NEA Human and Civil Rights Awards Committee to consider adding new category to program

In front of 6,000 of her colleagues from across the country, Jodi Kunimitsu, a math teacher at Maui High and state chair of the Hawaii State Teachers Association’s Human and Civil Rights Committee, advocated for a new award category to recognize the achievements of Native Hawaiians and/or Pacific Islanders in the National Education Association (NEA) Human and Civil Rights Awards. She spoke on the floor Monday to delegates at this year’s NEA Representative Assembly (RA) in Chicago.

“While often grouped together, Asians and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are very different,” Kunimitsu said. “When grouped together, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are often overshadowed by Asian Americans. We should do more to uplift and highlight Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities, and having a separate category in the NEA HCR (Human and Civil Rights) Awards program will help with this.”

Kunimitsu introduced New Business Item (NBI) 21, which states:

“NEA shall establish an additional category in the Human and Civil Rights Awards program that honors an individual or group whose work specifically impacts education and the achievement of equal opportunity for Native Hawaiians and/or Pacific Islanders.”

Currently, the NEA’s Human and Civil Rights Awards Program recognizes individuals and groups in 15 different award categories. The program acknowledges progress in the movement toward justice nationwide and uplifts positive impacts on the education of students of color.

Kunimitsu, who chairs the NEA’s Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus (APIC), said nominating an individual or group for the Ellison S. Onizuka Award, which honors someone who has made contributions in the Asian and Pacific and/or Pacific Islander community, can limit recognition of Native Hawaiian and/or Pacific Islander candidates.

“It’s been really hard or difficult to figure out who to nominate, because I find that we’re always trying to choose between Asians or Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders, and there are so many deserving people that it’s difficult to submit only one nomination,” Kunimitsu said.

“There’s a need to uplift Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities, people, and students and show that they should have equal representation as other ethnic minority groups and not be overshadowed just because people often lump together Asians and Pacific Islanders,” she added.

NEA RA delegates referred Kunimitsu’s proposal to the NEA Human and Civil Rights Awards Committee, which will determine whether to create a new award category.

About NEA RA

Every summer, thousands of educators from around the country meet at the National Education Association Representative Assembly to debate and vote on vital issues that impact public education and set NEA policy and activities for the year ahead.

This year, NEA RA took place in Chicago with approximately 6,000 educators from every state in attendance, both in person and virtually. Click here for the latest updates for this year’s RA.

The NEA is the largest union in the country, and the RA is the world’s largest democratic deliberative assembly.