Elisha Hardekopf

Elisha Hardekopf has loved putting words on the page since she was young. As a middle schooler, her poems were contained in two National Library of Congress Anthologies, the first title being "Of Diamonds and Rust".

A military brat, then known as "Shekie,"   She attended Arizona State University where she completed her performative thesis, "Under My Skin". Elisha came to the University of Nebraska at Kearney for her undergraduate degree. and later self-published a novel, "Standing Ground". Elisha married into the Hardekopf family of Kearney NE. Her current role at Washington State University Vancouver includes curation for the Office of Diversity and Equity's Journal, The Amplified. She has recently joined a writer's group, and hopes to complete another novel in the near future. 

Amplified ~ The journal and newsletter of the Office of Equity and Diversity
September 2022
Words from Elisha Hardekopf, Director of Building a Community of Equity

The Route to Authenticity
When my grandfather was 16 years old, he joined the United States Navy. At lunch that day, his father told him that it was time that he start working on the farm, full time. He told me, “After that evening in the field, I parked that mule, and went down to that office to sign on.”

He lived in rural Alabama in the 1940s. He was 5’8, 190 pounds and covered (to this day) in velvety smooth skin the color of a dark chocolate bar. His choices were limited, but they were his. He made one that gave him some more movement, some more choices, some more ways to be. 

When he got to the ship, PC 618, the longest running anti-submarine patrol cruiser, he was one of three Black men allowed to serve on the ship, per the Navy’s policy. He signed on as a seaman, a deck hand who can maintain the ship and weaponry, but per the records, I found that he was being paid as a steward’s mate; a launderer and room cleaner for officers. His response: “I told that commander that I was never trained to be anybody’s steward, but I can keep this ship together for you.” He navigated by doing a little of everything on that ship. Six months later, he was promoted; still titled “steward’s mate”—but with a bump in pay and grade, and he earned respect by continuing to insist that he get to be more. Other ships welcomed him aboard: the USS President Adams and PC 572 (later named the USS Weatherford) and he traveled from New York, throughout the Caribbean (Cuba was his favorite), and the Gulf Coast. When he joined later ships, they didn’t insist that he look after officer’s quarters; they gave him the title and pay that he deserved. 

He later left the Navy, spent time in the Army, and almost a decade in the Air Force. Why did he leave each? “There was no place further they’d allow me to go, so I went on.” 
The poem shared below is “I Was My Own Route” by Julia de Burgos, one of Puerto Rico’s most famous poets. This piece provides vivid insight and reflection on the journey to be an authentic, empowered self. She shares the struggle against a system that prescribes her being and what it feels like to be her whole self, a self that is free and has “intimate liberation”; a self that is full and “without edges.” Born in Puerto Rico in 1914, she traveled to New York, Cuba and throughout the Caribbean to advocate for social justice for women. Her goal was for women of that time to experience full rights and freedom, and she started with herself.

The two experiences presented within this article occurred at a similar time, in similar locations, from two differently positioned people. I’d love to have some proof that my grandfather had exposure to de Burgos or vice versa; I don’t. What I can acknowledge: two people struggled with authentic beingness in the face of systemic barriers that suppressed that ability to fully be. De Burgos’ poem is shared in order to uplift the contribution of a Latina social justice advocate in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Heritage months and significant days are recognized at WSU Vancouver to celebrate the rich histories, experiences, contributions and resilience of our fellow human beings. These months also allow us to reflect and to learn from one another so that we build a community that respects, affirms and empowers people. That being said…

How do you show up? When you step foot on campus at WSU Vancouver, how much of your authentic self do you allow others to experience? Do you feel safe and welcome? What do you need to feel you belong; not just sorta-kinda belong, but for real belong, the whole you, the you you? Does that version of you challenge systems and insist on inclusive excellence? In those moments when you shrink back, shift or shut down know this: you belong here. You are welcome here. You matter. Your being is a beautiful texture that is woven into the fabric of our campus culture. That fabric is rich so that it can be rolled out as a welcome to our diverse members; it can be wrapped around those who need support or comfort. It is a repellent for injustice.

I hope that sharing my grandfather’s story and Julia de Burgos’ poem has encouraged and empowered you to walk forward in your truth. My hope is that like de Burgos, you feel affirmed and ‘kissed’ by your path. I end with her words, not to decentralize her contribution, but to give her the final say. Her words add an exclamation point to this article’s refrain: be you, the full you, all that you can be. That is how and that is why we build a community of equity here at WSU Vancouver. 

I Was My Own Route by Julia de Burgos

I wanted to be like men wanted me to be: 
an attempt at life;
a game of hide and seek with my being.
But I was made of nows, 
and my feet level on the promissory earth
would not accept walking backwards 
and went forward, forward,
mocking the ashes to reach the kiss 
of new paths.
At each advancing step on my route forward
my back was ripped by the desperate flapping wings 
of the old guard.
But the branch was unpinned forever,
and at each new whiplash my look 
separated more and more and more from the distant
familiar horizons;
and my face took the expansion that came from within,
the defined expression that hinted at a feeling 
of intimate liberation;
a feeling that surged from the balance between my life 
and the truth of the kiss of the new paths.
Already my course now set in the present,
I felt myself a blossom of all the soils of the earth,
of the soils without history,
of the soils without a future,
of the soil always soil without edges
of all the men and all the epochs.
And I was all in me as was life in me…
I wanted to be like men wanted me to be: 
an attempt at life; 
a game of hide and seek with my being.
But I was made of nows; 
when the heralds announced me
at the regal parade of the old guard,
the desire to follow men warped in me,
and the homage was left waiting for me.


Poem by Julia de Burgos, translated from the Spanish by Jack Agüeros. Translation originally published in “Song of the Simple Truth: The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos,” copyright 1997, Curbstone Press. Reprinted following Fair Use guidelines (U.S. Copyright Act section 107).


Permission was granted by WSU Vancouver to publish this article.