Written by Marybeth Kotrodimos
October 23, 2019 — At 11:30 am, Thursday, October 3, I left my post at the front desk of UHP Central to join the Men’s March Against Violence. A new resident of Hawaii, I had first heard of the annual Men’s March last year when the UH Med Weekly ran a story about “the sea of green” that would flow through the streets of downtown Honolulu. I saw people I knew from my new job at UHP – the Dean of JABSOM, Dr. Jerris Hedges, our CFO/Interim COO, Chip Ellis, and Native Hawaiian Health’s Dr. Keawe Kaholokula, among others – marching and chanting on TV and on the front page of The Star-Advertiser. I watched the Hawaii News Now interview of Dean Hedges in which he gave his personal account of why he became involved in the march and the movement to raise awareness of the issue of domestic violence.
I can’t remember why I didn’t march last year. Perhaps it was because I was new to UHP and didn’t want to ask for the time away from the office. Maybe it was because I had something else that needed my attention that day, but I knew that this year, the 25th year of the event, I wanted to participate. Fortunately, the organizers at JABSOM made it very easy to do that.
On the morning of the march, shuttles ran continuously between JABSOM and Iolani Palace, where the march began and the rally that followed it would take place. In the lobby of the Medical Education Building at JABSOM, I was greeted by a small group of med students who were driving the shuttles and giving out the bright green t-shirts that most everyone from JABSOM and UHP would wear at the march. They introduced themselves to me and, offered me a t-shirt. And even though a full van had just left for the march and at that moment there were only two of us waiting to go, they quickly got us into another van and over to the event.
Upon arrival, I was easily able to identify the green-clad group from JABSOM and UHP who gathered with Dean Hedges in front of the State Capitol Building. Tina Shelton (JABSOM’s Director of Communications, Media and Government Affairs), Deborah Dimaya (JABSOM Communications Deputy Director) and Vina Cristobal (UHP/JABSOM Communications) snapped pictures of us holding placards and a big green JABSOM banner. The Dean shook my hand and thanked me for representing UHP at the march. Though it was hot and humid and the reason for the gathering was weighty and cheerless, there was buoyancy in the air, and a sense of purpose. While no one was making light of the cause of domestic violence, everyone seemed upbeat and glad to be there. The sea of green was about to take shape and mobilize.
From our gathering place in front of the State Capitol Building, we walked to a large white tent behind Iolani Palace where a speaker was reading off each of the names of those who had lost their lives to domestic violence in Hawaii in 2019 with a brief description of how they had been killed. The last name was of a woman who, unlike the others, was still living – and fighting for her life in a hospital bed at that very moment. The speaker asked us to think of her as we marched. I’m not sure I could have talked with anyone at that moment, so moved I was by this presentation of the list. It was only the first time I would feel that way during the march and the rally that followed.
As we began our march, I saw a rather large group of HPD officers in full uniform walking next to me. My first thought was that they were there to keep the peace, but then I realized that they were marching along with us, representing HPD in their support of this cause. JABSOM’s Special Events Coordinator, Melia Young, walked along side me passing out green fans from JABSOM. There was something about the sight of these officers on that hot afternoon, holding those fans and showing their support, which lent a certain substantiality to this event. These were the first responders – the people who are called to homes when things go terribly wrong, the ones who see the worst of it on a regular basis.
People lined the sidewalks and chanted with us as we marched. In front of the Central Pacific Bank building a group of bank employees, holding blue pom-poms and rattling noisemakers, joined in our chant: “End the silence. Stop the violence.”
Groups of downtown office workers had left their desks and come out to the street to show their support. Among them was a large gathering of people from the Hawaii Community Foundation on the corner of King and Bishop Streets, wearing t-shirts of support and thanking us for marching. Further on, a construction worker in a hard hat and reflective vest filmed us with his phone as he chanted with the marchers: “Stop stop stop – stop the violence.”
