Working To Keep Community TV Alive
American physician and social activist Patch Adams once said, “We can never get a re-creation of community and heal our society without giving our citizens a sense of belonging.”
These words seem to exemplify the philosophy and teachings of one of Hawaii’s present-day social activists as well: Keali’i Lopez, president and CEO of ‘Olelo Community Media.
Originally from Waimanalo, Lopez feels her roots were planted deep in Hawaiian soil since early childhood. The second-eldest of four sisters (don’t be fooled; the eldest is her fraternal twin and only two minutes her senior), Lopez discovered at a young age her desire to care for her younger siblings and to reach out to the community in which she lived. Around age 12, Lopez recalls a time she and her twin sister spent standing in front of Mel’s Market in Waimanalo in an attempt to have local community members sign a petition regarding a zoning issue. It was then, she says, she realized the impact she could have.
“My parents were also very active in the community, and I think if anything they instilled in us was to always try to help people,” Lopez says. “It was always so impressive to me.”
Because her family relocated often, Lopez attended three different elementary schools, later moving on to Waimanalo Intermediate and to Kaiser High. She attended Windward Community College and transferred to the University of Hawaii where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in communication.
“It was through my video production classes at UH that I actually got a job at Oceanic Cable managing and eventually became the director of community programming. When Oceanic went through its franchise renewal back then with the state, it decided ‘Olelo should be its own entity, and my boss allowed me to be on the planning committee that created it.”
Lopez says she originally saw the difference community media could make while at UH.
“A friend of mine found a project for me to work on for the Salvation Army, and they wanted to create a video for mothers who were in their drug treatment program. It was centered on parenting, and I just found it so powerful in a sense of what I knew the video was going to be used for and its purpose for caring for young mothers and their infants, and it was just a truly pivotal moment for me. It served a greater purpose.
“That was the start for me. Then I began to use community media at Oceanic Cable while still a student at UH and just went from there.”
In 1990, Lopez landed a job as operations director for ‘Olelo, left for a while, and came back in 2000 as chief operations officer for about four years. The CEO at that time then left, and Lopez tried for the president and CEO position, happy to find out later she’d been awarded the top spot.
Lopez says her original interest in community media spawned from its ability to accomplish two tasks very near and dear to her heart: One was being able to help people on a wide scale, and the other way being involved with television, which she says she’s always loved.
“I really love the work, love the organization, love what we do - it’s just very fun and very exciting.”
In working with the staff at ‘Olelo, Lopez says what drives her is the difference she sees they can make in the community.
“I’d say we’re about 70 percent of where I’d like us to be. I try to view ‘Olelo not so much as a television station, but as a chance to have regular people be involved in community media and see what they can do, see who they can reach out and touch in some way. It’s a way of developing personal, family and community pride, and our objective is to allow other people to reach their goals.
We’re just facilitators.”
‘Olelo has grown by leaps and bounds since its creation in 1990, from half a TV channel then to its current six stations, seven community media centers and current work-in-progress shift to the Internet.
“I just know that unless you fertilize and till the soil in a garden like ‘Olelo that things like this won’t grow.
We have to keep tilling. It’s little successes that help us continue to grow.
“We’re really just now able to make the biggest impact we’ve been able to make. We’ve been able to reach so many communities and ethnicities, and we are striving to do more and reach even further. I think we’re on good footing, and the community, more than anything, has embraced it. No matter who is sitting behind my desk, the people of Oahu are who keep ‘Olelo going.”
Unfortunately, a recent decision by the U.S. Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs to withhold funds meant for public, educational and governmental (PEG) access services will impact access on Oahu, too, causing cutbacks in ‘Olelo Community Media channels and services and the closure of some media centers and staff layoffs.
Although the DCCA has already collected the PEG access funds from Oceanic Time Warner Cable in the form of franchise fees, it has decided not to lift a cap on the amount distributed to ‘Olelo Community Media. Since 2000, ‘Olelo has had to make deep cuts in its reserves to support its services.
In fact, Lopez says, there’s a chance that Oahu could be left with only three public access channels or have to close some of its community media centers.
“I’d really love if people could go out and write or e-mail the director of the DCCA on our behalf before Dec. 31. It’s community advocacy that will help us keep going.”
The DCCA will announce its decision on Oceanic’s cable franchise renewal application on or before the end of the year. The new cable franchise on Oahu will go into effect Jan. 1, 2010.
“It’s kind of been a locomotive all along, and now it’s hard to stop the train. I just can’t help but want to help other people. It’s just something that’s deeply rooted in me, because I never aspired to be a leader. The aspiration was really just to make a difference.”
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