Purple Prize 2017 Finale and Weekend Academy Fall Break

Our co-founder Donavan has taught me to work hard and rest hard, and today has been a hard resting day after a long week.

It was the DOE fall break, which meant that our whole staff of kumu, plus Donavan and myself, spent the week pulling together a series of learning experiences for some of our most committed students, what we are calling our “Weekend Academy” cohort. These are the students that have already been with us for several years (we’re only three years old, so there’s just a handful of them) and who need to be challenged on a deeper level.

We opened the week with a demo of a curriculum created by Keao Nesmith and modified by myself for this week. It’s called “Motherboard Mother Earth,” and it draws parallels between the papa loʻi system and electrical systems, particularly transistors and motherboards.

The next day, we took students downtown to visit Sultan Ventures, Hobnob, and Blue Startups to get them into some high-off-the-ground spaces that are closer than we think.

For the third day, we got into the rich mud at Ka Papa Loʻi o Kānewai where our host, Hiapo, showed students the papa loʻi in action, put us to work fertilizing the loʻi, and taught us how to harvest kalo and care for them in a way that attends to higher frequencies.

Throughout all of this, students had time scheduled in to work on personal websites built from code (no weebly or wordpress here) that can serve as updateable online portfolios.

By the fourth day, the students got to take a break from us, but our intrepid teachers pushed on for a PD day. We visited Prime of 808Urban and one of the many spaces for community learning he creates around the island chain. This one was around a mural going up at the intersection of Farrington Highway and Nānākuli Ave. We sat under tents on the sidewalk, in folding chairs and upsidedown 5-gallon buckets, and talked about education philosophy together. We met an Aunty who told us about art, math, women surfers, and how hard it has been for her to assert her culture through art.

It’s a lot to digest. Some of the questions running through my mind are: Did any of it sink in? What did the students and teachers think of it all? (Don’t worry, like a good little nonprofit we have an evaluation plan…) How will this impact them in the long-run? Did we provide enough context and structure to show that we are dead-serious in all this? Were we agile enough in responding to where folks are at, in real-time?

Can we be satisfied that although our group was small, the people who needed to be there, were there? And are we convinced that carving out the time and putting in the worry and effort to curate these experiences together was worth it?

These feel like relevant questions to me because next week may be even more intense than the last. Our Purple Prize 2017 contest is coming to a close next week, and we have two events planned to wrap it up: A private day of pitches followed by a Pau Hana on Thursday, and then a Finale fair/conference at UH West Oʻahu on Saturday where the final winners will be selected.

Like most useful structures, there is no single point of the Purple Prize. Instead, there are many purposes being served at once. One of them–perhaps the most important to me–is just to convene a space where we can be together, be inspired, and renew our commitments to keep growing and bringing our best selves to each other and this place.

Maybe that sounds abstract and mushy, but really, isn’t that kind of space all anyone needs in life, besides clean and healthy food, water, shelter, land?

“Growing and bringing our best selves” can be done in a lot of ways, but to me it always involves practicing a certain skill set: Can you seek out the help and advice you need to keep moving when you get stuck, including delving into your own emotions, histories, and traumas? Can you keep learning, keep renewing yourself, keep taking uncomfortable but healthy risks, keep coming back with discipline to a purpose that grows and changes? Can you articulate the value of your purpose to others, including listening and acting when others tell you your purpose is no good because it is hurting them? Can you build a team of people with different strengths and stories, all around a shared idea or project, and all get along together?

Call this whatever you want–entrepreneurship, activism, leadership, grit, healing, self-actualization–but to me the ongoing practice of these skills is what the Purple Prize is attempting to foster, and it’s what the world needs.

And the world needs it more than ever. I made the mistake of listening to the news today, and at this point it is totally cliché to observe that we are facing crises on multiple fronts.

So is it worth it, after a long week, with another one ahead of us, to keep putting in the work it takes to bring people together? All I know is that transformations for the better happen over time, you can’t always see them right away, they are never done, and they take a kind of magic we can’t generate alone.

Because I believe this, I hope to see you at the Purple Prize. Come help us figure this out 🙂


P.S. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’ll be blowing off steam from a busy October at the Hawaiʻi People’s Fund annual fundraiser dinner on November 4. The HPF team is working hard to make this a space for community fun, giving, renewal, and honestly it sounds like they are basically throwing a rager. Hope to see you there as well.