to school. My mom would be sleeping. I’d make my breakfast. Then, I would get ready, I’d kiss her, you know, on her cheek while she’s sleeping, go to school. Then when I would get home from school, she would be gone already, ‘cause then she would leave to go to the bar. And then, sometime early evening, she’d call me just to let me know that either my dinner would be on the kitchen table that she had made, or she would tell some of the people in the housing, you know, some of the other families, to bring dinner over for me. And then, I’d go to bed whenever I wanted. So, usually, I’d go to bed about ten. I did have this one fear, though, living alone. I used to love watching horror movies. And it wasn’t too smart to watch it when you’re home alone, you know, especially then. And so, I didn’t want to hear these different sounds. So, when I’d go to bed, I would be in my room, my overhead light would be on, and my radio would be playing. So, it got the point where I could fall asleep with lights and noise. So, I never needed a quiet, dark room. But that was because I wanted the radio to block out hearing any kind of ghost walking outside my window. [CHUCKLE] And then, I’d wake up the next morning, and she’s be home, but she’d be sleeping again. And so, it was only on the weekends when we would talk face-to-face.

 

So, how did you handle that, as an older kid? ‘Cause you can get into a lot of trouble when you’re a little older, especially.

 

Yeah. And I’m not sure why, you know. Because I used to hang around with these kids in the housing, and you know, they were all getting into trouble. And now, some of them have been in jail. One, I heard, you know, he was murdered maybe in his late 20s. So, they all kinda went. And so, I used to hang around with them, but the interesting thing is, then when I’d go to school, because I would be in what they called the A Class then, with the smart kids. So, I’d hang around with those kids, and they were outside the housing. So, they had a lifestyle that was more like middleclass income class. And so, in the housing, I’d be one group, in school I’d be with another group. And it’s funny, because when we’d go to school, the kids I was with in the housing, we’d walk to school, then I’d drop them off at the special education class, I’d walk to my class. After school, I’d walk back, and I’d pick them up, and we all go back into the housing. You know, so that’s kind of how things went. So, yeah, I look back, and I think I could have got into trouble with them. But I think the main thing, I give my mom a lot of credit. My mom was very strict, even though she was doing that type of lifestyle. Her feeling was, she never wanted me to have the kind of lifestyle she had. So, she would always tell me that. Because she only went to eighth grade, to Kalakaua Intermediate, and then she quit school. And so, she would tell me, You study. And even though she wasn’t home when I’d come home from school, I guess because I knew she could be so firm, you know, and because I knew she really wanted me to do that, when I came home, I would study, I got all my homework done, then I would go out and play with the housing kids. So, the housing kids would just wait until my studies were done. ‘Cause they didn’t have to study. So, would study, and then I’d go. But I think it’s because she drilled that in me. She says, Education is what you need. And so, she would force me to make sure I did that. But her influence was so strong, even though she wasn’t physically there, I sort of always felt the need to obey, even though she wasn’t around. But I loved to read. I enjoyed studying.

 

So, you felt very wanted.

 

I felt very wanted. And I think that’s what made me not have a desire to feel like I had to get into, you know, trouble. That’s the key; I felt very loved.

 

That’s very different. I mean, you know … it was neglect.

 

I know. I look back now; it was neglect. And I look back, and I think, Why do I get the sense that my mom really loved me? I think it’s because when I interacted with her, you know, I could see the love. And because she was very strict—and you know, back then, parents were disciplining kids with what would be child abuse. ‘Cause you know, I was hit with the clothes hanger, the iron ones, with the belt. And one day, she had shared something with an adult person, who happened to mention it to me, that when she would do that to me, and then I’d go to bed crying, that after I fell asleep, she would come into the room and basically cry because she had done that to me.

 

What had you done to cause her to whack you?

 

When I would try to get into trouble; steal things, and if she found out about it. ‘Cause she always told me, Don’t do anything bad. So, she would always tell me that. Even though she did, she said, Do not do anything bad. It’s funny; it’s a double standard.

 

I know.

 

It’s a double standard.

 

It’s such a contradiction in terms.

 

It is; it really is, you know. And I think it’s because she so much didn’t want me to be like her, her lifestyle. ‘Cause the bottom line is, when she got older, she shared with me, she was not happy with her lifestyle at all. So, it wasn’t like she was happy living like that.

