From Entertaining to Thought-Provoking, a Millennial’s Blog Covers a Spectrum of Topics
Katherine Itoh and Ida Yoshinaga
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
In many ways, 24-year-old yonsei Noelle Kamalani Masako Kakimoto is like many other Millennials (people born in the 1980s or 1990s) who enjoy the latest style trends and popular music. However, she is also a young woman who possesses a deep-thinking and curious mind. This trait fuels her desire to make a difference in the world through activism and educating people about social injustice in her blog, “This is Noelle” (thisisnoelle.blogspot.com).
“My main goal is to be a form of education for my readers,” Kakimoto shares, as she reflects on her blog, subtitled “A Style, Sports and Social Justice Blog by Noelle Kakimoto.”
“This is Noelle” is part of the journalism-portfolio website of the Kamehameha Schools graduate, which showcases her bold ethical vision of the arts and politics, in articles covering a wide range of interests typical of Millennials.
“I would really like people to learn more about not just sports or frivolous things like what kind of bag I am using right now or my favorite song of the month. I really want people to be more invested in my criminal-justice articles,” explains activist Kakimoto, who seems headed for a career in law and public policy. Her professional background is partly in freelance sports journalism; she is employed as a sports clerk at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, and has covered local high-school football for the Advertiser and Hawaii Prep World, which provides year-long news on Hawai‘i high-school sports. But she also is a budding legal specialist, with short stints as a writing intern for the Hawai‘i Innocence Project and as pro-bono coordinator/outreach specialist for the Legal Aid Society of Hawai‘i .
A Mixed-Plate of Topics
Kakimoto’s background makes for an informed and engaging lifestyle blog that offers sports-entertainment news side-by-side with fashion and book-reading commentary. As if these items were not diverse enough, she also posts hard-hitting political op-ed pieces on the state of race relations in the U.S. and the Americas.
In October, for instance, “I am Noelle” published athletics articles by the blogger, such as “Baylor v. West Virginia Recap,” which demonstrated the young appellate legal clerk’s abiding interest in the sporting life of Baylor University, one of Texas’s top Christian campuses, from which she graduated last year.
These sports features were juxtaposed next to more intimate pieces that gave Kakimoto’s opinion on cosmetics technology (“The Makeup Eraser is an Essential Beauty Tool”) and fashion trends — with the digital native even styling and photographing herself, outfitted in a blue Urban Outfitters top, American Eagle leopard-print miniskirt and Madewell bag.
In other articles added around the same time, Kakimoto recommended favorite poems, books (“The Friend” by Sigrid Nuñez) and slam performances (“Button Poetry Spoken Word Pieces for October”), which reveal a thinking writer who cares about the ways that language can artfully deliver ideas.
But also last month, “This is Noelle” published impassioned essays on the state of criminal justice in the U.S. and democratic governance movements abroad. She praised the blog series “Abolition for the People” (level.medium.com/abolition-for-the-people-397ef29e3ca5), newly put out by civil-rights sports activist Colin Kaepernick’s publishing company in co-sponsorship with Level, “a Medium publication for Black and Brown Men.”
Kakimoto additionally shared with her readers news that “The Movement Towards Socialism Wins Again in Bolivia.” She views these critical think-pieces as part of her consciousness-raising work as a Prison Industrial Complex abolition advocate.
This is Noelle
Noelle Kakimoto grew up in a small apartment in Makiki where she was raised by a Japanese father (a financial advisor) and a mixed-ethnicity Hawaiian mother, who taught first-grade school. Speaking both conversational ʻŌlelo Hawai‘i and Nihongo, Kakimoto speaks respectfully of both her Kanaka Maoli heritage as well as her Japanese ancestors who originally immigrated to the islands from Hiroshima and Yamaguchi Prefectures. Kakimoto started the “This is Noelle” blog during her sophomore year at Kamehameha Schools, when she was interested in becoming a fashion blogger. (Among what seems to be an endless list of jobs, internships and volunteer activities, she used to work as a Macy’s beauty advisor.)
