African American author pays tribute to personal experiences through award winning poetry

Black History Month

HONOLULU (KHON2) – Kathryn Waddell Takara grew up in the midst of racial segregation in the South. 

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Takara explains that at her high school she was the only African American person in the building besides the kitchen help. 

“I was always kind of on the outside looking in,” said Kathryn Waddell Takara, a retired professor and author. 

Both of Takara’s parents were professors. Her father was a teacher in veterinary medicine and her mother taught French and German.

Takara’s father was also a Buffalo Soldier, which was a nickname for a member of the 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army. The nickname given to the Black Cavalry by Native American tribes who fought in the Indian Wars. 

Takara says as she got older and segregation worsened, she fell in love with traveling out of the country. 

“I had a feeling of freedom for the first time in my life. I decided to become a French major after my first summer in France, living with a French family.” 

Takara received a fellowship as she studied in France and started to do translations of Caribbean and West African poetry. 

“That’s where I learned the sharing of struggles and the politics of color and history.”

While falling in love with traveling internationally, Takara also found love. She married her husband and they both attended the University of Berkeley where she received her Master’s degree in French. 

During their time at Berkeley, the civil rights movement ramped up. Takara and her family decided to move due to safety concerns for their six month old baby.

Takara’s husband applied to teach at Iolani School and the rest was history. 

“So that’s what brought us here to Hawaii. I got a job teaching French at what is now known as Hawaii Pacific University, but then it was Hawaii Loa and I taught there for several years.”

In 1970, ethnic studies courses were evolving and popping up in academia around Hawaii. 

“Mr. Bradshaw approached me and said he thought that it would be a good idea if I could get in on that, because they didn’t have anyone to teach Black Studies at the time.”

Takara later earned an ethnic studies lecturer position. 

“I had a southern background and was educated and could talk intelligently about the civil rights movement and the history. The whole dynamic of ethnic studies was our history, our way. So I joined the program, and eventually I was asked to teach the introductory course. It was the history of multiple ethnicities: Hawaiian, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders. So in teaching, I was learning. My vision was expanding immensely in terms of seeing comparatively the struggles that other groups had in relation to the struggle that my people had.” 

Takara eventually developed another course in Black Studies. In the 1980s, a high demand for Black Studies turned into a permanent space in academia. 

“Interdisciplinary Studies picked me up and allowed me to develop even more courses in Black Studies. I had African culture, African women writers, black women writers, all of these different courses.”

Takara retired from teaching in 2007.

“Ethnic Studies encouraged me to research the history of Blacks in Hawaii, which I spent most of my career doing. I incorporated much more culture into my classes, and taught history, through culture, and even poetry.”

The retired professor used her experience in the south to inspire her poetry.

Takara reflects on her weekly visits to a nearby restaurant in Alabama to watch Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak as a sense of inspiration.

“Dr. King’s voice was such a penetrating, emotive, inspiring voice, that it touched whoever was in his audience and his company. That is one thing that I do carry with me. Not only his voice, but the struggles, the boycotts, the sacrifices and the suffering. I think that they have made me a stronger person and it comes through in my poetry.”

Takara has published nine books of poetry and is currently working on two collections of haiku. She says she continues to write about her experiences and always brings it back to the culture, politics and history. 

“I feel good about what I taught and how I did it. I feel good about spreading my teachings throughout the community and my writings throughout the United States.” 

Takara has also earned national recognition for her work as a poet and contributions to education. She was the recipient of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents Outstanding Teacher Award. The author has also received the 2010 American Book Award for her Pacific Raven: Hawaii Poems. In 2016, Takara earned the Lifetime Achievement Award in Education and Afriacn American history and culture in Hawaii from the NAACP. 

“I’ve been blessed, I have been richly blessed. I have struggled, but I’ve also been rewarded.”

To learn more about Takara’s work and accomplishments, click here.

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