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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

The African American Vote

Malcolm Kenyatta, Delegate, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA
July 26, 2016




Date: 07/26/2016 Location: Philadelphia, PA Description: Malcolm Kenyatta, a delegate from Pennsylvania, discusses the impact of the African American vote in this year's election. - State Dept Image

2:15 P.M. EDT

THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION, PHILADELPHIA, PA

MODERATOR: Afternoon. Welcome back and thank you again for being here at the Foreign Press Center. I’m honored to introduce our next speaker, Malcolm Kenyatta, who will be addressing the African American vote in the 2016 election.

Malcolm is North Philly’s biggest fan and a community advocate seeking to change outcomes in the neighborhood where he was born and raised. At just 25, he is the youngest member of local organizations, including the Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club Board of Directors, Smith Playground and Playhouse, and was appointed president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women’s Education Fund. I now feel very insecure about all the things I’ve done in my own life when I was 25. (Laughter.)

He has worked as a political consultant, serving as a campaign manager for the first openly LGBT city council candidate ever endorsed by the Philadelphia Democratic Party. Malcolm was elected as a delegate to the 2016 Democratic Convention. With over 80,000 votes, he garnered the second-highest vote total of any delegate in the state. Malcolm has been the recipient of a number of local and national awards for his leadership in North Philadelphia. He is the grandson of noted civil rights leader Muhammad Kenyatta, who ran for mayor of Philadelphia in 1975. And as we mentioned, the topic of his speech is the African American vote in 2016. He is also a delegate, and so can speak to the role of the delegate at the conventions.

Before I turn it over, I’d like to remind everybody to please put their devices on silent or vibrate. And again, Mr. Kenyatta speaks for himself, and his views do not reflect those of the U.S. Government. Thank you very much, and over to you, Malcolm. Thank you.

MR KENYATTA: Well, hello. I’m Malcolm Kenyatta, and first of all, welcome to Philadelphia. I am lucky to be from what I like to call the best part of the best city in the world, and that’s North Philadelphia. And if you Google that, you’re going to hear some – you’re probably going to look and find some depressing stories. There are going to be some that talk about our decay, our decline. But the truth is the story of North Philly, which is a predominantly African American community, is it’s a story of promise and of possibility. And that has been the focus of my entire work – to tell that full story.

But let me tell you a little bit about some of those challenges that we’re facing here. In North Philly – and you might know this already – Philadelphia, one of the distinctions I’m not proud of is we are the poorest major city in the country, and a big part of that poverty is concentrated in North Philadelphia. We have about 250,000 people that are living in poverty or deep poverty, and so we have to figure out how to change that, how to change it fast, how to change it in a big way. There’s a moral argument to make that we do these things, but there’s an economic argument; there’s an economic imperative.

So that’s what this campaign has been about. That’s a big part of the reason I ran as a delegate in the first place – to make sure that those issues are at the top of mind and to make sure that we’re telling the full story of some of these communities and not just tying them up in these time-worn archetypes that really don’t reflect the people that live there. People are poor, but they’re not poor of spirit; people are broke, but they’re not broken individuals; people are living in poverty, but it’s not because they’re bad. It’s because we have some systemic issues that we haven’t dealt with and those are some of the really big challenges we’re facing.

And so if you talk about violence, you talk about drug use, you talk about some of these other things that we have tied into this idea of, like, urban America, it really comes from poor America. How do we address the deep poverty that has kept us in this rut and that has not allowed us to really move forward in the way that maybe you’ve seen in Center City? If you go in Center City, you’ll see cranes, beautiful buildings, great place. We had the Pope here. We’re now hosting the convention.

And my goal really is to get five people who came to Philly to just stay. And maybe it’s five of you guys in the room; you’ll just stay, don’t worry about it, we’ll find you a good job, we’ll hook you up. But Philadelphia really is a beautiful city, but just like the story of America, we need to make sure that progress is widespread, and I really do think that that’s what Secretary Clinton is going to do.

So if you were in Cleveland, I am so sorry you had to experience that, but now you are in a city where we’re really going to be talking about the issues and not calling our great immigrants and families murderers and other things that don’t line up with the facts and really don’t line up with the American spirit. Almost every major American document was written right here in Philadelphia, and we’re about to make history again by electing the first woman president.