After attending Baylor University, where Kakimoto made the Dean’s List and majored in English (winning the Dr. Robert G. Collmer Poetry Prize), the journalist began expanding her blog to include other subjects such as football and the criminal-justice system.
In 2014, the killing of African American Eric Garner in Staten Island, by NYPD officer chokehold, was the first time Kakimoto truly realized how unjust the U.S. criminal-justice system was, so she started to use her writing to fight against inequalities in that system. Realizing her own ignorance about this particular issue provided her the motivation to expose the injustices. “Because I have grown up here [Hawai‘i] in such a privileged life, going to private schools and living where we don’t see as much police killings, [this] made me really ignorant. … But seeing Eric Garner … on social media made me discover how unjust the system is and how violent it is specifically for black and brown people,” she recalls.
Since she first started covering criminal-justice topics, Kakimoto has taken to researching them passionately, to learn more about the world she wants to change. She posts her own educational discoveries — from books, historical accounts, webinars, poetry collections, news stories — on the blog, so that readers can take the journey along with her. For instance, in mid-Oct., she wrote a piece titled “The Black Panthers Were Founded 54 Years Ago.” Like the nisei who had learned, from dockside labor organizers from the mainland, how to demand fair treatment and pay of their Big Five bosses; or the sansei who had marched alongside Black, white and Hawaiian protesters in movements for civil rights, women’s liberation and anti-development land struggles, the young blogger exemplifies a wave of yonsei who have joined up with larger global movements for social change and equality.
In particular, Kakimoto credits the work of Black women abolitionists like second-generation African immigrant Mariam Kaba (who founded Project NIA, which advocates to end youth incarceration), Ruth Wilson Gilmore (a prison scholar and director of the City University of New York’s Center for Place, Culture and Politics) and iconic scholar-activist Angela Davis (who has done prison abolition work for most of her career at the University of California, Santa Cruz) for teaching her about the prison industrial complex.
Today, the blogger has become invested in the abolition of police and prisons and urges Hawai‘i to become more aware of its current unfair system.
“Police and prison reforms don’t actually work; they are just like a band-aid on this problem that is systemic,” she criticizes. “I would like people to learn about abolition and all of these unjust systems — prisons, capitalism, the military — and how they were created to keep black and brown people oppressed and abused. I hope people would learn and be more engaged in the community and be willing to make the necessary changes toward abolition.”
A Hopeful Future
Aside from her blog, Kakimoto currently works for the State of Hawai‘i Office of the Public Defender in Honolulu. She is a compassionate young woman who is dedicated to assisting those in need and considering a career as public defender. And in the future, she hopes to build on this purpose by starting her own reentry program in the state, so as to help formerly incarcerated people transition successfully back into the community.
“We have people coming out of prison and they don’t have any resources going forward, so they just repeat the cycle of incarceration. I would really like to start something in Hawai‘i that would give people healthcare, housing, education and all these resources that will keep people out of this cycle that just perpetuates violence,” says Kakimoto of her long-term goals.
For more on Noelle Kakimoto, see her journalism portfolio which contains the “This is Noelle” blog, at noellekakimoto.wordpress.com. On the portfolio homepage, you can also see photos of this autodidact – and former Baylor Golden Wave Marching Band member – with different musical instruments (among those the lifelong musician can play: guitar, ʻukulele, oboe, saxophone, djembe, harmonica, bass, Irish whistle and various percussion instruments).
Katherine Itoh was born and raised on Oʻahu by her parents, who immigrated from Japan. The St. Andrew’s Priory graduate grew up speaking Japanese at home and embracing her cultural heritage. She is now at Syracuse University, pursuing a double major in Broadcast & Digital Journalism and International Relations, with a minor in Japanese studies. In addition to interning at The Hawaiʻi Herald this past summer, she has also interned at Honolulu magazine. Outside of school, she enjoys watching the NBA, traveling the world and finding the best places to eat.