• State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta joined the race for the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania in 2022.
  • Kenyatta, a 30-year-old progressive lawmaker, is a community activist from Philadelphia.
  • “My story certainly has many distinct parts of my own, but not those of most Pennsylvanians,” he said.
  • Visit Insider’s Business section for more stories.

When Pennsylvania State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta was 12 years old and growing up in North Philadelphia, he found a job washing dishes at a restaurant to help his mother pay the bills.

Kenyatta describes his upbringing as “working poor,” with a deep understanding of the economic challenges that have left many families behind, from static wages to affordable housing.

“My story certainly has many distinct parts of my own, but not those of most Pennsylvanians,” he said.

In 2018, Kenyatta, a community activist, was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, becoming the first openly gay black state lawmaker and one of the youngest members of the legislature.

Since his election, he has pushed for a statewide expansion of early voting and worked to reduce homelessness in his district anchored north of Philadelphia, among others.

Last month, Kenyatta, 30, ad that he would run for the Senate seat vacated by two-term GOP Senator Pat Toomey in 2022, in what will be one of the most competitive races in the country.

He will face Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in a Democratic primary that will likely attract other top candidates in the months to come.

Kenyatta recently spoke with Insider about his campaign. Below are edited excerpts from this interview.

Q. What prompted you to run for the Senate at this truly critical moment in our country’s history?

A. Each generation has a responsibility to work to preserve and expand America’s promise – and it’s a promise that has excluded a lot of people over time, but something we’ve always worked to expand. Look at the aggravated crises that have been further exacerbated as a result of COVID-19.

If you are working, there were housing issues before this cruel pandemic. There were problems with education. There were salary issues. There were issues with being able to start a small business. What we need right now are people who understand what’s broken and who can take us from where we are to where we need to go.

What legislative priorities have you been able to promote as a Democratic lawmaker in a House controlled by the GOP?

The defense wins the football matches. This is a big part of what we had to do not to have the political calculations in our favor. One of the things we had to do was stop some of the worst things. I have been at the forefront in this area, especially when it comes to protecting everyone’s votes.

I was able to to build a grand coalition against an “electoral integrity” committee that would have allowed the Republican majority to seize the voting machines and physically force election officials to come and testify before mock hearings, when they were supposed to count every vote. Stop that has become a national story.

Malcolm Kenyatta

State Representative Kenyatta speaks to members of the media near the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg on December 14, 2020.

Photo AP / Matt Slocum

If you are elected to the Senate, what would be your top three priorities in power?

The first concerns mental health care for young people. This pandemic has stolen a lot of lives and livelihoods, but it has also stolen the ability of our young people to engage. Their life has been turned upside down. I introduced a bill with a Republican colleague called Phillip’s Law it will help us to completely rethink the way we provide mental health care in our schools.

The second problem concerns deep poverty, which is the moral and economic question of our generation.

The last thing we need to do is create hundreds of thousands of high paying clean energy jobs.

You don’t take money from corporate PACs. In the 2020 election cycle, more than $ 2 billion was spent on the most competitive senatorial races. Should there be campaign finance reform?

The problem with our system is the incredible amount of money it takes to operate. We will fundraise, but not with people who already have armies of lobbyists. It must be a movement of people who understand that workers have not been centered in our political discussions. They will be the ones who will make small donations.

We need to have a serious conversation on how to get rid of United citizens [vs. Federal Election Commission], which was one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever.

President Joe Biden favors cancellation of $ 10,000 in student loan debt per borrower, but excluded cancellation of up to $ 50,000 in loans per borrower through enforcement action. What do you think should be done?

Canceling student debt is not only helping borrowers, but our economy as well as we reflect on how to recover from the impact of the pandemic. We have accumulated a lot of debt because we haven’t addressed the issue of college affordability. We did not seek to make the university free, which it should in most cases. Getting rid of $ 50,000 and then going even further is one of the ways to vigorously stimulate our economy.

What do you think your candidacy means for so many people who may not have seen themselves represented in government before?

I had a friend who called me the day after my announcement and said she let her daughter stand and watch my ad. Her daughter said the next day, “Mom, I can’t wait to run for President, and Malcolm can advise my campaign.” There are so many young people who pay more attention than we give them. They see candidates who represent the fullness of the American experience.

I know what it’s like to have an eviction notice. I know what it is for people who worry about their electricity and gas bills. These are not academic exercises for me. It’s my life. It’s the lives of the people I know and love.

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