And you see that Hillary Clinton won the African American vote and she won it big because she’s talking about the things that people in my community want to hear. We want to know about quality pre-K; we want to know about fixing our schools and not privatizing them; we want to know about raising the minimum wage – 7.25 is nothing but an invitation to rob somebody. We have to give people real progress, real possibility, and make sure that we’re doing that in a widespread way.

Again, while you’re here in Philadelphia, you’re going to see some great things, and not just an old city. You’re going to see beautiful things that are happening in West Philly. Our 30th Street Station, which is historic, just got a big refab. So if any of you caught the train up, you saw that. A lot of the stuff that’s outside, a lot of that is very new and it’s beautiful, but it’s not making it into a lot of communities that are primarily communities of color, and hopefully, that’s what we can talk about today and hopefully that’s the story that gets out there. People are struggling, but they’re not bad folks. And some of the stories that you will read about these areas being uninhabitable or dangerous or scary, it’s not true. It’s not true.

So, thank you so much. And with that, let’s do the question thing. Let’s do it. Oh, all right. Here we go.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Gretel Johnston with the German Press Agency.

MR KENYATTA: Hi. Oh, fantastic.

QUESTION: Good morning – or good afternoon. I’ve read that – I want to ask you about race relations in the United States.

MR KENYATTA: Oh, please.

QUESTION: Interesting fact that’s been reported in the international media is that race relations are worse now than they were when President Obama was elected. It’s a big gap of something like 68 percent of people believing race relations are good then versus 47 percent now. Those are the figures that I read.

How can that be? We – the United States elected a black America – black president, and we’re in a worse situation with race relations now than we were eight years ago, according to some of these figures.

MR KENYATTA: I would push back a little bit. First of all – again, welcome to Philadelphia. I would push back. What we’re seeing are the gasp of an old order, people that do not like that our country i’s becoming more diverse, more black, more brown, and frankly, a lot more progressive. And so these people are angry and they’re frustrated and they are being roped into this scam that Donald Trump is trying to sell. He’s trying to sell a scam that we are at each other’s throats. He’s trying to sell a scam that everything is falling apart. That’s not true. You look at every metric, it’s not true. We fought our way back from the Great Depression. There is work to do, but we fought our way back and we fought our way back big.

But what happens when you have progress, you always have people that don’t like that progress, and so that is often what you see. When you have periods of big progress, big change, you’ll often see a backlash to that progress and to that change, and we are seeing a little bit of that backlash. But America has always been strong because of our diversity. That’s what makes us strong. That’s why, for all the great countries that you’re from, that’s why we have consistently in so many cases been the envy of the world, because we are a place where everybody can come.

So we do have some people that we’re not so proud of, Donald Trump obviously being one of them. Whoever wants to take him, please have at it. But other than that, I would really say that you really see people coming together. And if you go in that hall, you will see a real picture of America. That’s America. That’s what America actually looks like. If you were in Cleveland, I don’t know what that was. And for all the Republicans out there, I’ll repeat Senator Ted Cruz, vote your conscience.

It’s true that America’s original sin was slavery and that that slavery then moved over into Jim Crow. We know that. But the fact of the matter is people of good conscience all across this country who are white, black, brown, and in between, care about having an inclusive society. We’ve always had people, regardless of background, who recognize that we are stronger together, who recognize that even though there is tension, that the only way that we’re going to build in a sustainable way is that we do it together.

I can’t think of an instance of positive, lasting change that somebody did by themselves. We’re having fights, we’re having issues. You’ll see probably some fights in this hall. We’re going to vote on the – we’re going to vote – we’re going to nominate our president today, our future president Hillary Clinton. And so you will see some of those fights, but that’s America. We’re a rambunctious bunch.

QUESTION: Sorry, I’ll just follow on that.

MR KENYATTA: No, let’s do it.

QUESTION: I think it was yesterday that Michael Jordan decided to make a donation to the NAACP. Or sorry, I’m not sure where his donation is going, but it’s a sizeable amount of money, and I believe that it’s actually aimed at helping some of the people who’ve been affected by violence in – mostly police violence against black American men mostly. Is there a message there? What does that mean? Is that – is it wrong to connect that directly to the problems with race relations in the U.S.?

