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Hawaii NAACP head: ‘Now is the time’ to protect freedoms, fight inequality

Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. celebrated virtually by Maui groups

A few members of the African Americans on Maui Association along with community partners held a small lei ceremony Saturday on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday at the Stone of Hope Monument fronting the Kalana O Maui Building in Wailuku. From left are Bryant Neal of the African Americans on Maui Association; Sharon Nohara, vice president of the Maui United Buddhist Women’s Association; Mayor Michael Victorino and wife, Joycelyn; Ayin Adams, executive director of the African Americans on Maui Association; and mayor’s executive assistant Darlene Endrina. The usual march in Wailuku town and gathering at the monument Monday was canceled again this year due to the pandemic. LAWRENCE ENDRINA photo

Repeating Martin Luther King Jr.’s reminder that “now is the time,” the leader of the local chapter of the NAACP on Monday put out a call to action to “truly honor” the legacy of King and other freedom fighters.

“The physical shackles and chains of oppression, they’re gone,” said Alphonso Braggs, the president of the Honolulu Hawaii NAACP. “Today we face innovative and systemic restraints and we are fully engaged and we have to stay fully engaged in this domestic warfare against social injustice, health disparities and a blatant disregard for personal responsibility.”

During an online gathering via Zoom on Monday to commemorate the holiday named after the slain civil rights leader, Braggs reminded members of the African Americans on Maui Association, Hawaii State Teachers Association Maui Chapter, Maui United Buddhist Women’s Association and others in attendance to “act now” and not wait for others “to chart a course of freedom.”

Braggs, who also oversees NAACP operations in Japan, Korea and Guam, noted how across the nation, officials are pushing for new laws that make it more difficult for the average citizen to vote, impact a person’s right to choose and other legislation that adversely impacts minority and disenfranchised groups, including people of color and the elderly.

Braggs was alluding to the push for and passage of laws in some states making mail voting and early voting more difficult — a backlash to the 2020 election in which former President Donald Trump made unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud — and a new law in Texas that allows private citizens to sue those who help others get an abortion around six weeks of pregnancy. Other states have also been considering similar measures to restrict abortions that advocates say will hurt women of color or low-income status who already struggle to access health care.

“Now is the time. Now is the time for us to truly honor the legacy of Dr. King and so many other freedom fighters, who lived in a place called America but have not always been considered worthy of American citizenship,” Braggs said. “Now is the time for our presence to be felt, not just down at the ballot box, throughout city hall, throughout the state legislature, and the halls of Congress and even in the White House.”

This was the second year in a row that the pandemic canceled the annual Peace March and community gathering at the Stone of Hope Monument in front of the Kalana O Maui building in Wailuku, annually organized by the African Americans on Maui Association.

A small group including members of the association and Mayor Michael Victorino did place lei at the monument on Saturday, which was King’s actual birthday.

Ayin Adams, the executive director of the association, said prior to the event that even though a couple hundred people are no longer marching and gathering together on the holiday to honor King, “we are still connected.”

Annual participants, including labor unions and religious groups, joined the Zoom event on Monday.

“I think the most important thing is we continue in the spirit of peace and nonviolence,” Adams said.

She also spoke about King’s ties to Hawaii. The civil rights leader came to the islands a month after statehood in 1959 and spoke before the state’s House of Representatives.

“As I looked at all of these various faces and various colors mingled together like the waters of the sea, I could see only one face — the face of the future,” he said after his visit to Hawaii.

King also had a friendship with Hawaii’s late Rev. Abraham Akaka, former pastor of Kawaiahao Church on Oahu.

Akaka sent over lei that King and others wore during the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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