21 Questions With Malcolm Kenyatta, Pennsylvania's First Openly Gay Black State Legislator
Blavity had a chance to chat with Pennsylvania's newest state rep about love for Michelle Obama, what he wants to be remembered for, and the one word he has for Trump.
On November 8, Malcolm Kenyatta made history in becoming the first openly gay black man to hold title of Pennsylvania state representative. As a North Philly native, Kenyatta is ready to put on for his city in a big way, such as expanding public school funding, increasing pay for the working class, and addressing the need for more affordable housing.
Kenyatta has been bold and unafraid in pursuing politics since the tender age of 11. As a pre-teen, Kenyatta won an essay contest where he wrote, "we can’t sit idly by when we recognize barriers in our communities. We have to do something about them.” Almost two decades later, the Temple University alum developed his campaign for Pennsylvania's 181st district of North Philadelphia around the same message.
Blavity Politics had a chance to get to know Kenyatta a little better. Check out his answers to 21 questions below.
1. What advice do you have for other young black LGBTQIA folks who aspire to pursue politics?
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RUN! I was told by so many people that I couldn’t seek elected office as myself and win — I think we proved them wrong. It’s our jobs as candidates and ultimately as elected officials to talk about and make progress on the issues that matter to people and their families. Ultimately the campaign isn’t about you, it’s about those you seek to serve. But you can’t serve them effectively if you’re not being 100% yourself.
2. What are your most important responsibilities as a parent of two pups?
Please don’t wish another dog on me. Lol. I love Cleopatra (my little frenchie), but she is a handful all by herself.
3. What is one thing you’d like to be remembered for?
Speaking my mind. I don’t think you can solve issues that you refuse to name. Whether you love me or not I hope everyone can say, “you knew how he felt”.
4. If you could say one thing to Trump, what would it be?
One word. Impeachment.
5. Your grandfather, Muhammad Kenyatta, was a civil rights activist. Do you feel any pressure following in his footsteps?
I’m so blessed to have his example and I’m grateful to not just him, but all the shoulders on which I stand. I don’t feel pressure to do what he did, but I do feel pressure to tackle the issues of my time head on, as he did.
6. What’s one word you would use to describe North Philly?
Resilient. I always see stories about North Philly’s decay and decline, but that’s not what I see everyday. I see the hardest working people in the world who refuse to give up, no matter how many challenges try to knock us back or hold us down.
7. Who is one politician you look up to, and why?
My grandfather. He wasn’t successful in his political race, but his legacy reminds me that if good people don’t step up. Hate wins when good people remain silent.
8. Who would you tag to be your partner in a rap battle, Cardi or Nicki?
Cardi Bardi, banging body, spicy mama, hot tamale.
9. Is there anything you have to do every single day?
Watch Rachel Maddow. Hi Rachel!
10. You became politically involved before you reached your teenage years. What advice would 27-year-old Malcolm give to 11-12 year old Malcolm?
It’ll be ok. I would have never guessed that I would have buried both of my parents before the age of 30. But I’ve been so blessed by all the folks in my district and out who’ve poured into and supported me the way I know my parents would have.
11. Best place to get a Philly cheesesteak?
Max’s ALL DAY LONG!
12. Which can you not live without: Instagram or Twitter?
13. What/who’s your greatest inspiration?
My mom. She was a poor girl from North Philly who never let me know what a limit was. She pushed me and loved me and I’m grateful for her everyday.
14. You’re organizing a huge political rally, and can choose one artist to headline.
Who’s your pick? What’s Beyoncé’s schedule again?
15. Do you feel like there is extra danger being an openly black gay man holding office with a president like Trump in office?
I’m committed to representing my district and I won’t let this President scare me. I am however deeply concerned about the hatred he has inspired from the pipe bombs to Tree of Life. This is a time when we need a leader to bring people together, not tear people apart.
16. Who would you want to star as you in your biopic?
That’s such a hard one. Can I get a lifeline?
17. What issues will you be focusing on during your first term?
Raising the minimum wage. Expanding funding to our public schools. Teaching rents specifically about their rights.
18. Do you have any plans to get/keep young folks involved politically?
Yes. I’m so proud of the groups like Run For Something which is doing groundbreaking work and is a big part of my victory.
19. Obama and Biden. Name a better duo.
Michelle Obama and her shadow. She is the goat.
20. Would you run for president one day?
Not at all.
21. How do you think your journey will look different from other state representatives?
I think we each got elected by finding ways to build coalitions. I did that in the campaign and I’ll need each of my colleagues to make big things happen.
It's evident that during his term, and for years to come, Malcolm Kenyatta will be a force to be reckoned with. His fearlessness and unwavering willingness to fight for the people of North Philly has potential to not only bring significant change to the city, but to also send a ripple effect of positive social change across the country.