MR KENYATTA: We have an issue with – and I will get to Michael Jordan, who’s an amazing player, by the way. We have an issue with policing. We have an issue with criminal justice reform. And as my aunt would say, we have to fix it from the rooter to the tooter. We really have to fix our system, and that starts with we know that when African Americans are stopped by cops, they’re more likely to have an interaction that is physical, more likely to be charged, more likely to be sentenced for longer periods of time. That is the truth.

And the reason we’re having some of this friction is because now we’re telling the truth. We can’t hide it. When we see videos of people gunned down, of people gunned down, people of good conscience all over the country recognize that that’s wrong. The same way during the civil rights – during the time of civil rights, we had a bombing of four beautiful little girls in a church. And that changed the way we were looking at civil rights, and I think it’s very similar to what we’re facing right now.

We are seeing this in front of our face. Facebook Live and Instagram – they can carry these things in live times, so I think that allows it to be a little bit more frayed. But I think this is actually a good thing. You can’t deal with an issue that you don’t face, you can’t deal with an issue that you don’t talk about; and sometimes it’s uncomfortable, sometimes it’s messy; but that is democracy for you, and I think it has served us well.

Oh, and Michael Jordan, go ahead, keep donating. And I think that that really speaks to celebrities across the country who recognize that we need to fund more inclusive ways forward – thank you so much – that we need to fund more inclusive ways forward. And I think Beyoncé and Jay Z as well, as we’re talking about amazing people, they donated some money to Black Lives Matter. Well, Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean only black lives matter. It means our lives have to matter too.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m --

MR KENYATTA: How you doing?

QUESTION: Good. I’m Yashwant from India.

MR KENYATTA: Oh, fantastic.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, some say, was struggling with young African Americans; she was unable to connect with them for some reason. Do you think that’s still a fact, or has she kind of overcome that disconnect that there was for a very long time?

MR KENYATTA: I would say that – well, first of all, thank you. I would say that that’s incorrect. They just didn’t get to talk to me yet. All my life I’ve been a young African American man, and I’m getting closer to not being a young African American man in a few years here. But Secretary Clinton has connected with me, she’s connected with people in my neighborhood, and we’re connected about those issues I talked about at that the beginning of this.

One of the things that we’re going to need in a really big way if we’re going to move this country forward – and I think we are – is going to be quality pre-K. That is a big issue specifically in communities of color, where we’re not seeing advancement in areas of science and math at the levels that we really need to. And Secretary Clinton is talking about those things.

Now, I don’t want to say the media, right, because that’s almost become like an explicative, it’s been used very negatively. But I will say that you guys have a really tough job. You have to meet deadlines. You have to get stories out. And because of that, there’s so much happening, so much information overload, I think these very complicated issues get nibbled down to small narratives that are easier for people to digest, and that’s one of those narratives I think it’s easy for people to digest.

The fact of the matter is when you have a woman that gets up, fights for universal health care, gets knocked down, get called every name in the book, and then comes back and says what can I do to make sure that we’re insuring 8 million kids – many of those kids black and brown – it’s a part of the reason she did so well with the African Americans. And I think she did well across the board.

Bernie Sanders has energized our country, he’s energized our party, and he’s going to be a phenomenal asset as he continues to serve in the Senate. And one of the things he really connected with the youth on was around college. I have about $50,000 in college debt, so if anybody wants to pay that, if Michael Jordan’s still giving out money or whatever, let me know. But I will say if you look at that plan that they put out, they put out a compromise plan that says if you make under $125,000, you can go to a state school for free, that’s what compromise is about. That’s what democracy is about. And after all the yelling, all the screaming, all the marches, that is the quality policy proposals that are going to actually move us in a way forward.

(Inaudible), that’s good.

QUESTION: Talking about Bernie Sanders, what are – what’s your plan? What are you going to do to convince his diehard supporters who are adamant, they don’t want to let go as far as their support to Bernie Sanders is concerned? And I know that you guys are counting a big turnout on November the 8th.

MR KENYATTA: We’re going to get a huge turnout (inaudible).

QUESTION: Turnout, exactly. And what if these guys decide not to vote or go vote for Donald Trump, for example? Can you walk us through your plans? Thank you very much.

