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Kalani Ohelo

Updated: Jan 14, 2021

Clyde Maurice “Kalani” Ohelo

(July 8, 1950 - April 7 2018), became an early symbol of the Native Hawaiian political movement in the 1970s.

Ohelo was among 32 people arrested May 11, 1971, for protesting evictions in Kalama Valley — a bellwether of the Hawaiian Renaissance. At age 20, Ohelo served as a leader and dynamic speaker of the group Kokua Hawaii whose members led the eviction resistance and subsequently were involved as community organizers and supporters in battling other evictions statewide, as well as promoting a multi-ethnic coalition of poor and working-class people in several communities.

Born blind, with club feet and a cleft palate, on July 8, 1950, his family said Ohelo’s vision was restored at age 5 after his grandparents took him to a church service in Kalihi where ministers prayed for healing miracles.

In prior interviews, Ohelo recalled how he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica while recovering at home from several corrective surgeries and undergoing physical therapy. He developed his verbal skills through speech therapy.

As a teenager living in low-income housing in Palolo, he was recruited by VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) to motivate high school dropouts to obtain a high school equilavency diploma, or GED. Ohelo was paid a stipend of $80 a month to become a community organizer, which is how he came to meet other activists such as the late John Kelly of Save Our Surf, Randy Kalahiki of Key Canteen, and Kamakawiwoole, who was organizing Kokua Hawaii to fight the evictions in Kalama Valley. Kokua Hawaii helped to stop several evictions in minority communities, including Ota Camp in Waipahu and Waiahole-Waikane in Windward Oahu, and also led a sit-in to preserve ethnic studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1972.

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