Maya is an award-winning peace, multicultural, and international studies educator and children’s book author. She’s also co-founder (along with her co-presenter Kerrie) of the community peace training program Ceeds of Peace. In addition, she’s worked tirelessly as a campaigner for her brother, President Barack Obama.
In addition to her work with Maya on Ceeds of Peace, Kerrie is a community mobilizer and peace builder, and the Early Learning Action Strategy Coordinator for the Hawai‘i Governor’s Office.
In anticipation of their appearance at TEDxMaui 2014, we took a moment to get to know these Hawaii-based educators and community leaders. We are pleased to launch our “Featured Presenter Q &A Series“, which digs a little deeper into their passions and motivations.
What drives you to do the work you do?
Maya: I am driven by an educator’s sense of adventure; there are so many things we have yet to learn, so many connections we have yet to explore, and so many beautiful things to build together. As an educator I feel much more hope than despair when it comes to the future and our keiki, but the moments of despair motivate me too; once I pick myself up and I stride away from disappointing encounters with meanness, smallness, or injustice, I realize that kids need the tools that the Ceeds of Peace provides in order to rise above or navigate around this stuff in their own lives–so that despair is not their final destination.
Kerrie: The complex problems our communities face (homelessness, child abuse, discrimination, gun violence, rape etc.) are clear barriers to peace. To solve these types of issues, we need to raise peace builders who have the skills of critical thinking, collaboration, courage, compassion, conflict resolution and community building. As a person working in systems’ design for early childhood (which I consider peace building), these skill sets are critical to ensure that more and more children have a more positive start in life that will set them on a successful and happy trajectory. Ceeds of Peace helps adults raise peace builders to be confident and collaborative leaders who are committed to raising the bar for everyone in our communities. Being a change agent in creating safe and thriving communities is why I serve in my current position in the Governor’s office, teach peace building courses at UH and run Ceeds of Peace workshops.
What is one personal experience or relevant anecdote that informs your TEDx talk?
Maya: Motherhood and teaching have filled me with both love and fear. I’ve been afraid that I will not be able to protect my daughters and students from sorrow or pain, to keep them safe from harm or negative influence. Motherhood and teaching have therefore inspired me to think a lot about the Ceed of courage around kids. I think that there are two kinds of courage we see every day from the kids: the sprint and the endurance. A student speaks against playground bullying or in class, pushing through the fear of making a mistake, and that’s the quick courage–the fight. A student moves from being a gang leader to a peer mediator and that’s the persistent long-term kind–the mountainclimb. We need to work on both if we’re to have a transformative impact on the next generation, right? When I was teaching on the Lower East Side of NYC in the nineties, my students had subway passes that would take them anywhere but they seldom left their neighborhoods because they weren’t sure they were welcome. It took mountain-climbing courage for them to start to tear down the tall, invisible boundaries and go to the Guggenheim on Saturday, play chess on the Upper West Side after school, or do Wednesday service projects in adjacent neighborhoods. They inspired me to act with courage and push through the fear of failure as an educator. They are still the ones that make me feel like we can get to Everest…or Mauna Kea.
Kerrie: Motherhood and working as a community facilitator with adults who are working through protracted conflicts. Motherhood in the sense that I want my children to lead lives free of fear, especially my girls and to not be exposed to the violence I was exposed to in my 20s. Motherhood in the sense of having the experience of bringing life into this world and realizing how easily it can be taken away and appreciating that millions of parents lose children to sickness and violence, most of which can be prevented. If we have the courage and needed collaboration to make the necessary economic and social policy changes we can make a solid dent in preventing families from experiencing such devastating loss. Motherhood in the sense of being committed to seeking parity in opportunities afforded to our children – closing the socioeconomic gaps is an imperative priority for the United States and it will take peace builders skilled in critical thinking, conflict resolution and collaboration to close that gap, improving the health of our entire country.
As a facilitator who has worked across conflicts in education, early childhood, public health and environmental issues, I have been a part of many multi–stakeholder efforts to affect change. Peacebuilding does not come naturally- it is a refined set of skills that need to be taught and reinforced throughout a child’s life so that when they enter adulthood, they can be effective leaders in their families, communities and workplaces. However, it’s these very skill sets that are often not prioritized in our school curricula or at home. They may be touched on in small character building efforts but they are rarely integrated into the daily lives of our infants, toddlers, preschoolers and K-12 students. Ceeds of Peace workshops help adults figure out strategic ways of planting the Ceeds around our children daily, through our interactions with them and integrated throughout existing curriculum. In every class I have taught at the University, 80% of evaluation responses will include comments similar to, “I wish I would have learned these skills earlier in my life!”
