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The PA Politics Podcast
The PA Politics Podcast

Episode 8 · 1 year ago

The PA Politics Podcast: Episode 7 - Representative Malcolm Kenyatta

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Listen in to our chat with PA Representative Malcolm Kenyatta as he talks theater, favorite food, and the new minimum wage increase.

Hello, everyone and welcome back toanother episode of the PA Politics Podcast, a podcast where I interviewPennsylvania's, biggest political actors, and we talk policy and discusswhat is going on in our lovely state of Pennsylvania. I am your host ChristinaDiomico, and this podcast is brought to you by Bellevu Strategies, your twentyfourst century government relations, advocacy and strategic communicationsfirm right here at home in Philadelphia. I am here today with Pennsylvania,state representative, Malcolm Kenata. He serves the hundred and eighty firstdistrict here in Philadelphia County. He is a lifetime resident of NorthPhiladelphia Ind. A graduate of Temple University Representative Kinata is thefirst openly lgbtq person of color and one of the youngest people elected toserve in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He won by a landslideback in two thousand and eighteen and was sworn in in January of this year.He has been a community advocate since the young age of eleven when he waselected blackleader. Thank you so much for joining me today, UNSO happy to behere all right, so I want to chat a little bit more about your background.You attended Temple University first as a theater major, which is superinteresting, because I did the exact same thing. You Heve, to found the babble poetrycollective, which I'm also a huge fan of how has your relationship with thearts impacted your political career yeah? That's very asmmi, this odcast butto your point. I thinkthat in general I would say that it's that it's too full when you're acting and if I think, ifyou're doing it right, you really taking the time, understand in a realway who you're purtuing, trying to as much as possible, really be a mirrorand tell the truth of that character.

And I think, in my role now is a public official, I'mtesked all the time to be empathetic right to put myself in the shoes ofpeople and to think about issues that maybe aren't specific to my districtand to try to understand them and study them and body them as much as possibled. So I think that that's something that's a powerful can think. Also, justas we think about like education, the arts was a critical tool for me interms of my engagement in school, my interest in it and my ability to work both sides of my mybrain and come up with creative solutions and art really teaches youthat it really pulls that out of you and in general. I think that we need alot more of those opportunities for our young people from you know: kindergarten throughoutlife on this ability to that creative side who we are so I want to shift to alittle bit more of a Saber topic and talk about Phillips Law, which is apiece of legislation that you helped to co, sponsor back in May, which wouldprovide funding for a study on school mental health professionals. I thinkanyone who has been through the public school system can attest to the factthat we desperately need an increase in the number of mental healthprofessionals on school campuses and make to make them more easilyaccessible for our students. So can you speak to the origins of the bill andwhat you hope to do with it? Yeah- and I you know often describe the phone call,I got from Phillips Grandmother To. Let me know the he pass, there's the worstTay Ave had since I've been elected, and I think that's still held true tohave an eleven year old, bright, beautiful kid feel so disconnected andso hopeless that he no longer want to be with us. That's incrediblyincredibly difficult pill to swallow and it reminds us how much work we haveto do around suicide prevention, and so...

I sait on the governor's Commission onsuicide is cas for excuse me on suicide prevention and we're going all aroundthe Commonwealth talking to people talking to their families, to survivorsthe people just who've had suicidal idiations to mental EF professionals.To say what can we be doing better at the state level how con Westreamline,what we're doing? Where are the best places to increase funding or change orchange the law frankly to provide for increase support,particularly for our young people? The Spike Spike of death by suicides foryoung people between the ages of nine and fifteen yeah is it is deeply trumbling. It reallydeeply troubling, and so with Philip his family was very clear that theywanted to make sure that a we did not forget him, Inbe that we use that tragedy to try tohelp other young people an in this instance. You had a young man who was in a school that had one mentalhealth professional that I'm aware of, and that is not nearly enough for allthe students, and so we've taken the approach myself and representativeThomas who sponsored this pill with me. We take the approach of a let's CA,real handle on how many mental health professionals we have within ourschools currently, because when you use the catchall term counselor, thosearen't necessarily lpcs license Shi O Cou. It might be a guidance counselor,yeah, critically important to a child success, but not a mental healthprofession, and so at the state level. We actuallydo not have a good handle on how many mental health professionals are in ourschools, and I think we have to answer that question before we do the nextpart of what the legislation calls for, which is to create a ratio on how manymental health professionals we are going to have in our school per studentand then finally- and I think most...

