Updated: December 5, 2022
The Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association’s Friend of Youth Award recognizes an outstanding member of the community who works to support Hawaiʻi’s youth through an activity outside of their professional duties.
This year’s recipient is Nikki-Ann Yee, co-founder of Maʻi Movement Hawaiʻi. The HSTA recognized Yee at its annual state convention on Saturday, April 2, at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center.
In October 2020, Yee and her sisters founded Maʻi Movement Hawaiʻi, a volunteer-run organization that raises awareness about menstrual equity and period poverty in Hawaiʻi. Maʻi Movement believes that all individuals of menstruation age have the right to access menstrual products and education without financial burden, shame, or stigma.
In just a year and a half, Nikki and her sisters have:
- Organized the distribution of nearly 300,000 period products across the islands.
- Raised awareness about and advocated for systemic change around menstrual equity.
- Helped write legislation, had legislation introduced, and lobbied at the state Legislature to fund free period products in Hawaiʻi public schools.
- Taught students how to lobby and advocate for the passage of bills to address period poverty through infographics, brochures, toolkits, school visits and Zoom sessions, social media, and more.
- Taught students about period management and sustainability through targeted outreach.
Yee has been a driving advocate for Senate Bill 2821, which would provide free, quality menstrual products to students in Hawaiʻi public schools. Should the measure become law, Hawaiʻi would be the sixth state nationwide to provide free period products on campus. The bill was approved unanimously by the state House Finance Committee Friday and is headed for a full floor vote in both the House and the Senate.
Yee was nominated by Sarah “Mili” Milianta-Laffin, a STEM teacher at ʻIlima Intermediate School and Leeward Chapter member who serves on HSTA’s Board of Directors. Milianta-Laffin noted that in addition to her tireless work at the state Legislature, Yee is “also committed to building education programs to help empower menstruators, believing that simply providing products is the first step to a much bigger mission.” For example, Yee is “also teaching young activists how to get involved and submit testimony. She posts exciting TikTok videos to get youth engaged and activated,” Milianta-Laffin said.
The Friend of Youth Award is organized by HSTA’s Human and Civil Rights Committee, a group of volunteer teacher leaders who work to promote safe, inclusive spaces for educators and learners. The committee says Yee’s work reduces the number of student absences and positively affects student success.
“Our committee believes this year’s recipient is not only actively working to address period poverty, which is a great need in our schools. She’s also educating and inspiring our youth to create the change they want to see in the world,” said Jodi Kunimitsu, HSTA HCR state chair and a math teacher at Maui High School.
Yee told the crowd of 125 elected educator delegates during Saturday’s HSTA convention, “In our work, I have been so privileged to meet teachers from nearly every single island. As I look at all the signs [in the convention room representing each HSTA chapter across the state] I’m like yes, we’ve been there. And I’m so proud because the way that they have embraced the movement, taking period products, putting it everywhere in their classrooms, and just going full-on and hitting the ground running. It is so inspirational to me, and the way they go above and beyond to impact our keiki beyond the classroom, so I thank all of you as well.”
The Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association is the exclusive representative of 13,500 public school teachers statewide. HSTA represents and supports teachers in collective bargaining, as well as legislative and professional development issues.