Who is Every1ne Hawaii?
Ever since Every1ne Hawaii burst onto the local scene in April, aligned with no less than the Honolulu mayor’s office, many people have wondered who was behind this powerful but seemingly benevolent organization.
It was the first question I asked that very day of my friends in media and the non-profit world (as well as on Twitter), and kept asking, because the media seemed to unquestioningly feature or promote its work with vague sourcing (as impressive as that work was), and because its work sure seemed to align with that of a non-profit… although none by that name existed.
I wasn’t the only one asking, to be sure. The official description of the group was, “a collaborative team composed of nextgen influencers from all facets of the Hawaii community, coming together for the purpose of engaging, empowering and activating Hawaiiâ€™s next generation.”
And I know I wasn’t the only one pushing the group to be more transparent. I noted that their official website should at least include information on their organization. Their solution was to post the names of hundreds of people who had signed one of its petitions, claiming all of them to be part of the collective. At least one person on that list found this to be very troubling.
When I let them know about the objection to including petition names on their site, they replied, “No good deed goes unpunished… Weâ€™re just trying to help people.”
“I think your organization’s attempt to be a nebulous movement instead of an entity with leadership and responsibility will continue to backfire,” I told them. “I urge you to simply be straight with people. It’s not about credit. It’s about credibility.”
Of course, the people behind Every1ne Hawaii have stepped into the light since, but it’s fair to say that they did so reluctantly. My poking around prompted one of them to get in touch, and while we had very cordial conversations by email, it was clear this person felt personally attacked. And I know, as many do, Nicole Velasco, through her work with the city. I’m certain I came across as a spoilsport to her as well.
There’ve been only a couple of credible, definitive write-ups about the group and its origins.
The Punahou School newsletter featured its many alumni among the group’s founders in early May. The “grassroots organization” was spearheaded by “Classmates Robert Kurisu â€˜04 and Nicole Velasco â€˜04,” along with “Alx Kawakami â€˜04, Zak Noyle â€˜04, Ryan Matsumoto â€˜02, Darragh Oâ€™Carroll â€˜03, Jeff Laupola â€˜03, Keoni Williams and Kimo Kennedy.”
A few days later, Civil Beat explained “How A Business Venture Of Friends Became A Big Player In The Virus Response.” Reporter Brittany Lyte summarized:
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic response, it would be easy to mistake Every1ne for another nonprofit that is stepping up to help. But in fact itâ€™s a for-profit business venture that has benefited from undisclosed funders and community donations as well as family and political connections.
Founder Robert Kurisu said: â€œIâ€™ve been criticized about being too nebulous about helping people understand who we are and what this is.â€
Velasco added: â€œThere was a lot of discussion of, â€˜Well, who are these people and what are they?â€™ Even one person suggested we were the illuminati. Thereâ€™s all kinds of crazy, crazy discussions happening…”
Both of them described the group in minimizing terms. A “handful of guys,” and “not some highfalutin corporate entity,” but “people who grew up here, want to be here and have friendships.â€
Of course, Kurisu and Velasco aren’t just everyday citizens. And yesterday, Hawaii Reporter published a story on Every1ne Hawaii that attempts to connect political and business dots that may or may not be there, from Robert’s with his father Duane Kurisu, a local business leader, to connections with Honolulu mayoral candidate Keith Amemiya.
It’s unfortunate that there are still questions and suspicions around the group, but most were pretty avoidable early on.
Today, Every1ne Hawaii is officially describing itself as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, a significant change since the Civil Beat article. The Every1ne Hawaii business registration with the state shows that the name was assigned to the AIO Foundation (an existing non-profit that’s part of Duane Kurisu’s organization) on May 10, and then to a new entity named simply “Every1ne” on May 18 (still led by Robert Kurisu and linked to the AIO Foundation).
The mission of Every1ne is “to encourage public participation in chartiable [sic], educational and civic engagement activities.” Considerably less cool sounding than “nextgen influencers,” but also pretty clear.
Oh, and the “Who We Are” page on the Every1ne Hawaii website now starts with its founders names: Alx Kawakami, Kimo Kennedy, Robert Kurisu, Jeff Laupola, Ryan Matsumoto, Zak Noyle, Darragh O’Carroll, Nicole Velasco, and Keoni Williams.
Since their massive mask distribution, they’ve pivoted to voter engagement, with some very visible messaging. (The massive mural has since been removed, but it certainly succeeded in starting conversations.)
As an official non-profit with the transparency and requirements that come with that status, I wish Every1ne Hawaii the very greatest success.