Kealoha was born in Honolulu on July 8, 1977. He is of multi-ethnic heritage, with Native Hawaiian, Chinese, and European descent. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a BS in nuclear science and engineering and a minor in writing.
He was appointed the first poet laureate of Hawaiʻi on May 3, 2012. Kealoha was selected as a master artist for a National Endowment for the Arts program in 2010 and 2011 and delivered the keynote address for MIT’s special commencement ceremony in 2022. His full-length spoken word album, Kealoha, was released in 2004.
His poem, “The Story of Everything,” is an epic poem that received Community Inspiration Program grants from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation in 2014 and 2017, along with additional funding support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Engaging the Senses Foundation, the Leonard & Rose Freeman Family Fund of the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Kalliopeia Foundation. In 2018, he partnered with the Engaging the Senses Foundation to produce the poem as a feature film that will be released in 2022.
In the seven years that he represented Hawaiʻi at the National Poetry Slam, he was ranked in the top ten of the nation’s best poets in 2007, and was honored as a “National Poetry Slam Legend” in 2010. He is the founder of Hawaiʻi Slam, Youth Speaks Hawaiʻi, and First Thursdays. He has served as Hawaiʻi’s Slam Master since 2003, and has been on the Artists in the Schools roster since 2005. He has performed at several venues, including the White House, ʻIolani Palace, the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, and more.
Kealoha was featured on HBO’s Brave New Voices series in 2009, and he has also made appearances on NBC, PBS, the Food Network, National Public Radio, the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards, and the State of Hawaiʻi’s “Can’t Fool the Youth” anti-smoking campaign that he wrote, performed, and co-directed. He is the poetic vocalist for Henry Kapono’s Wild Hawaiian Experience, which was nominated for a Grammy, and has also been recorded on several albums, including Hapa’s Maui, winner of four Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards and the Hawaiʻi Music Award for “Album of the Year.”
He sat on the board of directors for the Hawaiʻi People’s Fund, a grassroots non-profit involved in activist-advised grant-making. He previously worked at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, conducted research at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, wrote a white paper on the national security consequences of climate change, which was presented at the Pentagon by the Institute for Defense Analysis, and served as a business consultant for the Mitchell Madison Group. He has also been employed as a surf instructor and an actor.
He lives in Honolulu, where he serves as poet laureate through 2022. In 2022, Kealoha received an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship.
In 2022, Kealoha was named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow. Kealoha will offer his poetry workshop techniques to teachers in Hawaiʻi and abroad. He will film a ten-day poetry residency at a low-income, predominantly Native Hawaiian middle school, collect writing samples from these workshops, create full lesson plans, film a two-hour professional development session for teachers, and publish all of these resources on a website that will be made available to the public. Once the website is created, other teaching artist poets and poets laureate around the nation will be invited to publish their workshops on the website by following the same format, creating even more content that addresses regional differences in poetry and learning.