Students of various ethnicities at Waiakea High School pose with each other on Monday wearing white shirts to signify their solidarity across cultural boundaries. This photo and others like it made the rounds on Facebook this week, drawing support from parents and students all over the island.
By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Fights that erupted last week on campus at Kealakehe High School have prompted a show of solidarity among students on the Big Island.
The school was forced to cancel classes last Thursday after two days of fighting, sparked by what school officials say were cultural misunderstandings between local, Micronesian and Marshallese students.
As word of the fights at Kealakehe spread around the island last week via the Internet and coconut wireless, students like Waiakea High’s Kayla Tibayan-Moore felt the urge to do something to ease the tensions.
As a result, on Monday “at Hilo and Waiakea High School, the students who are Polynesian and Micronesian came together to show that we could live in peace,” she wrote in a Facebook posting.
“Due to the fights at Kealakehe High School, the high school students in the district of Hilo decided to come together to make a difference. We all wore white to represent peace between the Polynesians and Micronesians. The message we are trying to get out there to our community is that we all can get along and live in peace. That even though we have different ethnicities, we could still coexist.”
The effort was one that was completely student-driven, said Waiakea High Principal Kelcy Koga.
Tibayan-Moore said Wednesday morning that she participated because she was surprised to learn that such misunderstandings could lead to violence in a place as diverse as Hawaii Island.
“Initially, I was kinda shocked when I heard about the fights,” she said via cell phone between classes. “My friends made it sound like that was a really awesome school. I had no idea they were having problems like that.”
Tibayan-Moore added that Waiakea’s student body is very diverse, but she hasn’t seen the kind of racial tensions that led to the fighting at Kealakehe.
“We all get along relatively well here,” she said.
However, senior Davis Martin, who is half Micronesian, said he’s heard a few snide remarks made from time to time, and that was enough for him to realize that the school’s students needed to come together to celebrate their differences.
He was largely the driving force behind organizing students on the east side of the island.
“I came on Facebook Friday night and saw a lot of statuses relating to the riot,” he wrote in an email to the Tribune-Herald. “The students of Kealakehe were making a plan for all the Micronesians at their school to wear white T-shirts to represent peace and respect towards the Hawaiians. The word spread and the Hawaiians were planning to wear white T-shirts, as well. The Tongans and Samoans then agreed to participate.
“I saw this brilliant idea … and decided to spread the word to Waiakea High, Hilo High and Keaau High to not only stop the racist fights (among) islanders at Kealakehe, but around the state, so that we as islanders could unite together in the same colored shirts to represent peace and respect.”
The students said that they didn’t want the negativity of the news coverage to outshine the spirit of cooperation that students on Hawaii Island typically share with each other.
“We would really want our message to be spread and make a positive impact on our community,” Tibayan-Moore added.
The students weren’t the only ones touched by their ability to reach across the cultural divide and find common ground.
“I was really moved by what some students of Waiakea High School did this past Monday,” said Dennise Keawekane, a Waiakea alum and parent. “… It’s so good to know that even through these chaotic and horrific times, that these students showed a bright light at the end of such a dark tunnel. I am so proud of these students, and it shows me that not only are their upbringing in their homes positive, but also in the classroom.”
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.