With more than 95 percent of the vote, Malcolm Kenyatta will be the first LGBTQ person of color to serve as a Pennsylvania state representative.
Kenyatta pulled in 20,722 votes against challenger T. Milton Street, who got only 1,014. At age 28, Kenyatta is also the youngest representative to fill the 181st District seat that covers North and North Central Philadelphia, Yorktown, Francisville, Glenwood, West Poplar, Northern Liberties and Kensington.
He campaigned largely on a platform to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, in addition to proposing a fair-funding formula for public schools and solutions for the systemic poverty that plagues his district.
“My heart is so full. What this race proves is anything is possible,” Kenyatta told PGN after his win Tuesday night. “There were no black, gay elected officials that I could look up to. I hope there are kids out there who say that they want to serve one day and there won’t be barriers to do that because of how they identify or who they love. I hope this starts a ripple effect of trans people and black and brown people who will say they can run — and they can win.”
More than 150 supporters joined Kenyatta at his election-results watching party at Throwbacks Bar, 714 W. Girard Ave. Kenyatta electrified the crowd with his victory speech, thanking supporters and speaking about his parents, who inspired him to run. Kenyatta’s father died seven years ago and his mother passed away last summer. He repeatedly told the crowd, “Anything is possible.”
Tykee James, field director for Kenyatta’s campaign, said it was energizing to see the spirit of voters “waiting in line at polling places where there haven’t been lines in years.” He added that Kenyatta visited multiple polling sites across the district and thanked voters who waited in the rain to cast their votes for the North Philadelphia native.
Mickie Johnson, a resident of the 181st District who attended the party, said she voted for Kenyatta “because he wants to stop the violence in the city and help the seniors. His thoughtfulness, his caring heart and his understanding are what we need in this neighborhood.”
Alexander Olson, the newly elected chair of the Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club, said Kenyatta is “needed in Harrisburg and will be able to effect real and meaningful change.”
“It’s wonderful on a symbolic level because he has this intersectionality that is needed. I have no doubt that he will be a great representation of our community and for Pennsylvania. He’s going to take Harrisburg by storm.”
Wade Albert, chair of the endorsement committee at Liberty City, echoed Olson’s sentiments, saying Kenyatta “is the representative we need in Harrisburg.”
Kenyatta grew up at 11th and Master streets in Yorktown, a neighborhood that flanks Temple University. He is the grandson of Muhammad Kenyatta, a civil-rights leader, minister and local politician who ran for mayor of Philadelphia in 1975.
The representative-elect graduated from Temple University in 2012 with a degree in public communications. He got his start in community activism when he ran for junior block captain at age 11. Since then, he’s been active in civic and community advocacy.
In 2014, Kenyatta was the campaign manager for Sherrie Cohen, a two-term Philadelphia City Council member.
Two years later, he was elected as a delegate for Hillary Clinton to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Past leadership roles include positions at the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club, Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse, the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women’s Education Fund and Equality Pennsylvania.