MR KENYATTA: So I think Bernie Sanders actually did a good job of – he did a good job of that himself in terms of getting his supporters onboard. This isn’t any old election. This is not a normal election. This is not an election where we’re arguing about 5 percent tax versus 10 percent tax, mostly because Donald Trump doesn’t know anything and he doesn’t have the intellectual curiosity to figure it out. But this is a fight for the soul of our country, and all progressives, all people of conscience – you look at the Republican Party. There was an assistant attorney general just today – I didn’t get to delve deep into that story, but you’ll find it – who was a Republican who said he’s not going to be a Republican anymore because he cannot deal with Donald Trump’s divisive, nasty, nasty, nasty language. And he won the primary really by even dividing the Republican electorate. He didn’t get some huge turnout as much as he likes to – as much as he likes to say. And if you do believe that he did, I really do have a bridge to sell you from Chris Christie.

So Donald Trump got like 30, 40 percent of the electorate in some case. But you see Ted Cruz. A lot of people are not rallying around him, but you see a lot of people rallying around Secretary Clinton and around the Democratic cause because we’re talking about American families. We’re not talking about people’s hands and faces and whatever else, whatever other silly things we’ve discussed this election cycle. We’re actually talking about policies.

So are people passionate? Heck yeah. Families fight. Families fight hard and those fights are the worst because they really know where you hit you, right? They really know where to get you. But this is not a decision over what we’re going to eat for dinner. This is a decision over whether or not people are going to have dinner to eat. And Donald Trump thinks wages are too high. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton want to raise wages.

And so we’re going to keep making that case, but it’s not going to be some magical speech that comes from the podium and everybody’s going to rip off their Bernie Sanders stickers and say I’m with her. It’s going to be individual conversations, and we’re having those all around the Wells Fargo Center, and a lot of times in those lines for the food, which are pretty long. Just pointing that out. That’d be a story in and of itself.

QUESTION: Hi.

MR KENYATTA: Hey, look at that bag. I like that.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m a journalist from Barcelona, Celia. I wanted to ask you – I arrived a little bit late, but to what extent Hillary Clinton is relying on Barack Obama, Michelle Obama as an asset for her campaign with the African Americans? And please illuminate me on why Hillary Clinton won all the black support from the southern states during the primaries. Thank you.

MR KENYATTA: Well, Hillary Clinton won support across the country, not just in the South. Well, there happen to be a lot of black people that live in the South, so yeah, she did, she did well there. But you look at that speech that Michelle Obama gave last night. Golly, probably the best speech of her entire career, and you couldn’t get a better endorsement from somebody that has been in the trenches, that understands what it takes and what we really need a president to do.

Hillary Clinton is without a doubt – this is not even an argument – the most qualified candidate possibly in the history of our country. Okay, let’s talk about LBJ and we can have that debate maybe. All right, so maybe a little bit of debate, but it’s between her and LBJ, okay? And because of that, I think she really is going to be ready. But you don’t know the job of the president until you’re sitting at the desk, till you’re sitting behind the desk and you have to make the tough calls.

So that’s why when President Obama and when the First Lady, they come out and they make the case for Hillary Clinton, that’s why it’s so powerful, because they’ve seen it up close. This is not a race thing. This election is really about families. This is a family thing.

And one thing that the First Lady has been is an amazing mom. She has been an amazing mom. And it comes through so true because it’s so honest, it’s so real. She cares about her kids. That’s what she wants to do. Like being in the White House, that’s – I’m sure that’s good. She gets to affect a whole lot of other people’s families. But she cares about her kids, and that was a big part of what she talked about in her speech last night. We cannot – we cannot – and I’ll tell you, America is not going to do it – we’re not going to elect a guy that people are afraid to let their kids sit unattended and watch a speech. That’s – it’s outrageous. It is outrageous. It’s definitely not who we are, and I think that Michelle Obama made that case. Hillary Clinton is going to make that case. Bernie Sanders is going to make that case.

And I think, most effectively, Barack Obama is going to make that case, because if you want to talk about a President that has dealt with challenges, it is Barack Obama, and he really has done it in a really great way. He has worked with her. He knows what it means to work with her when the cameras are off and all you guys leave and go back to your places and don’t take my advice and stay here. He knows what it means; he knows what Hillary Clinton can do and what she has done and really what she’s going to continue to do.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KENYATTA: Hold on here, we’re going to get you a mike.

QUESTION: No, I wanted you to talk specifically how this helps her with black people, not in general, but with black people – this legacy of Obama’s.

MR KENYATTA: I think she’s doing well.

QUESTION: And why is she winning among black people? Thank you.

