Let me introduce you to my friend Julia Nekessa Opoti. You may recognize her TC Daily Planet byline as Nekessa Opoti. She also writes as Julia Nekessa Opoti, and is known affectionately by old friends as “Kitty,” among other names. I met Julia when I started to attend TC Daily Planet writers meetings at Rondo Library in 2008. I was in awe of Julia, who seemed to me so smart and so “with it” in her politics and writing. Since then, I’ve looked up to her as a writer and am happy to consider her both a colleague and mentor.
Life and learning
Opoti grew up in Kenya, in a family that included three younger brothers and a younger sister. As a family, the children were encouraged to read and write by their mother, who discouraged television watching. She was an avid reader, soaking up her mother’s collection of magazines and books.
Opoti has been writing for as long as she can remember. As a teenager, she wrote mini-novels to entertain her younger siblings. Along with one of her brothers, she wrote and directed plays that all of the kids in her family acted in every Christmas.
In 2001, Opoti moved to the United States, and ended up studying International Business and Economics at Metropolitan State University. During school she was president of Metro’s student senate, and concurrently served as a board member of MSUSA, a statewide student association.
In 2006, Opoti launched Kenya Imagine, which was at first called UR Kenya. She started it with her siblings, a few friends, and her boyfriend, Dave. Kenya Imagine was her first dive into citizen journalism, influenced by Netroots, the DailyKos, The Nation, and Salon.com: “These bloggers had such direct impact on American politics that we hoped to do the same with Kenya,” Opoti said.
Her first experience with traditional journalism was with Mshale, where she started out as a reporter, then moved up to assistant editor and served as an editor for about a year.
Opoti is passionate about social justice, and as a journalist, she values the truth, and telling stories that mostly go untold. In Minnesota, that comes down to the story of all minorities, including immigrants, and in Kenya, it is the story of those not in the elite classes. Specific issues that interest her are fair immigration laws, treatment of immigrants, women’s and children’s rights in Kenya and here, and racial disparities, especially in education and health.
This is the first in a series of profiles of TC Daily Planet writers and volunteers.
“I’m interested in challenging Minnesota’s mainstream media to focus on issues that they have pigeonholed into a single narrative,” Opoti says. “While this is not unique to African immigrants, my experience and connection within the African community, and as a Kenyan immigrant myself, I am drawn to these stories.”
Writing locally, connecting globally
Thanks to emails, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and internet forums Opoti remains very connected to Kenya. She reads the dailies online every morning and is engaged in constant discussions with family, friends, former classmates and online acquaintances (who are scattered about the United States, Europe and Africa) on issues in Kenya. She hopes that with her writing for Kenya Imagine, she can be part of the continued growth of that country. In its 46-year history, Kenya has slowly shifted from “the claws of colonial Kenya, post independence teething problems,” Opoti said, and recent developments “are indicative of a country that is slowly coming to its own”, although she contends there is much work still to be done.
In addition to writing for TC Daily Planet, and operating Kenya Imagine, Opoti moderates for E-Democracy and has for the past year been writing for Metropolitan State’s Buzz magazine. She is also on the boards of the MSUSA-Alum and African Women Connect, a professional networking organization of African women in Minnesota. She also writes web stories for the African Development Center.
Most recently, she was on a four-person committee that put together the Twin Cities chapter of the National Black MBA Association. Her responsibilities included writing the press releases, text for the 16-page program and writing out a script for the entire evening.