Polynesians encouraged to mentor, set high expectations for Pacific Islander youth

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 21 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

A Pacific Islander youth is far more likely to use tobacco and smoke marijuana than same-aged peers in Utah. Moreover, they're more likely to have shown up drunk or high at school, more likely to have been arrested and attacked someone with the intent of seriously harming them, the survey said.

"There's a need to look at the social issues affecting our youth honestly," Wolfgramm said. "This is a safe mutual place to have those conversations."

Vai Sikahema, sports director for the NBC affiliate WCAU in Philadelphia and former pro and BYU football player, offered the keynote address. He reminded the audience of the power of change.

"Regimes are toppled when its citizens demand change. Political candidates are voted in and out of office at the whim of the majority when the majority expects and wants change," he said.

Some attending Wednesday night's event may have their lives on track — their children succeeding in school and their marriages may be thriving. No or little change may be required.

People whose children are in gangs or involved in criminal activity may need to engage in radical change to help steer them right.

"The most powerful force of change is spiritual in nature, is it not? When we change our inner core, when we change our character, that has lasting and eternal value, you follow me? When we change our core, who we are, that's more powerful than changing our habits."

Sikahema said the Polynesian culture is a source of strength and guidance. But the culture should not stand in the way of honest communication on issues such as sexuality or bind parents to negative practices such as physical discipline.

Sikahema said he has had to work hard to move beyond discipline inflicted on him as a child.  "I'm going to suggest to you it is wrong. If you hit your child and beat them, it will create resentment."

His own parents, because of cultural mores, would not discuss sexuality with him or his siblings. When children don't have this guidance, there can be life-altering outcomes. Sikahema said he has had frank discussions with each his children about the issue.

"My children's chastity is more important to me personally than cultural barriers," he said.

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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