How are you or your topic connected to Maui or Hawaiʻi?
Maya: The Ceeds of Peace workshops attend to the peacebuilding potential of Hawai’i families, schools, and communities. Together we work to explore a variety of means and resources to connect school and community and bind local and international cares. Hawai’i and its people embody and present powerful opportunities for peacemaking and bridge building. It has long been noted that this is a place of both diversity and harmony relative to most other places. It is a place that has a strong indigenous presence as well as a complex international presence. Hawai’i connects the continental US and Asia, to be sure, but also celebrates the Ceeds of Peace values of Connection, Collaboration, Community, Conflict Resolution, and Compassion at the deeply local level. Here we must harness the vigor of the past as we look to a globalized future. Ho’oponopono and other kanaka practices offer important pathways to healing. Here we must place a premium on reflective community and culturally responsive health and educational practices that can be modeled for and shared with the world entire through educational exchange, storytelling, and inspiring events like the Worldwide Voyage.
Kerrie: I echo Maya’s comments. Ceeds of Peace workshops are a 360 degree approach to raising peace builders – ensuring that all adults around our children, at home, in school and in our communities are modeling and teaching the Ceeds of Peace daily. Workshops are open to everyone across the islands and the action plans that each participant develops are tailored to their own family, school, classroom, Complex, sport’s team etc. The concept of `ohana in the islands, being an extended support for a child provides fertile ground for the Ceeds to be planted. We don’t have to educate people living in the islands about their collective responsibilities to our children – they live it. It’s a matter of teaching and refining the skills so that we do a better job at raising peace builders for the health and happiness of our island communities.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Maya: I would wrap my arms around her and give her a big hug. I see her beauty and bravado and envy the former more than I should perhaps, but I also see how in need of true love she is–a baby bird trembling out on that branch. She needs me to believe in her so that she doesn’t seek validation from the wrong places, from any place save the self and the moral compass deep within.
Kerrie: Depends on which younger self. My youngest self – be very thankful for the love that surrounds you. For my school-aged self – be more confident in standing up for those who needed it – take the risk – realize that others will respect it. That being a silent bystander, especially if your “friends” are at fault makes you guilty by association. Stand up for what is pono even if you are alone. For my college-age self – take those budgeting and economics courses – don’t wait until graduate school to jam them all! You will use them in every facet of your life.
What advice would your younger self give to the older you?
Maya: She would take me by the hand and we’d go for a long hike, leaving the dirty dishes in the sink and the email unanswered.
Kerrie: Play! Play! and play some more. Take time to paint the landscape, to sit, listen and reflect. Enjoy and celebrate everyone and let go of past hurts. Make sure that for every person you interact with on a daily basis, the grocery store clerk, the bank teller, your child’s teacher, your spouse, your children, your mother-in-law etc. that you commit to making their day a better day. (From Aunt Janet)
What do the TED Talks mean to you? Do you have a favorite talk that speaks to you?
Maya: I like so many of them. I like best the talks that bring me poetry, like Sarah Kay’s “If I Should Have a Daughter” and the talks that remind me what it is to be an educator, like John Hunter’s “Teaching with the World Peace Game” and Rita Pierson’s “Every Kid Needs a Champion”.
Kerrie: TED Talks inspire me to recommit myself to this very hard work and to celebrate our successes. They challenge me to grow personally and professionally, allow me to reflect, laugh with some of them and connect to the very essence of what it means to be human, together. They also bring to life the messages my students are reading about in my peace building, culture and conflict and international conflict classes. Some of my favorites are: The World’s Largest Family Reunion, We’re All Invited! by AJ Jacobs, Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe by Simon Sinek, My Daughter Malala by her Dad, Making Peace is a Marathon by May El-Khalil, anything by Sir Ken Robinson, Teaching with the World Peace Game by John Hunter, What Adults Can Learn From Kids by Adora Svitak, and there is one more that I can think of off the top of my head about a mother whose husband was accidentally murdered by drunk teens and her journey to forgiveness by incorporating many of the Ceeds of Peace that we promote.
Since both Maya and Kerrie chose John Hunters’ talk, we will share it with you here for some extra TED inspiration. Enjoy the video, and the continuing Featured Presenter blog series, and see you in September!
To book your tickets for the full TEDxMaui experience on Sunday, September 28th, 2014, please find out more on our tickets page.