LIHUE — When Puanani Rogers was asked to speak at Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, she didn’t know what she would say.
But she accepted the invitation. And when she stood before the crowd of about 100 at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, she said she was glad she did.
“I want to honor him and I do want to remember him for what he did,” she said. “He was one of my heroes. I hated racism. I hated that. It was not ke Akua.”
At one point, she looked at the people seated and listening to her, men and women, and she smiled. She was pleased to see what she said were many beautiful faces and races.
God’s laws, she said, should govern the land.
“Not the laws of man that do not understand any of our cultural beliefs,” Rogers said
The celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day was sponsored by the Interfaith Roundtable of Kauai, which promotes unity among people of different faiths and philosophies.
It was a full day with media presentations of inspiring talks by Dr. King in the morning, roundtable discussions about housing, leadership and peace in the afternoon, and wrapped up with songs and passionate speeches into the early evening.
King, who was assassinated in 1968, dedicated his life to fighting for equal rights and justice through non-violence. The national holiday honoring King’s birthday was established in 1983.
Steve Backinoff, an organizer, said that he loves Kauai and is grateful for the people and the opportunities he has been given here.
Backinoff read a quote from Dr. King: “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become reality.”
“However, we do have challenges and can do better,” he wrote. “Coming together in council to share our concerns and our wise and creative solutions as well as celebrating with inspirational music is the goal of the event.”
Hari Khalsa, IROK co-chair, said he wanted to stress the concept of reverence for people.
“Equality and compassion, as opposed to racism or heritage or lineage,” he said. “I’m all about legacy, not lineage.”
Kauai’s Larry Rivera played his song, “The Whole World Looks to Hawaii,” which he said was inspired by President John F. Kennedy.
“We are proud to be of this nation,” he sang.”We share our love with the world.”
Rogers said she has deep roots on Kauai.
“I am indigenous to this island. I get laughed at because I say I’m indigenous to this island,” she said. “According to scientific law, indigenous means floral and fauna. I am indigenous, born on this island. I’m growing from this island. My ancestors are buried on this island.”
She talked of the overthrow of Hawaii and Queen Lilliuokalani on Jan. 17, 1893, and Hawaii’s annexation a few years later as a U.S. territory.
“They took away the power of us to self-rule our island. They took our sovereignty,” she said. “We are still sovereign. We are learning as we go how we can correct the wrongs that were done to us.”
The key, she said, is to go forth with aloha.
“You have some successes with that. You can get what you want, with aloha,” she said.
Rogers said she likes to believe she is spiritually led and culturally based.
“I don’t think we will succeed if we don’t have ke Akua with us, leading us, our sovereign leader,” she said.
She referred to faith, hope and charity as she sang a final song.
“When we have all of this, then the whole world will be blessed,” she said.