Climate Change is real for the coastal people of Bangladesh

“Climate change is a global phenomenon, with local impacts. But action must be taken globally. We are all in it together, either we all swim or all sink. There is no plan B, there is no planet B, this is all we have.”

~Dr. Atiq Rahman, Executive Director of Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, excerpt from the New Zealand documentary film, “30 Million.”

Three Worlds One Vision

30 Million Directed by Daniel Price and Adrien Taylor (2016) Film Review Thirty Million is a New Zealand documentary about how rising sea levels in Bangladesh are already displacing (and killing) people in low lying coastal areas. It depicts quite dramatically how coastal farmers inundated by rising tides are moving into incredibly congested cities, where […]

via How Climate Change is Killing People in Bangladesh — The Most Revolutionary Act

“I think the trick in our hand is that we [the United Nations] have enough knowledge, enough information to act. But it is the collective acting that is what is required now. But if we are not that careful then we will definitely be suicidal if not evil. Evil is the word that could definitely be attributed to the people who have the choice and have not acted, who have the power and have not used it for the greater good…

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Listening with TING!

Listening…often times we hear, but how often do we listen.  Truly listen to what others are saying.  Most times, when we are in dialogue, especially with those with whom we disagree, we listen until we have a point to make.  Then we stop listening.

An example from my classroom.  A student who was white, female, and grew up in rural upper Michigan was sharing of a time when she showed compassion to a family who was African American when they were encountering racism.  She talked about how she was not exposed to diversity in her hometown, but knew what was happening was not right and made a stand.  In fact, given this was her first semester in Ann Arbor on the first day of class, her experience thus far had been the most diverse setting she had ever been in.

Unfortunately, in sharing her story, she used the term “colored people” to describe the African American family.  As soon as she said these words, there was a sudden groan in the class and nearly every person of color and white ally immediately raised their hand hoping I would interrupt her story and let them speak.  I knew quite well what was on their minds.  I could see the anger and frustration in their eyes.  They were triggered and wanted to make sure she knew this.  I did not call on anyone.  Rather, once she had stopped speaking, I calmly thanked this student for sharing her story, for acting as an ally in this situation, and welcomed her as a learner and someone new to diversity.  The looks of students in the class was that of stunned.  I paused and then said, I do want to let you know however that the term colored people is out of date and that the preferred term would be persons of color.  The student was embarrassed and apologetic and claimed she did not know.  She stated that she would do her best to learn this new term and not repeat the old term again.  I thanked and acknowledged her once again.  Slowly, the hands started to lower and though confused by what just happened, they allowed the class to continue.

In social justice education, many believe that what they say and the message that they deliver is what is most important.  How can we convince others that our vision of a socially just future is the right one?  I’d like to suggest that perhaps this can sometimes be a misguided approach and that the most important tool is to listen.  Truly listen.

When we truly listen, what do we hear?  According to the ancient Chinese symbol for listen or “ting” which is embedded above (Huang-Nissen, 1999), listening consists of the following.  We listen with our ears. We listen with our eyes.  And we listen with our minds.  This is not so surprising.  We also listen with our heart, for the emotions that are being conveyed by the speaker.  But why king?  According to Huang-Nissen, when we listen, we should give the speaker the respect of royalty.  Why oneness?  We listen for the oneness of the message, for common ground.  We listen for some truth that we might have missed.  Something we can affirm, so that the speaker knows that we have truly heard them.  And the funny thing about this is, when we truly listen to others, they are more likely to hear us.

Just Living…Just Food

I’d like to talk about one of my favorite topics, food.  In Hawaii, we import about 90% of our food and export about 80% of our agricultural production.  Growing up in Hawaii, we primarily ate processed foods that were typically unhealthy and came a very long distance to get to my table.  There are several things I am trying to do to remedy this.  First, I am trying to eat organically and locally to the extent possible.  Whether it be growing my own food, shopping at the farmer’s market, or at produce stores that carry primarily local or organic foods, such as Down to Earth, I am attempting to eat foods in which I know where it came from.  I reduce my carbon footprint by doing so, because of the fuel saved, whether it be by plane, train, or trucks, when food is not imported. Eating local means you are eating fruits and vegetables seasonally when they have the fullest flavor and nutrients.  It also supports the local economy, benefits the environment, and promotes food safety.  I try  to eat organic because it reduces my body’s total toxic burden, it is non-GMO, it is richer in nutrients, antioxidants, and lower in heavy metals, and because it is good for the Earth.