 

I want to know what your mom would have said if you said, Hey, Mom, if you really don’t want me to turn out wrong, stop doing what you’re doing and be here with me, and don’t show me that example.

 

She would have just ignored it. She would have said, I don’t care, you’re gonna do it. That’s what she would have said. That’s the kind of person was. You know, she’s the kind of person who really didn’t care what others thought. This is what she told me, and she would tell me this several times. She said, Don’t care what people think if they’re not feeding you. And so, that’s why I grew up having, you know, that tough thing where it’s hard to offend me, because I have a tough skin. And I tell people, you know, Just tell me what you think. Because I like it to be constructive. And to me, in order for it to be constructive, the person has to tell you what they feel. And likewise, I tell them what I feel. But that’s from my mom. It’s all just to make things better. So, it’s never with malicious; it’s always to make things better.

 

But when you dish it out, you have to be able to take it.

 

Yeah.

 

Can you take it?

 

Oh, yeah; definitely, I can.

 

You don’t feel hurt or angry?

 

No. I prefer people be honest with me.

 

Elliot Kalauawa’s hard work and discipline did not go unnoticed by his teachers. This was especially helpful, because he decided at a young age that he wanted to become a medical doctor, a profession that had a cultural precedent in his family.

 

From when I was a child, I was told that my last name, it’s Kalauawa, and it means breath of life and strength. My grandmother was a kahuna, you know, so she was involved with a lot of healing. And she used to use plants a lot. You know, so she used to do that a lot. So, I’m assuming that’s probably the connection there.

 

And then, you wanted to be a doctor from the time you were a kid.

 

Yeah.

 

Huh.

 

So …

 

Did you ever see your grandmother treating people?

 

No, ‘cause she died when I was about year and a half. But my mother would tell me about it. They had a house on Gulick Avenue, and she had a separate room where when she wanted to heal people, she would take them into the room. And she wouldn’t let anybody else go into the room. It was just her and the individual.

 

And did your mother tell you about stories of people getting healed?

 

Yeah; she did. You know, but all kinds of, you know, unusual things, all kinds of things happened. You know, that kind of thing. And I guess part of the reason my grandmother, from what my mom told me, didn’t want anybody else, especially young kids, she was afraid what effect it would have on them. So, I really don’t know what kind of, you know, rituals she did. I know she used plants, she grew a lot of plants. The two sacred things in her life were her plants and her Bible. ‘Cause she was also a deacon at a Hawaiian church, Ka Makua Mau Loa. So, those were the two sacred things in her life. She was pure Hawaiian, and she spoke Hawaiian fluently. And so, my mother and my uncle—‘cause my mother only had one sibling, her older brother. And his children were all older than me, and they all grew up knowing Hawaiian, fluent Hawaiian, because she only would speak English to people who didn’t understand Hawaiian, like if a visitor came over. So, that’s the thing that I kind of feel I wish I had been exposed to. But once she died, the motivation to speak Hawaiian died. So, nobody spoke. ‘Cause this was in the 40s and 50s, so nobody in the family. So, my mom, by the time I was old enough to understand, she could understand some Hawaiian words, but she pretty much couldn’t speak it anymore, including my uncle.

 

What about other Hawaiian cultural parts of your background?

 

Even that. Because back then, when we were being raised, you know, the Hawaiian race was suppressed. It was like they were trying to teach us to be White. You know, even my wife, she went to Kamehameha from kindergarten to twelfth grade, and she said even at Kamehameha, they were training you to be White. So, it wasn’t until the resurgence in the 70s. So, by that time that happened, I was already an adult, so I wasn’t really raised around that type of cultural thing, other than just what my family did.

 

You decided at a young age what you were going to do, and unlike almost all of us, you actually did it.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Can you tell us that story?

 

Well, we used to go to Queen Emma Clinic. And lot of times, we’d wait about three hours to see the doctor. And I remember, and I can picture this in my mind. I was probably about eleven; between ten and twelve. We were in the waiting room, and it was another one of those long waits. So, I looked at my mom and said, Why do we have to always wait? And she says, We just have to. And I said, Must be they don’t have enough doctors, so I think I’ll be a doctor. And it just stuck. I didn’t even think at that point if it’s something I would enjoy. I just said, Must be they don’t have enough doctors. I never even doubted that I couldn’t get into medical school. It was always like, This is what I’m gonna do; what do I need to do, what do I need to do to get into college, to get into medical school, to residency. It never was if; it was, you know, what do I need to do.

