Black Student Union Hosts Guest Speakers

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In January, Punahou’s Black Student Union (BSU) partnered with JROTC and invited Capt. William “T” Thompson, Esq. as part of the Cooke Learning Commons Speaker Series. Thompson – the first Black to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy from South Carolina – spoke about his youth in Orangeburg, South Carolina, his encounter as a boy with Martin Luther King Jr., and his experience as one of 12 Black students bused to integrate all-White Orangeburg High School.

Met with baseball bats, axe handles and epithets, he described the core principles that sustained him during that time. “Everyone has to deal with challenges, but you can’t let that turbulence keep you from achieving excellence in your life,” he said.

Thompson, who authored the book, “The Flight to Excellence: Soaring to New Heights in Business and in Life,” credited his father and King for inculcating the core principles of “integrity, keeping your word, discipline, finishing what you start with an underlying commitment to excellence and always doing your best.” As he puts it, “We stepped off that bus and walked into history.”

JROTC faculty member Col. Bob Takao met Thompson at the Air Force Academy, when visiting his son, Tom Takao ’12, and encountered him again when the AFA football team toured Punahou during the University of Hawai‘i-Air Force Academy football game.

In December, more than 75 students, faculty, staff and alumni attended “To Serve and Protect: A Conversation about Law Enforcement and Social Justice,” a virtual presentation by Kenji Price, who served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawai‘i. (Price – along with other U.S. Attorneys across the country appointed during the Trump administration – were asked to resign by the Biden administration.) It was the first event to be hosted by the Black Student Union.

A graduate of Mililani High School, Price earned his bachelor’s degree at Gonzaga University, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the School’s Law Review. He also served as a U.S. Army officer for four years, as a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment and the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Before joining private practice at Honolulu law firms, Carlsmith Ball and Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing (now Dentons), he served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York.

The Webex session was moderated by BSU co-founder and senior leader Chris Paige ’21, and BSU members had prepared insightful questions in advance. When asked whether growing up in Hawai‘i shaped his approach to racial injustice, Price said, “diversity, integration and collaboration are a must. We are so multicultural that you are confronted with racial diversity on a daily basis. You have to find commonality and focus on humanity.”

BSU formed during the summer and launched this fall. “The whole point was to start conversations and to create a safe space for everyone to talk,” Paige said. “There are not many of us on campus, and the BSU has turned into a multicultural group.”

The group hopes to present additional speakers this year, although the pandemic has curtailed other ideas for gatherings and a festival.

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