Male voices rose loudest and clearest among the 1,000 plus participants as we all made our way through the crowded downtown streets, leaving no doubt that this was primarily a message of solidarity and support from the men of our community. But many women and girls were there as well, some holding signs, some pushing baby carriages, or holding the hands of their young children. People of all ages, genders, and ethnicities marched and chanted and showed their support.
Back at the Iolani Palace, there was a large canopy sheltering the students and staff from UH and JABSOM who were giving away bottles of water and bags of chips, cookies, and other snacks – the highlight of which was the ice cream and sherbet cups donated by Meadow Gold for this event. People representing Hawaii Pacific Health, Bank of Hawaii, and Kaiser Permanente also had set up tables and tents and were giving out chips, cookies and other small bags of snacks. A few people from the Kaiser tent were passing out cups of water from trays that they carried through the crowd which had returned from the march.
Under the big white tent, Dr. Jamie Ford of Kaiser Permanente served as MC to this 25th annual march. His perspective as a physician who is has committed his support to this movement against domestic violence was highly effective. According to an account on the Domestic Violence Action Center (DVAC) website, he has “perfected the art of emcee” at this event.
With well-deserved praise and obvious admiration, Dr. Ford welcomed to the stage Nanci Kreidman, CEO of the Domestic Violence Action Center (DVAC), the main organizers of the march. She founded DVAC 35 years ago, and has dedicated her life to educating the public about this issue as well as providing help and support for survivors and families impacted by domestic violence.
Council Member Ann Kobayashi from District 5, was next on the stage for the Lifetime Recognition Award for her hard work and dedication to this cause.
The next speaker was Brian Kohatsu, who gave an honest and courageous account of how he had grown up a victim of domestic violence and sexual abuse, only to become an abuser himself. He talked about accountability and how important it is for men, in particular, to hear these messages about domestic violence. His account of how he had gone from victim to abuser, to one who now is committed to “making living amends” for the violence he had committed in his personal relationships, was truly inspiring.
The last speaker was Judge R. Mark Browning, Chief Judge of the First Circuit of the State of Hawaii, who was recognized as Distinguished Citizen of the Year for all he has done to address this issue of domestic violence. He spoke about what he has seen from the judge’s bench, about “the violence that goes on every day” in homes across Hawaii and the nation. He said that the body will heal, but the scars that children sustain from family violence, the damage done to the soul, “lives on and on”. It is “small acts of love and grace,” he said, that “make a difference” in the struggle against domestic violence.
The rally concluded with Kelii Beyer of the DVAC bestowing leis on these individuals who have done so much to raise awareness of this issue.
Throughout the ceremony, Dean Hedges, who has serves as honorary chair of this march, and has been such an important part of this event throughout the years, was among a small group who stood up front with the speakers. His commitment to ending family violence is rooted deep in his experiences. An emergency medicine doctor by training, as well as one who experienced family violence in his home as a child, he has seen firsthand the damage that domestic violence can do.
The pervasiveness of domestic violence is undeniable. Each year in Hawaii, 50,000 women between the ages of 18 and 64 are victims, and they are found at every socio and economic level and among every ethnic group. A message that came through loudly at this event was that silence can be deadly. Thus far, in 2019, there have been over 17,000 calls to DVAC’s Domestic Violence hotline. So many people never make that call. So many suffer and even die in silence. It is estimated that one in five employees is a victim of family violence. The resulting damage of domestic violence extends beyond the home and family. It affects our businesses and communities as well.
I hope that more of us from UHP will join Dean Hedges in this march next year. I hope that many more of us will come out that day and share this powerful experience of mobilizing with others to raise awareness and end suffering. Breaking the cycle of shame and silence is the first step towards stopping the violence. By lending our voices to this movement, we encourage victims to speak up and get help, we promote compassion and understanding, and we really do help to make the world a better place, not just for the victims of domestic violence, but for us all.