 

And while you lived in Palolo Housing and were in intermediate school, some adults in your life saw your potential, and they changed your life.

 

They did; they did. When I was in eighth grade, I played Pop Warner Football for the Palolo Vikings. And at the end of the season, the coaches would have an end of the season banquet. And I remember it was at a restaurant in Waikiki. And as I was about to enter the restaurant, our head coach was outside greeting the kids, telling us where to go. And he came up to me and he said, We’ve submitted your name for a scholarship to Iolani School; what do you think about that? And I just thought, Fine with me. Not that I had any desire to do that, but I thought, Oh, okay, you know, I’ll do that. And then, a few months later, the ninth grade counselor at Jarrett Intermediate called me into his office. And I was only in eighth grade, so at first, I was wondering, Why is he calling me in? And he was always a strict person, so I thought, What did I do? I didn’t think I did anything to get into trouble. And he called me into his office and he said, We want to submit you for a scholarship to Iolani School. And I said, Oh, my football coach already did that. And then, that’s how Iolani started.

 

Well, I gotta say, it must have been quite the transition from Jarrett to Iolani when you were living in Palolo Housing.

 

It was; it was.

 

You know, you see parents dropping off their kids at school, and they have these beautiful cars, and different clothes every day.

 

Right.

 

It must have been kind of mindboggling.

 

It was; it was. You know, we had to have a lot of help, because for Iolani, I had this scholarship, the Albert H. Stone Memorial Scholarship, and that’s the one that pays everything, including the books. But before I could really go, my mom was concerned about how I was gonna get lunch. Because public school lunch was twenty-five cents; Iolani School lunch was about a dollar. So, what she did was, she found out about Queen Liliuokalani Children’s Center, and she submitted a request to them, and then they would send us a check every month for twenty-five dollars to cover my lunch at Iolani. And then, so once that was set up, then it was a go. But it was different. One thing, Iolani at the time was all boys, so that was different, going from a co-ed public school. But I know some of the kids there would look at me. ‘Cause I would hear things like, Oh, there’s the kid from the housing. But I had a lot of good friends. My class and I now, we’re still close, so I had a lot of good friends. But it was really only a minority. But the thing was, I was raised—and even now, I have a little hard time; I was raised speaking very heavy Pidgin. And so, going there and trying not to speak, you know. I mean, you could to a degree, but not the degree that I spoke in the housing. And I remember one year, we had a teacher from the mainland teaching English class that I was in, and then she wanted to talk about the Pidgin English. And so, she wanted to kinda discuss it. And one of my classmates raised his hand and he says, Ask Elliot, he’s the expert on Pidgin. But the thing is, Iolani was also very supportive of me, very loving.

 

Elliot Kalauawa never strayed from his path of becoming a doctor, and after finishing high school and college, he earned his medical degree at the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the UH. He joined a private practice in Honolulu. In less than two years, he left and chose a different setting, a different patient base.

 

I was in private practice for a year and eight months with another internist, Dr. Jonathan Cho, who’s an oncologist now. But that’s around the time I became a Jehovah’s Witness, so I wanted more time for my ministry, but I also wanted the kind of population that I grew up with. And the practice we had wasn’t that kinda population. And then, I saw an ad for Waikiki Health, and they were advertising for a medical director. So, this was a chance; I could go back basically to my roots, and then also have time for my ministry, too. I’ve been at Waikiki Health now thirty-one years. In fact, two days makes thirty-one years. And I look back, and I say, I feel real fortunate, ‘cause I’ve got a career that I truly enjoy. I mean, it’s not work for me. You know, you hear the cliché that, you know, when you enjoy, it’s not really work. Well, for me, it really is. I go to work, and I just enjoy every single day.

 

So, what is the overview; what are your patients like?

 

Oh, I have a full range. I have patients that are homeless, I have patients that are doctors, lawyers, I have the full range in between. I have, you know, a full range of different types of diseases, as well as HIV.

 

When you first started treating HIV, and it was a new disease, I imagine you lost more patients.

