Malcolm Kenyatta made an announcement Dec. 14 in honor of his father’s birthday.
“Not having either of my parents with me anymore, it felt lie a beautiful way to honor what they instilled with me,” Kenyatta said, noting that his father died six years ago and his mother died over the summer.
Kenyatta announced his campaign for state representative of the 181st District, which includes Kenyatta’s home in North Philadelphia.
“It certainly feels emotional but I have never been more fired up, and I am ready to go to every single part of this district and talk about big ideas and to be a fearless leader for my community.”
Kenyatta said he thinks about the “grit and determination” of people in North Philadelphia when it comes to his campaign. Additionally, he noted the barriers “that advantage some communities and purposely disadvantage others.” Among these barriers are obstacles to higher wages, keeping homes afloat and educational opportunities, he said.
When it comes to youth, Kenyatta said they need more than free education.
“It also means taking some of these blighted factories and buildings and turning them into what I call innovation hubs to train our kids for the jobs of the future around cyber security and coding. We need big ideas and fearless leaders now more than ever.”
One fearless leader who inspires Kenyatta is his late grandfather, civil-rights activist Muhammad Kenyatta. “He was a fearless champion and he inspires me every single day.”
Due to his family’s background, Kenyatta said that service projects weren’t an “option” but a necessity. The community advocate recalled seeing trash on his block when he was a child and, with his mother’s encouragement, he decided to become a junior block captain at age 12 to help clean up.
Kenyatta developed this same mode of thinking during his state rep campaign.
“That is what I am talking about in this campaign and what we’re going to be talking about every single day for four-and-a-half months. If you see things that are going wrong, we all have an obligation to step up and do something about it. And as an activist, I’ve been trying to do that. I think I have been able to do that — to raise attention, raise awareness and help people in my community.”
Kenyatta’s other leadership roles include positions in the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club, Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse, the Philadelphia Chapter of National Organization for Women’s Education Fund and Equality Pennsylvania.
Kenyatta has been politically active throughout his career, including serving as a delegate for the 2016 Democratic National Convention and working on Sherrie Cohen’s City Council campaign.
However, he said individuals in his neighborhood are not necessarily concerned about politics.
“They are thinking about their checkbooks, their kids, [and] the second and third shift that they have to work. For me, I want to be laser-focused in taking on those big fights so they can raise their kids in a community that they can be more proud of and so they don’t have to keep doing what my mom and dad did, [which was to hurdle] over some of these barriers. Hopefully the next generation doesn’t have to deal with the things I dealt with growing up.”
Kenyatta elaborated on his personal connection to the area.
“This isn’t something that I read in a book. I’ve lived in this neighborhood — still live in this neighborhood — my entire life. So I know what we can be. I think, more than anything else, we need vision in this office.
“I feel like I will walk into Harrisburg on day one, not only with a grasp of the issues from the policy perspective and from a personal perspective, but with relationships on both sides of the aisle and with a fierce determination to knock them home until we get what my community deserves. We have to get it. We deserve it and we’re going to get it. So folks in my neighborhood have been yelling from the rooftops about what needs to be done and now we need to be a part of a broader movement to uproot these systems.”
If elected, Kenyatta could unseat 15-term incumbent Curtis Thomas, whom Kenyatta said is a “distant relative.” Several reports contended that Thomas was set to retire but he had yet to make a formal announcement by presstime.
“He has certainly done an amazing job for his district,” Kenyatta said.
He added that his district is often talked about in terms of its “decay and decline.” However, that is not what he sees.
“I see people every single day that are trying their hardest to work their butts off, like they can’t get forward. They’re on this treadmill of deep and suspended poverty. We have to fundamentally change the way that we talk about poor communities. I know that it pisses me off and it pisses people off in our neighborhood.
“Just because somebody is poor, they’re not violent, lazy, or don’t want better for themselves. They’re not morally bankrupt. They are victims of a system that has kept communities like North Philly poor on purpose. Folks need to show that on TV. Folks need to show the people who are working in two and three jobs and still can’t get ahead.”
Kenyatta said his identity as a gay man of color could inspire constituents. However, that is not his sole reason for campaigning.
“That makes me feel really good, but I am running because folks in my community don’t know what they’re going to eat, what they’re going to do to pay their bills, and to stay in their homes.
“I am not just one thing. I am a lot of different things. I am a community advocate. I am an LGBT person. I think, more than anything else, I’m a fighter and I am going to fight like hell to make sure that folks in our community feel safe, that they have better jobs, that they have higher pay, that they can stay in their homes. That is what’s going to excite me.”
For more information on Malcolm Kenyatta, visit www.malcolmforpa.com.