...important when you're thinking aboutgovernment is how do you? How do you fund this right and how do you fund itin a way, that's recurring and with the amount of funds that really meets theNe Yeah? So what is an issue that you'd like to do more work with in the future? Well, I guess thit's Jus, like somewhattime like we're, having a conversation right now at the state level, senatepast a meager Mesley, I think embarrassing. Small increase to our minimum wage t Oninend fifty over three years right to me, feels like a slap in the face toall the people who've been struggling to get by on what Ih've, often calhed astarvation level, wage, yeah and so in the future. I'd like to see us ror, asthe MINIMU wage I' like to also see us, do the chob training and retrainingthat puts people in positions where they're going well beyond the minimumwage, where they're pursuing damily sustaining careers. But you know in themeantime, that's something that's you know very top of mind for me and a D,probably a lot of your listeners right now. We are so far behind as a Commonwealth,in terms of keeping up with all of our neighbors and in terms of meeting thereal needs of Pennsylvanians wowere struggling my d deep many cases,dabilitating poverty- and you know, there's a moral side of this. It'smorally wrong that we live in the wealthyis nation in the world, one ofthe largest states in the nation, and we still have people that have asubstandard quality of life, because their wageshave not kept up with the increase and all the other things. Families have toworry about, like housing costs and child care and food, and then it's economically shortsighted,because the strength of our economy...

...can't be measured by what's happeningon the stock market alone. You know fifty percent of Americans have enoughstocks, and so it's great that there are a lot of folks who are doing reallywell, but there are a lot of people who aren't doing well and some economints,who are much smarter than me, have looked at this research and said if wecan figure out how to lower deep poverty by percentage point or twoevery year they have more of a positive economic impact than they need textcredit any other program we can do. We need a poverty reduction program andthat will not only deal with this moral embalance. The system that is so deeplyflawed, but also it'll, ensure that we have an economic system that can standthe test Choy. So let's go back a little bit to your background. Whatinspired you initially to get into politics? What inspired you to run somy grandpar M Hamakiado was a civil rightectis. He Ren for Mayorund D,Seventy five and his his legacy. He died when I was very young. It's alwayslike all tha he was aable to accomplish, have always kind of loom large for me,forgly and I grew up in a family where being engaged was what you did you youknow every day my mom was like Gointo, this ou're doing this, and I often tell a a story. Youmentioned it in the intro about me, being a junior black captain and we'reliving on this block- and I remember saying to my mom, like mom love thissplot, but there's this problem that problem that propet and my momwas likea tough black lady. So she was like well f. You can't so much go, dosomething about it and I was like okay andsand from them. I remained engagedin a variety of different issues when I finally came out- and you look at howhow GBT Ce folks are still depending on where you are in the Commonwealth, canstill be fired from their job to lose their housing or be kicked out ofpublic accommodations, simply because of who they are, how they identify.

That became critically important to mewhen we look at the disparity in terms of life expectancy for for young peoplebecause of suicide because of gun BIOS of moumetrition in our neighbor. Thequality of life is so much lower for young people in our communities ofcolor, and so that was something that alwaysand, you know got me going and as community you know, advocatebringing together political leaders, other community leaders to try to lay out a pathforward on on someof these issues of our time and then looking atthe disparity, particularly for for our women in terms of wages in particular,Ar Black Women Are Hispanic women who are making pennies on the dollar inrelationip to men and so andstill this. You know crazy idea thatwe should be telling women what to do with their own bodies like and I gotinvolved. The National Organization for women was one of the first men ever onthe board there, and you know that all these types of issues really got me involved. An N keep meengaged because, frankly, we have a lot of work to do. Yeah, yeah, that'sHersiun. So, as a newly elected official, what do you feel has been thebiggest challenge so far? The bias Teie Majoriy, okay, itbiv thatifdemrats, were in themajoity.We wouldn't about a meager disgraceful, disgraceabully low increase the minimumwage we'd be talking about a real living wage that puts people on a path to take care of their families andpursue whatever dreams. They have we'd be talking about how we can expandaccess to things like tella medicine to everybody.We pass the bill to Shestidy and the house expanding Tela Medicine, becausePennsylvania is still an incredibly...

...roral state and access to healthcareand suburban and rural communities has already been tough and even in citieslike Philadelphia, where we've had one to three hospitals Ta. I just think ofin the past ten years that have closed down and so tell about it sends wit, Obe incredibly important. Yet my republican colleagues didn't want Ted tspand that to young people on chip yeah, and so, if Youre, you know, yourparents are lucky enough to have good pripe insurance. They can get tellingher San. If you have to have chip, you know you can't have tellin medicine,that's that's not the type of disparity we'd be pushing. If we were Democrats,if Democrats were in charge, if Democrats were in charge, I don't thinkwe'd be having conversations about. As I mentioned just Sechon ago,a woman's right to her own MEDICHL. You know decisions. I will tell you, as a new elected official, I've beeninvited to a lot of different things: People's birthday parties to parades tofolks churches, to different programs, but I've never once been invited tosomebody's doctor's office to help them make a decision about what they need todo with their body. Not once you know- and maybe maybe there's an invy in myoffice, but but that I'm aware of that's not where people wantpoliticians not in their bedroom, not in their doctor, and we have beenunable in a lot of instances to get any movement on common sense. When you look at whatmost Pennsylvanians support, what they agree with to get that same type ofmovement that matches up where Pennsylvanians are has been anincredible heavy lived. So what is something that you want yourconstituents to know you cund say anything that it's incredibly importantthat they are engaged outside of the election, my chief of staff and WHO'smy campaign manageem. She told me not to say this, but but I want theelections. I guess it worked out...