 

Oh, we did; we did. ‘Cause we had no treatment back then. In fact, back then, we didn’t even have the tests that we have now. And so, it was really sad. And HIV, of all the different diseases I treat, the HIV patients are the ones I feel a little closer to. And that’s because HIV now, it’s not so bad, but in the early days, it was like how leprosy used to be. Because there was a stigma, people didn’t want to be around them. And I used to feel sorry for them. And then, the fact that it was a death sentence. So, I used to get real close to those patients. But once when treatments came out, you know, it’s so much better now.

 

There’s a significant percentage of clients at Waikiki Health Center who don’t have insurance.

 

Right; a lot.

 

How does that work? How do you treat them?

 

It’s real difficult. And so, what we have to do, we have to be creative, you know, when we have students, especially, when they come through. It’s interesting, because when we have students or residents come through, the first time they’re with us, it’s funny, because they’ll say, Okay, this patient, I want to order these tests. So, I’ll look at him and I said, Well, who’s gonna pay for it? And he says, What do you mean? I said, Did you check his insurance status? ‘Cause it’s in the chart. And he goes, No, I didn’t. You need to check. And he’ll look, and he’ll say the person’s uninsured. So, I said, So who’s gonna pay for that test you want to do? The patient can’t afford it. So, what we have to do is, we have to be less reliant on tests. You know, I’m fortunate; when I went through medical school, we didn’t have lot of the tests they have now; we didn’t have CAT scans, we didn’t have MRIs. So, we had to learn a lot on the history, you know, from what the patients tell you. Because if you really get good information from the patient, you can probably come up with eighty-five percent of the diagnosis. And then, the physical exam can add. So, we did all these extra maneuvers to try to find out what the person had, you know, like maybe leaning forward while we’re listening to his heart, that today, you don’t have to do so much now, because today, medicine is so test-oriented. And I say it’s real sad, because we’ve got this population of patients that cannot get the things they need, and yet, we’re surrounded by wealth in this land. But we never give up, we never turn our back, we never say we can’t do it; we still do what we can.

 

Do you ever judge people?

 

Oh, not at all. No. Especially when I look at, you know, my lifestyle, you know, what I grew up in. You know. There’s no point judging anybody. Because on the surface, we might be different, but below the surface, we’re all the same. One of the things I like to tell students and residents at our clinic, ‘cause we see homeless patients, I tell them; I say, If you take a homeless person, put him in one exam room, tell him to undress, and you’ll be back in to examine him, you take another person, say, a doctor or lawyer, tell him to undress, you’ll come back in and examine them. And this is where people who have a stereotype about the homeless won’t really understand. So, if you did that, and then you go back into either room, sometimes you can’t tell who the doctor or who the homeless person is.

 

Do you think you would be unhappy in a place that had well-heeled patients who could pay their bills with insurance, and cash?

 

Yeah. Because I would feel like I’m not doing all that I can do. And the patients that I see, in general, a lot of them are from the same background that I’m from. So, that’s more so. In fact, two homeless patients I saw over the years were kids I grew up with. One of them, I saw his name in the chart, and I went in, and he didn’t know who he was gonna see, and he had his back towards the door. I went in, I called his name, he turned around, and he didn’t recognize me, ‘cause it was years. And he was homeless. I told him my name; he said, You know, I remember as a kid, you always talked about being a doctor, and I wondered if you made it; and I guess you did. You know. And then, another one of my patients, I played Little League Baseball with him. And then, couple weeks later, after I saw him, I’m coming into the clinic, I’m walking through the waiting room. He’s with another homeless patient, and he stops me, and he says, Hey, tell my friend here that you and I used to play baseball together. And I said, Yeah, we used to play baseball together. I guess his friend couldn’t see that his homeless friend grew with a doctor.

 

Let’s pick up on the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

 

Yeah.

 

So, when you talk about ministry, are you talking about going door-to-door?

 

Yes.

 

And how do people receive you? Knock-knock-knock, I’m from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

 

You get a mix. Fortunately for us in Hawai‘i, many people are very polite. They don’t like to be, you know, rude. So, you know, we start talking, and then lot of times, they’ll just say, Oh, I’m not interested. And then, we just leave. Other times, they’ll listen, you know, and then we share a few things. And occasionally, we do have some people that are just rude. And they just say, Oh, no, don’t come here, or get out of here, or they slam the door. You know.

 

And why is it worth it to you to keep doing that?

