Skip Navigation
We use cookies to offer you a better browsing experience, provide ads, analyze site traffic, and personalize content. If you continue to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies.

Empowering Pacific Islander Communities - Ellison S. Onizuka Memorial Award

A pro-Black, pro-Indigenous, and anti-racist national organization established in 2009 and based in Los Angeles, California, EPIC advances social justice through culture-centered advocacy, leadership development, and research.
EPIC Logo

Ua e seu i le vateatea lupe o malama.

This Samoan proverb acknowledges when someone does far more than what is expected. It also helps to define the tireless and selfless work of Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC).

A pro-Black, pro-Indigenous, and anti-racist national organization established in 2009 and based in Los Angeles, California, EPIC advances social justice through culture-centered advocacy, leadership development, and research. Under the leadership of Executive Director Tavae Samuelu, EPIC promotes community solidarity and anti-racism to uplift and center all Pacific Islanders in the broader Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

The first AAPI NASA astronaut, Ellison S. Onizuka died aboard the Challenger space shuttle on January 28, 1986. He often visited Hawaii’s public schools, where he was a student, to encourage the younger generation to work hard to achieve their dreams. In his spirit of working to improve opportunities for the AAPI community, EPIC centers building power, building leaders, and building knowledge through promoting culture as an asset to help communities thrive. Specifically, Fa’a Samoa (The Samoan Way) are the three pillars of the Samoan culture: Alofa (Love), Tautua (Service), and Faa’aloalo (Respect). This is the scope through which EPIC operates to support all Pacific Islanders.

E tasi, ‘ae afe. A Samoan phrase that translates to “Only one, but worth a thousand,” is another way to describe EPIC. A small non-profit situated on unceded Tongva territory, their work extends from California across the Pacific and all the way to our nation’s capital and beyond. EPIC’s community impact carries implications for, not only Samoans, but for all Pacific Islanders across the islands and the diaspora by actively dismantling white supremacy culture and addressing the historical trauma of AAPI communities. Samuelu describes what she believes is the best way to do this: “I think solidarity work becomes more necessary because of the insidious nature of racism, sexism, and capitalism. I’m clear [solidarity] is the only way that we’re going to get free.” For this reason, EPIC also stands in solidarity with Indigenous movements and Black Lives.

EPIC organizes to safeguard the health and wellbeing of Pacific Islander communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Leading in ensuring that Pacific Islander elders and vulnerable relatives are vaccinated and protected, EPIC also leads in demanding disaggregated data for ethnic groups within the AAPI umbrella to ensure crucial access to funding and resources. Additionally, EPIC established the Black Pacific Alliance at the beginning of the pandemic to create a safe, healing affinity space for Black Pacific Islanders to learn how to thrive together. NEA Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus Secretary Estella Owoimaha-Church participated in this alliance with her mother and daughter, and she says of the experience, “More importantly and specifically, we had a culturally significant way of coping with the pandemic in community with other Pacific Islanders. And for the first time in our family, three generations of Samoan women got to be Samoan women - together.”

By engaging the younger generation of Pacific Islanders to achieve their dreams, EPIC continues to uplift Pacific Islander culture to promote the healing of generational trauma and to provide equitable opportunities for the future.

National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.