Written by Lindsay Pearcy
University of Kentucky
What does it mean to be a change maker?
Kotomi Yokokura has always been asking herself this very question.
“Understanding the pain of those whose voices are being overlooked ignited my need for advocacy,” she said. “I knew I needed to use my voice to amplify their stories and effect change.”
As a young girl growing up in northern Kentucky and attending Beechwood High School, Yokokura always remembers being passionate about standing up for the most vulnerable members of her community.
“My dream job in high school was to be able to fully help those experiencing homelessness,” she explained. “At the time, I thought the only way to do that was through volunteering.”
In 2020, Yokokura enrolled in the University of Kentucky – and so I began to look for a way to turn passion into a goal.
“I did not start my social work journey in the UK. Instead, I was a Special Education major during my first term.” Fortunately, a conversation with a counselor opened my eyes to the field of social work – a discipline that aligns directly with my passion for combating poverty experience .”
Yokokura’s dedication to advocacy only grew after the discovery Faculty of Social Work (CoSW).
She knew she could apply the tools her teachers and advisors would give her toward anything she wanted to do in the future.
But Yokokura did not hesitate to put these skills into practice.
During her freshman year, she founded the “Take a Tampon” initiative – which hosts a fundraiser to ensure an adequate supply of hygiene products across campus.
After much research, Yokokura realized how widespread poverty was in the time period and how detrimental it could be to not only one’s mental and physical health, but also one’s academic success.
It has also sought collaborative partnerships with other institutions, including the University of Louisville, to address this problem on higher education campuses, low-income middle and high schools, and at homeless shelters across the state.
Recently, Yokokura met with Sen. Harper Angel, sponsor of a bill providing menstrual products in schools and created research documents to contribute to the cause.
“Interestingly, while many of my advocacy efforts often directly impact women, I did not plan to target women’s issues or rights,” Yokokura explained. Instead, my passion for proactive action to bring about change stems from the stigmas often associated with these experiences. I understand that societal stigmas can lead to subjects being ignored – increasing the need for leaders and action.”
As communities and individuals face constant threats of discrimination, marginalization and violence, the Social Welfare Board is determined to uphold its longstanding commitment to core social work values and principles of social justice.
Students in the program gain the knowledge and skills needed for careers in social work and social justice, with curricula including advocacy, crisis intervention, social policy, and more.
During her time in the UK, Yokokura also hopes to address common misconceptions about the field of social work.
“As a social work major, I turn the hurdle of community negative feedback into a motivating factor for my work. I work harder because I want to help communities see the impact of social work.” “This hurdle also enables me to get into areas, like policy research, in which social work often doesn’t have a presence. I want to fight the misconceptions that exist by showing the benefit that social work can have across the board.”
Yokokura’s work in the community also includes research on two other important community issues.
I helped research the migration of those experiencing homelessness in relation to available community services with Andrew Sullivan, Ph.D. (a graduate of Martin’s School of Public Policy and Management) and completed a study on the perceptions and use of social services. Support among men experiencing homelessness with Natalie Pope, PhD, (CoSW).
Yokokura posted a file Article in a peer-reviewed scientific journal About homelessness in the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Cityscape. In addition, she contributed to a survey research project UK Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition In the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment It explores how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected university students’ psychosocial health, formal and informal support use, employment, food insecurity, and social behaviours, which have been Published by the Georgia Journal of Undergraduate Affairs.
“The people at the University of Kentucky have been instrumental in both my academic and advocacy efforts—going out of their way to help a student they may not have known,” she said. “The college that I have had the pleasure of working with has gone out of its way to empower my endeavors in research, nonprofit work, and advocacy. Without these individuals, I would not be where I am today.”
But when asked, Yokokura said, she’s very proud of her awareness and prevention work surrounding sexual assault.
“My passion for this field stems from my personal experience with these topics,” she explained. “My understanding of shame, loneliness, and the lasting effects fueled my need for vocation.”
Recently, Yokokura’s efforts have included researching the prevalence of these experiences and testifying about her own experience supporting HB 288.
“Rep. Tipton proposed HB 288, a bill relating to teacher misconduct. After discussing this bill with Kentucky Youth Advocates, an advocacy organization where I was a practical student, I had the opportunity to meet with Rep. Tipton and was called to testify on that bill.”
Yokokura knows that change is not made within the constraints of comfort, so she embraced her fears and shared her story—hoping it would resonate with others, which it did.
“I am very proud of this advocacy effort, because HB 288 not only passed the House Education Committee, but the entire House as well,” she said. “I am honored to be able to tell my story to help keep Kentucky students safe.”
What does it mean to be a change maker? By definition, he is a person who takes creative action to resolve social grievances.
In every sense of the word, Yokokura is a change-maker.
Now she encourages her fellow students to take advantage of opportunities to be the change they want to see in the world.
“No matter who you are or what you study, your voice and your efforts will be touching,” said Yokokura. “Finally, self-care is very important. Take time for yourself and recharge. This is something I am still learning, but it really makes a difference in my ability to lead advocacy work and become the change I dream of.”