LIHUE — It wasn’t that long ago that Zavier Cummings was a custodian.
Fine work, he said, and he did it for two and a half years, but it was not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
“I did not see a way out of that career path,” he said Tuesday.
He got into what he called “a weird place mentally,” and reached a point where he didn’t see much of a reason to live.
“If we’re being honest, if we’re being real, right now, everyone here is going through something or has gone through something,” Cummings said to about 150 people, many youth, at Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall. “You guys may have faced the point in life where you might not have felt too many reasons to live.”
But there is a way through it.
“I just want you guys to know you guys are loved, you guys are important, and you guys deserve to feel that way,” said Cummings, who today describes himself as a comedian, part-time weather reporter and social media influencer. “What helped me was talking to the people I loved. I surrounded myself with people who supported me, who didn’t judge.”
He also realized that by running away from his battles, he could not win the war. So he stood his ground and was true to himself.
“I learned that my transparency will transform others,” Cummings said. “If I’m real with myself, I can be real with others.”
The Kauai Resilience Project hosted the gathering to provide the community with information and resources about increasing youth resiliency in the face of emotional adversity.
KRP is an action committee that was created under Keiki to Career Kauai, an initiative of the Kauai Planning &Action Alliance, with initial funding provided by the Hawaii Community Foundation. It consists of representatives from education to health, social services and the faith community.
Over the course of six months, KRP convened youth groups in schools. It reviewed the latest research and best practices for building youth resilience, and it interviewed experts in the field.
“KRP has just begun this important work, and encourages everyone to take part in supporting Kauai’s youth,” according to a press release.
The action committee has launched several activities including a community action plan, a “Kauai’s Kids Are Your Kids” campaign, and a youth-driven campaign, “You got this.”
One of the goals was to find out why teens were losing hope, why so many were attempting suicide. What were teens seeing, feeling and thinking?
“Our youth are saying to us they don’t feel Kauai is for them anymore,” said Marion Paul, president of the Kauai Planning and Action Alliance.
She said their research found that 9% of local high school students attempted suicide last year.
“That was a very shocking statistic,” Paul said. “As a community, we’ve come together. We have 20 community partners that are working together to try to figure out what can we do about it.”
Youth are feeling stress in relationships, financially and at school, all while trying to live up to expectations, Paul said.
But KRP members were struck by the teens’ attitudes and desires to care for their friends and ohana, and their wish to connect with their community.
“This really touched our hearts as well,” Paul said.
Many believe KRP will have an impact.
“I’m hoping that it would just give others hope that, you know, it’s not the end, that they don’t have to turn to a razor or to a knife or to pills or alcohol to make the pain go away,” said Keyanna Faford, Kauai High School senior.
Darcie Yukimura, director of community philanthropy at HCF, said what she learned through the resilience project has been a “wake-up call.”
She emphasized the importance of collaborative partnerships.
“Working together is what makes lasting change possible,” she said.
Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami said “there’s nothing more important than our next generation,” and in order for KRP to succeed, everyone must join in.
“We’re talking public sector, private sector, we’re talking across the island. Every single corner of this island is going to have to come together and rally around our youth,” he said.
Cummings said he has lost five or six friends to suicide since 2012, the year he graduated. He plans to use his influence as a comedian and on social media “to push the messages that need to be pushed, like reducing the rate of attempted suicides here on Kauai. I wear that very near and dear to my heart. I’ve taken that role on, and I’m ready to fight that battle with the people on this island and here in this room.”
He believes his role is to be the bridge from youth to people who can help them as they are going through difficult times.
“If you need a friend, let me be that friend,” Cummings said.
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.