...that you know I would go around when Iwas campagning and say to people I going to be very clear. I don't believethat one time elected the skyis going to open up and doves are going to comedown and rainbows are justtarte shooting out and all the problems thatwe've addressed here and all that we haven't had an opportunity to addressthat they're going to magically disappear because that was electede. Ithink that being an elected office is Onepr of what we need to have a thrivingcommunity and thriving society more broadly. But this is not one of thosethings where you're hiring a you know waiter and you get to pick from a menuand you hire this person and the May come back in two years for years.Whatever the time is, and they fixed all those problems, the only way I'veever seen being a student of history o being engaged myself. The only way youever see, realaskin change is when everybody's involved, when everybodyrecognizes that not only do they have a roll to play, but they have aresponsibility to get engaged. It's not enough to hire good elect officials.It's not enough to write things on your social media page that frustrate youThoug, that I think that'simportant yeah and it's not enough to just show up onelection day and vote, though that's critically important. I think one ofthe most important things people can do is pay attention to what's going on andthat's tough because people are living their lives and they're doing what theyneed to do. But I know that a lot of people have looked at Washington with alot of discuss and I'll, say two important things about that. A whathappens in Washington is important, but what happens locally is going to havemore of a direct impact on your life than anything the president tweets. Itt e second part of that that I'll say is. If you do look at Washington- andyou say I don't like what's going on Harrisburg is worse. It's worse. It is because people aren'tpaying in because they're not paying it.

It allows them to act with even moreimpunity on issues that are in act in ways that are completely at a step withwhat Pennsylvanians belief you know and I've been called Komi Kanyato and I've beencalled. You know crazy, liberal and IV. You know received emails, saying everything, but my first andlast name and the reality is what I'm advocating for is what mostpensilincans believe yeah. So what advice would you give to youngerstudents who are looking to get involved in politics who know that theyreally want to do something? Just don't know how yeah, I would say. JamesBalwin has ncredibly powerful, quote Shay. You have to go the way your bloodboils, so you have to do that thing that get you in some casesm enraged in some cases, just incrediblyinterested from the perspective. The you just need to know everything aboutthat topic or something that just touches yourlived experience in a way that you can bring is something to the conversationthat wasn't there before that's the first thing would say is do somethingyou really care about and allow that to sort of drive you because thereisalways an organization, and you know something to read something to beengaged with. If you find something that you knowthat inspires you or, as I said, ef rages you and I thinkfrom that a lot of other things can sort of naturally develop. That's thethe first thing I can think I'll say is. I do think we need more people fromdiverse backgrounds to run FHOR offince, but I've kind of gotten away fromtelling emeverybody doesn't have to roll it's an important role, but youknow I mentioned power of citizens be engaged every single person beingengaged and when we see running for office as the only tool in the tool kit, I think that's think it's incrediblydangerous frinkly, because you have...

...people not pursuing the thing theyought actually be pursuing because they're running fror ofece. Weneed people to go to law school and become civilrants attorneys and go intothe courtroom and avvocate for people. We need people who are going to besocial workers and are going to help families and some of their worsemoments. We need people that are going to be doctors and health professionalsthat go into communities and deal with the mental health disparities, and so Ithink public service in the way. You know that I'm servingin this moment in my life is an incredible, noble thing, but so are allthe other things that that I mention, and so I don't want to limit for ouryoung people being politically engagedmeans. I have to be you know a public servant in you knowin the public sense im of running for t. If you want to do that great and youshould volunteer on t a campaign, first y always help, but if you don't want todo that, there are other ways to be involved in that the genesis of that isgoing to be that issue or those set of issues that inspirein and good thin allright. Our last section is TAT's OAT, so I'm Goin to Erapid, okay, okay! So I'm going to rapid fire somequestions at you and you're going to answer as fast as possible. And what doI wear a cup of Cofpe? Honestly, you don't do not drive a hardbugn. I oh I love it. Okay, let's see all right Ritin Com. Here we gofavorite day of the week, Thursday, it's almost Friday: okay, okay, there,all right, favorite city in the US, besides Philadelphia DC, okay, lastsong, you listen to Sunday morning by this artist, whose name I forgot Hamsa.Okay, would you rather be able to speak any and every language or talk toanimal, an everyone invisibility or...

...super strength? Visibility firstcelebrity crush, oh, that one's actually tough first celebrity crush.Prince okay. Small dogs are big dogs, small dogs. Ihave a Fringu, Oh scale, of one O ten. How good of a driver are you? Everybodywas like ton, so I'll, say: e Yo, Star Wars or star Treck, Star War, andbecause Thanksgiving is coming up, favorite thanksgiving, macaron, Angis,Oh yeah, that's a good one yeah it you have to have it it's a staple! You likeyou can keep the Turkey. You know a Ma all right. Well, that is all the timewe have for today. Thank you so much for joining me. Thank you are reallyglad you're doing thos thing so great. Thank you and thank you. Everyone fortuning in and be sure to follow. Bellvi strategies at Philly advocates ontwitter and we'll see you next time.

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