In Honolulu, I have found the Kaka’ako Farmers Market at Ward Warehouse on Saturdays to be a fun and enjoyable experience.  You can learn more about this market at my wife, Shelly’s blog. A favorite vendor of ours is  MA’O Farms out of Waianae.   MAʻO is an acronym for mala (garden) ʻai (food) ʻopio (youth) or youth food garden and it affirms their belief that when we reconnect and restore the relationship between the land and the people, we are able to return abundance and prosperity to youth, to their families and to the community.  Shelly and I try to buy our fruits and veggies for the week there. We have also joined the national organization, Slow Food USA and the local chapter Slow Food Hawaii.  The aims of Slow Food Hawaii are to:

  • Advocate for renewed interest in and support for our local food culture
  • Promote biodiverse and sustainable producers and purveyors on our a’ina and in our ocean
  • Bring people together to rediscover the pleasures of the table

I am also trying to get involved with research projects that promote food justice here in Hawaii.  One project I am excited about involves promoting backyard aquaponics in the town of Waimanalo and developing curriculum to promote nutrition, healthy lifestyles, social support, and sustainability of the aquaponic systems.  There is a large Native Hawaiian population in Waimanalo and because of its rural location, there are few grocery stores that provide quality produce at reasonable prices.  Through this project, we hope to develop leadership within the community to support one another around the use and maintenance of aquaponics, share information about what grows well in these systems and exchange healthy recipes that can be made from what is grown.  The most common fish raised with good results in aquaponics is tilapia.  Besides lettuce and herbs, native medicinal plants such as ‘olena, otherwise known as turmeric, has been grown with good results.   We also hope to raise awareness around the use of medicinal plants in healing or la’au lapa’au.  I have the honor of working with two wonderful colleagues, Dr. Jane Chung-Do (University of Hawaii Public Health) and ‘Ilima Ho-Lastimosa, MSW.  I hope to share more about this project as it develops in the future!

What are ways in which you are promoting food justice?  I’d love to hear about your ideas and the things you are doing.

Photo found at

Spotlight: Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian Best of 2016

I’d like to take the time to spotlight a blog by a friend who is very special and extremely talented.  The blog is called Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian and the author is Relando Thompkins-Jones.  I met Relando when he was a student at the University of Michigan School of Social Work, where he worked with our team facilitating intergroup dialogue with high school youth in Ann Arbor.  Since then, he has never ceased to amaze me with his grace, thoughtfulness, and skills.  He is an outstanding dialogue facilitator and diversity educator.  When I become Associate Dean of the School of Social Work, I hired Relando to teach the course I created on Intergroup Dialogue because of the trust I had that he would deliver the best course possible for our students.  And, he delivered many times over!  Click on the link below to sample some of his most popular blogs of 2016.  I encourage you to follow and return often to learn more about his journey.

Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian Best of 2016

Microaggressions: What can I do about them?

This is a preview to two special issues of the Journal of Cultural and Ethnic Minority Social Work of which I am the guest editor.  The first of two is set to appear in January 2017.  The first issue will be a double issue and will focus on theory and research.   The second issue which will appear later in the year will focus on social work education.  These special issues will then appear in a new book published by Taylor and Francis in late 2017.

What is a microaggression?  The concept, first coined by Chester Pierce in the 1970s and brought to the forefront by Derald Wing Sue in the 2000s, refers to those everyday slights and insults, conscious or unconscious, intentional or unintentional, that demean or degrade individuals from disenfranchised groups.  Personally, while the definition of microaggressions has been conceptualized much more broadly, I view it as something that is often perpetrated by good, often liberal-minded people whose words can carry more weight than the less common hateful bigot.

When we hear blatant and intentional racist, sexist, homophobic, or classist comments, whether it be on the streets or on the media, we can typically brush them off.  Why?  Because in my everyday life I don’t interact with people like this and most times know how to avoid them if I need to.  But when they come from people who I trust, people I care about, people who I believe share my vision of a just society, it hurts and the pain tends to linger.  Why?  Because these comments don’t come out of individual ignorance or lack of tolerance.  But rather, they come from social learning that originates from the deeply ingrained inequalities that exist within our structures and environment.

It is more than political correctness that I am talking about.  It’s about hurting people, people we care about, even if we have the best of intentions.  When a person talks about how they prefer to visit the outer islands rather than Honolulu when they travel annually to Hawaii, it is a simple comment.  A comment that conveys a preference for a quieter vacation where they can connect with natural beauty.  For me, however, it reminds me that people don’t want to see the realities of my homeland, how we work, how we live, and what’s good and what’s bad.  They don’t want to be confronted with the homeless, interact with locals, or be made aware of the colonizing forces that we all contribute to.  I don’t want to have to reflect on their comments in this manner, but I do.  And sometimes, it hurts.

When I tell people that I grew up in a poor neighborhood in Hawaii, sometimes I am told, “I didn’t see any poor people when I went to Hawaii.”  Rather than inquire further, they choose to invalidate my experience.  Of course, they did not mean to, but it still happened.  The sheer lack of awareness that the people who served them, while they were enjoying mai tais, don’t live in Waikiki with views of the ocean and likely make near minimum wage while living in a place with one of the highest costs of living in the U.S. does not occur to them in that moment.  Clearly, they never made it to homeless villages near the Salvation Army in Palama or the west side beaches.  This becomes even more evident when they tell me, “And all I ever saw were ABC stores!”

Now I must share that I myself am not free from perpetrating my own microaggressions.   In fact, I probably have no awareness of number of microaggressions I commit on a daily basis, because they don’t affect me personally.  Admittedly, it is difficult for me to even keep track of the conscious bigotry that has been taught to me and that is ingrained in me by society.  And that is why I continue to research these issues; not only to make these issues aware to others who envision a just society, but as an ongoing reminder to myself.

See the full link below for my Guest Editorial to be published in January 2017.


Photo borrowed from