MR KENYATTA: Well, I think she’s going to win because she’s talking about things that African Americans in big numbers – you look at every poll – that they really, really care about. They care about being able to take care of their kids. It’s that simple. I mean, the policy is complex. Don’t get me wrong. Right, there are some briefing books that I probably wouldn’t even want to start.

But the core of it is people and what’s happening in people’s lives, and that’s why she’s connecting so viscerally with the African American community, because she’s talking about real people and real people’s lives. Barack Obama obviously has an amazing place in history as the first African American president, but he’s been everybody’s president. He’s going to continue to be everybody’s president, but he’s also been able to uniquely speak to some of the challenges that African Americans face in this country. He gave a speech, I think, talking about his grandmother and growing up with his grandmother, and even some of the things that his white grandmother would do – he’s like, “Oh, that’s not right.” And he understands that he can really speak to that. And I think that when Hillary Clinton is elected, she’ll be able to speak to that from a woman, right, because that’s the background they bring.

But the core thing that they’re talking about and the reason she’s going to not only win the African American vote, but the reason she’s going to win votes of people across this country, is because she’s talking about families. If you want to know who’s going to win this election, you want to see who’s talking the most about families, and not just their own family.

Yeah, (inaudible).

MODERATOR: (Inaudible.)

MR KENYATTA: I like her. Be like her.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Well, I just wanted to follow up --

MR KENYATTA: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- with what my colleague here, one of my fellow journalists was asking about. Isn’t – is there – what we understand about the demographics of the voting is that something like 90 percent of blacks vote for the Democratic Party. And I’ll go back to my original question about race relations. Don’t you expect more from what you deliver to the party in return? And is there a point where blacks have to ask the question, “Are they taking our votes for granted and not really delivering anything back to us that changes our communities because they know they will get nine out of 10 black votes?”

MR KENYATTA: No, that’s a solid question. And I think that African Americans continue to vote for the Democratic Party because they are the party that is talking about the issues that we care about. Let’s take a little trip down memory lane to Barack Obama. When he came into the office, he had a Democratic House, he had a Democratic Senate. He was able to get some really big things done, some historic things done. What happened is in 2010, so many people sat the election out – so many people sat the election out, in really big numbers. I think like 60-something percent of youth voted; that number dropped drastically in the 2010 election.

And the reason why that election mattered maybe even more than other midterm elections is that in that election, they got to redraw the congressional districts, and even states – redrew their congressional districts. And the districts are horribly gerrymandered. You look in Pennsylvania. We had in our last election 1.3 more Democrats vote statewide, yet Republicans still have a large majority of the houses in the House and the Senate. How is that? And that is because they have drawn these weird – I don’t even know, like, how they make these districts up, I mean, how they figure it out. They cut off a little piece, they jump over a little part, and because of that, we have people in Harrisburg – to bring it a little bit more local – we have a lot of African American leaders here, we have a very Democratic city. They want to raise the minimum wage. We’ve been trying to raise the minimum wage. Harrisburg won’t let us raise the minimum wage because Harrisburg is full of Republicans that don’t get it.

And so if we’re going to change things, African Americans are going to have to vote in every single election. And the issue is, you see high turnout in the presidential years, you see less turnout in the midterm years, and that has damaged us in a really big way in terms of moving forward with progressive policies that are going to be beneficial to us in the future.

So hopefully the message out of this election, when it’s over, is it’s not just about this election. As soon as it’s over, we have to start thinking about 2018 and how to win back the House and the Senate in a really big, big way, and then also 2020 when those lines get redrawn. We’ve had a couple of states that have had to redraw their lines because they’ve been so gerrymandered, and that gerrymandering has played an incredible process in keeping things the way they are and hurting families. If we have more Democrats, we have more policies that affect families. If we have folks like Paul Ryan, who think that it’s okay to have a racist nominee of their party, I don’t think they’re going to pass things that we care about.

So we have to get more Democrats, and we really have to win back the House of Representatives. I think we have a chance right now to potentially win back the Senate, but it’s not enough. We have to win back the House of Representatives and we have to win it back in a really big way so we’re able to go in like we did in 2008 and get some really big policy changes that are going to affect – excuse me – that are going to affect our communities.

All right. Well, thank you so much. This has been great, and we’d love to have you in Philadelphia again. Thanks.

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