Former Sen. Daniel Akaka gives keynote address at CEMA’s invitational breakfast at the APA convention

The theme of the event was “Health Disparities and the Impact of Health Reform on Native Hawaiian Populations.”

By Stefanie Reeves, MA

The APA Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs (CEMA) invitational breakfast at the APA convention highlights issues of importance to psychologists of color and ethnic minority communities. This year’s theme was "Health Disparities and the Impact of Health Reform on Native Hawaiian Populations." With Honolulu as the host city of the APA convention, it was only fitting to use this venue to discuss the needs of this important population. 

The event began with remarks from CEMA’s Chair-Elect Muninder Ahluwalia, PhD, who described the different ways APA is addressing health disparities in general, and for CEMA, ethnic/racial health disparities in particular. Her remarks were followed by Stefanie Reeves with the Public Interest Government Relations Office (PI-GRO) who gave a brief legislative update. Topics included an update on funding for the Minority Fellowship Program, immigration reform and reintroduction of legislation to address ethnic and racial health disparities in the 113th Congress. 

This year’s keynote speaker for the CEMA breakfast was former United States Sen. Daniel Kahikina Akaka, D-Hawai’i, who represented the Aloha State for over 35 years in the halls of congress. Senator Akaka, who retired this past January, focused his remarks on his extensive and distinguished work in the U.S. House of Representatives (1977-1990) and later the U.S. Senate (1990–2013) to address the needs of underserved populations. Notable among his many achievements, Senator Akaka, along with the late Senator Daniel Inouye, D-Hawai’i, sponsored a Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2012 (S. 2472) to address ethnic minority health disparities including provisions focused on the needs of the Native Hawaiian populations such as directing additional resources towards chronic disease management and access to mental health services. Akaka stated his hope that the Senate, in his absence, will continue his work of addressing health disparities issues facing many underserved communities in the United States. 

Following the Senator’s remarks, Josephine D. Johnson, PhD, of the APA Board of Directors presented him with a Presidential citation in recognition of his work on mental health and health disparities throughout his congressional career. 

“This is quite an honor to receive an award like this, and I’ll cherish it,” said Akaka. “I look back and I’m so happy and I thank god for helping me and giving me the opportunity I had to help others. And that’s very fulfilling. Thank you for being another fulfillment in my life.”

Retirement hasn’t slowed down Sen. Akaka, as he approaches his 90th birthday; he remains active in his home state with speaking engagements and time with family and friends.