Moving Forward With Wisdom From Our Past

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Keoni Souza: Trustee At-Large

I am the grandson of a full-blooded Hawaiian woman from ʻUalapuʻe, Molokaʻi. My grandmother, Mona Haʻahaʻa Kaʻapana Medeiros, personified her given Hawaiian name. She was haʻahaʻa in all ways while staying true to her kolohe and feisty nature, which was endearing to all of our ʻohana. In her selfless and subtle approach, she raised her only child, my mother, and her five grandchildren (me and my four siblings) to be leaders for our people.

Perhaps we did not realize the lessons she instilled in us until her death in 2018. After reflection of her time with us on earth, I finally understood the values that she imparted to her offspring and the true meaning of being Hawaiian.

The most prized leaders in the Hawaiian community are not found in high places or elected positions. They are the tūtū and tūtū kāne who raised strong Hawaiian children and grandchildren. They are the acts of kindness and aloha that we see in passing. They are the people who do not have a platform but lead in ways that further our culture and heritage.

Photo: Trustee Souza
Trustee Souza greeting guests at the 2022 OHA investiture luncheon. – Photo: Joshua Koh

It is for people like my great-great-grandparents, the Rev. Daniel and Elizabeth Iaea, who raised my grandmother and taught her how to be a leader in the Hawaiian community through faith, fellowship, and activism, that I can serve in the capacity of OHA Trustee At-Large. The lessons from my family have been instilled in me with a focus on being of service to others. I am humbled and honored to be in this role to help our lāhui rise.

I am the product of my ancestors who have provided me with a moral compass that will guide me as I embark on this journey to help our people. Being your newly elected OHA Trustee At-Large has given me a new level of kuleana to our lāhui. I am grateful to be working with everyone on each island to push for groundbreaking progress over the course of my term.

As a graduate of Kamehameha Schools, I was fortunate to have been a part of the Hawaiian music and hula community since my time in the Concert Glee Club and Hawaiian Ensemble. My passion for traditional Hawaiian music has led me all over the world, from Carnegie Hall to Japan. This perspective has shaped my views on our role and influence in the broader world landscape. I am also a licensed realtor here in Hawaiʻi, which has helped me understand the housing crisis that plagues our residents and the homeless issues. We can do better and OHA plays a critical role in helping all of Hawaiʻi thrive.

As a husband and father to three keiki, I can empathize with our young local families who are trying to make a go of it with the high cost of living here. With new blood at OHA, we have a diverse group of trustees and perspectives that will foster greater collaboration and ideas. I plan to visit our communities throughout Hawaiʻi during my tenure to meet with those on the ground working – such as small business owners, ranchers, and farmers. I am delighted to listen, learn, and bring our people together to maximize the potential of OHA and the work that we do to improve the wellbeing of Native Hawaiians.

As the grandson of a full-blooded Hawaiian woman who taught me how to lead with a gentle spirit, I will perpetuate the goodness of our kūpuna and move forward as an OHA trustee with my ancestors’ wisdom from the past.