 

The Bible has such an important message. You know, because it doesn’t matter what religion a person is, there’s Bible principles that can really benefit them. In fact, one man that I used to visit regularly, he actually was an atheist. But he used to love me coming by, ‘cause he said he loved the principles in the Bible. When I talk to people at the door, I know most of them have no desire to be a Jehovah’s Witness. But if they can at least apply some of the things in the Bible, they would have a better life. And that’s why I do it. Again, it’s concern for people. It’s like when I see all the suffering, and I see how people are, I think, You know what, if you could follow some of these principles in the Bible, you know, you would have a happier life. It’s not gonna solve all their problems, you know, obviously, you know, if they’ve got some chronic medical illness. But at least it’ll help them cope with it better. How to have a healthier lifestyle, ‘cause the Bible condemns things such as drunkenness, drug abuse. There’s principles about always trying to have a smile, always trying to laugh. And it does help the body. We do know; medicine has shown that when people tend to laugh more, that it does help the person and all that. So, those kind of different things that can help a person. And then also, it gives them hope for the future. It’s amazing how strong hope is. So, whether it’s in a spiritual nature, or you know, medical, hope is a powerful force. And that’s one of the things, when I go door-to-door, I like to let people know that, you know, you can have a better life now, as well as hope for the future.

 

Mahalo to Dr. Elliot Kalauawa of Honolulu for sharing your inspirational life story with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a 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.

 

Did you and your mother ever have a talk about how things had turned out, and you know, life in general?

 

We had, later on in her later years. And she was always very proud, you know, and things like that. And I never told her that, you know, she had a dysfunctional lifestyle. ‘Cause she knew she did, so there was no point talking about it.

 

And did her life become less and less dysfunctional as she got older?

 

She did; yeah. And I think it’s just, you know, learning from her past mistakes. So, she stopped drinking. I think maybe she was in her seventies, she just stopped alcohol completely. Her gambling, she didn’t stop, but she cut way back. So, she would only maybe go on the weekends, you know. And they’d just basically go to friends’ houses and they’d play Poker. You know, usually the same group; and they’d go to different homes.

 

And she had a long life; eighty-four.

 

Eighty-four.

 

[END]


Undefeated by Dark Times

 

CEO Message

 

Undefeated by Dark Times

Dr. Elliot Kalauawa and Ralph Aviles

Dr. Elliot Kalauawa, Waikiki Health’s Chief Medical Officer   |   Ralph Aviles, former professional boxer

 

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEOIt’s happened maybe a dozen times already.
Within a minute of running into someone I know or meeting someone new, I’m asked about a guest whom I interviewed recently on our weekly Long Story Short program.

 

“You know, the man from Waikīkī,” said Blake Johnson of Honolulu, shortly after we met at a PBS Hawai‘i film screening. “What a guy! I can’t think of his name.”

 

Mr. Johnson went on: “You ask yourself, ‘Can he be real?’”

 

He was referring to Dr. Elliot Kalauawa, Chief Medical Officer at nonprofit Waikiki Health, who matter-of-factly told about growing up in Pālolo public housing. An only child, he didn’t know his father, and at a young age, his single mother left him on his own much of the time, going off to drink and gamble.

 

There was not the slightest trace of self-pity or bitterness as he related how he would eat dinner alone most evenings and put himself to bed. In the light of morning, he would find his mother sleeping soundly in her bed. Taking care not to awaken her, he would kiss her goodbye before making his way to school.

 

The future Dr. Kalauawa blamed no one for his circumstances. He knew that his mother loved bars and card games. He also knew that she loved him.

 

“I’m really happy I came upon that program,” Mr. Johnson smiled. “He’s quite a person. Yes, he’s real.”

 

Viewer Judy Soares also was moved by Dr. Kalauawa’s story. And she found former professional boxer Ralph Aviles “spell-binding” as he described his tough early childhood and his volunteer work today with at-risk youth.

 

Ms. Soares wrote: “I am a retired teacher who worked at a school where children came from difficult family circumstances. I used to spend many hours worrying about their futures. After seeing your interviews, I was so happy to see the resilience both men displayed.”

 

“…Both now have a dedication to helping less fortunate people. But they don’t do the helping in a condescending way – they respect the people they are helping. It’s inspirational.”

 

These Long Story Short guests are not celebrities, but they shine. Their dark times didn’t defeat them. These men quietly illuminate their lives and those of others.

 

A hui hou (until next time),

 

Leslie signature