By Glen Willett / Staff Writer
By Glen Willett / Staff Writer
A gloomy morning wasn’t enough to keep hundreds of people from showing up to the UCLA intramural field on April 2.
People jammed into the limited seating, a good amount of them wearing Pittsburgh Steelers jerseys, waiting to see their gridiron heroes Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward and Marcus McNeill along with personal trainer Jillian Michaels of “The Biggest Loser” fame.
The first man to step up to the microphone was none of those four people; but as his wide smile seemingly made the clouds disappear, his self-deprecating humor brought laughter from the crowd and his overall jovial attitude brought a smile to the face of everyone in attendance it became clear how the charismatic Sefa Aina has become such a leader in the Pacific Islander community.
Aina is of Samoan descent and was born in Honolulu, Hawaii before being raised in San Diego as one of nine children. He was the first of his family to not only attend college but finish as well, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in History from UCLA
“One of the best things about UCLA was working with the community and I guess I took that to heart,” Aina said.
Upon his graduation from UCLA, Aina showed that he really had taken to working with the community and is the founding member of a number of community outreach organizations including the National Pacific Islander Educators Network, Empowering Pacific Islander Communities and Pacific Islander Education and Retention. He currently serves as the Director of the Asian American Resource Center at Pomona College.
On Sept. 16, 2010, Aina received his highest position yet when President Barack Obama named him as the Vice Chair to the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
While the demonstration put on by the commission on April 2 was about physical fitness, Aina pointed out that is merely one of several areas that the group is focusing on.
Aina said that there are several groups, or ‘pods’ as he referred to them, within the commission which focus on a myriad of issues that are facing the Asian and Pacific Islander communities ranging from areas like stressing education and the importance of voting and being aware of their other civil rights.
“When all is said and done what we are trying to do is unite a community,” said Aina when asked upon the mark he would like his group to leave.
The commission, which was established under former President Bill Clinton before expiring during George W. Bush’s time in office, was re-established on Oct. 14, 2009 by President Obama.
The current White House Administration showed their support for the organization’s cause by sending Secretary of the Interior Tony Baubauta to speak to those in attendance.
Other politicians in attendance were congresswoman Judy Chu and Eni Faleomavenga who represents American Samoa in Congress.
Aina is hoping to build his campaign from the grassroots level. Reaching out to parents within the community and stressing to them the importance of teaching their kids to take school seriously and be active outside were among the reoccurring themes of the demonstration.
“A number of the exercises we had the kids doing Saturday were using just simple things you can find around the house,” Aina said. “One of the things we are trying to show people is that even if they aren’t people of means, there are still ways for them to be active members of the community as a whole.”
Of course, many of those in attendance were there to see some of their favorite celebrities rather than be lectured on nutrition, however when leaving many were able to gain valuable awareness about a group that is working to promote their needs as a people. The event on was one of the first steps in publicizing Aina and his organization’s attempt to bring awareness to the issues within their community and its success will ensures that there will be more to follow.
Aina’s wide smile never left his face as he watched children of his community laughing, playing, and most importantly exercising while having fun. Sefa has high hopes for the Pacific Islander community and if his smile is any indication of the future of his community it is certainly a bright one.