In August 2007 I talked with newly appointed Kamehameha Schools Trustee Corbett Kalama. It wasn’t surprising that he was reading about two individuals close to his new organization, but his reasons were thoughtful and evocative. Kalama is well-spoken, but as I transcribe only medium-fast, and he talks very quickly, the ellipses are simply places where my fingers couldn’t keep up.

What I’m Reading | Corbett Kalama

Kamehameha Schools Trustee, Executive VP First Hawaiian Bank

Q&A with Christine Thomas

–What are you reading?

I finished one called “Pauahi: The Kamehameha Legacy” written by George Kanahele, which provides a lot of the background on Bernice Pauahi Bishop–who she was, how she was raised and the schools she went to. It gives you insight into her thinking and focus, and the vision she had. It also gives you context into the Hawaiian community’s transition at that time.

I’m also reading “Kamehameha and his warrior Kekuhaupio” by Stephen Desha. That’s about an individual who was Kamehameha I’s warrior, designated to take care of Kamehameha, and tells his story, what he went through, and his relationship with Kamehameha as they were growing up as youngsters. …

I also always go through Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial. My responsibilities here at First Hawaiian Bank and Kamehameha Schools—one enhances the other—everything has to be based on a vision. As I read through Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, it’s so vivid. As I read back about Pauahi, she too had a vision for the Hawaiian community. And Kekuhaupio, he always intrigued me…but in all three contexts they present a long-term perspective and a similar set of values. … I tend to gravitate to books about individuals that exhibit those different qualities.

–How did you discover them?

I was raised around the Hawaiian culture from a very young age. Everyone I knew, knew of Kekuhaupio. He was a strong person and very influential. You always know about Kamehahmeha and his influence, and you always know that he couldn’t do it by himself. So you hear about Kekuhaupio, and that’s what prompted me to go out and read more about him … He had to really embrace Hawaiian spiritual values, and had tremendous respect for training and respect for elders … The book is fairly thick and it jumps all over the place to give you a broad overview of the context, so it prompts you to start reading other books about Hawaiian history. …We learn from our past.

–What about “Pauahi: The Kamehameha Legacy“?

It was given to me. My kids went to Kamehameha, and my cousins, but I never did. … I’d read a lot about her and Liliuokalani the hanai system. The day I was selected as trustee, Chairman Ng said, you might want to read this book. … It was intriguing because I could relate back to—in her book, George Kanahele comments on a certain value structure that Bernice Pauahi Bishop would bring forth. It talks about her generosity. … It’s intriguing to read about an individual at her young age, able to have the foresight, and to see what’s come about as a result of her and her husband’s willingness to make that happen.

–Does reading about their values guide you through the wake of recent legal battles and your learning curve as a new trustee?

It does. It guides you through the challenges. All good leaders are values-based. So when I go back and look at examples of great leaders over time, not only restricted to here in Hawai`i but all over the world, there are consistent traits of leadership. All leaders have to be humble, they have an aggressive side and are confident, but you recognize that your success is going to come through other people. So your success is going to come through lifting up others. … The challenges now force Kamehameha Schools to look at these values and embrace them. We’re an educational organization but we’re also here to care for the Hawaiian community as a whole. When you look at Pauahi…she talked about that, about the importance of lokahi, working together as a group. In order for the Hawaiian community to move forward, you had to embrace everyone who was there. … I think Kamehameha School’s role has been very noticeable in some parts and very quiet in others. …. There are many ways the children of Hawai`i can be educated, and we should play a role, whether it’s….charter schools, teacher training. … You can’t just deal with education you have to look at the whole package.

– Christine Thomas

Photo Credit: Kamehameha Schools

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