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Villanova Hosts Martin Luther King Jr. Keynote Address

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Malcom Kenyatta attends Labor Day Parade in Philadelphia

On Wednesday, Jan. 24, Villanova hosted its 11th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Keynote Address. The keynote speaker was Pennsylvania State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta. 

Kenyatta, a history-making politician as the first African American and gay man to be elected to a state office in Pennsylvania, represents the 181st district and is currently a candidate for Auditor General of Pennsylvania. Born and raised in north Philadelphia, Kenyatta graduated from Temple University with a bachelor’s degree in strategic communication and graduated from Drexel University with a master’s degree in public communication.

A strong advocate for workers’ rights, common-sense gun safety policies and rooting out government corruption, Kenyatta was also appointed as chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Black Americans one year ago.

Titled, “Bending the Arc,” Kenyatta carried King’s visions and ideology throughout his keynote, speaking on his work in the state legislature. In his eyes, representing the 181st District of Pennsylvania is a solemn personal duty. His work in politics and helping others, however, came from a humble beginning; a little help from his mother. 

Recalling when he was 12, Kenyatta remembered complaining to his mother about problems and issues in the community. His mother interrupted him with some simple advice that would change the trajectory of his life: “If you care so much, go do something about it.”

That propelled him to run for Junior Block Captain. This was the young start of what would become a trailblazing political career. He believed and still believes we all have something we are called to do for our world.

“We are all called to do something about [issues of society],” Kenyatta said.

Kenyatta made a connection with King’s call to do something and his own. He went into the concept of bending the moral arc towards justice, a concept King held value behind. It also served as the basis and driving force of Kenyatta’s keynote.

“The moral arc of justice does not bend just because,” Kenyatta said. “It bends because people do something about it.”

The work Kenyatta does parallels the work King did for human rights and wants to make sure that money is going to the right causes and people. His idea of a better world is simple: embracing love and community.

The keynote speech concluded with a quote from a letter written by Zora Neale Hurston, an influential African American writer and anthropologist during the Harlem Renaissance era.

“I have never liked stale phrases and bodiless courage,” Kenyatta said.

Kenyatta attracted an unexpectedly large crowd of participants, as seats needed to be added to accommodate. A pillar of proof that King’s work still carries on in our world, Kenyatta is a true representation of the dream he so famously proclaimed. In his worldview, it is not just one person who bends the arc. It is just easier to remember it that way.

During the question portion of the keynote, Kenyatta urged students to “bend the arc” and find their spot in today’s political world. Engagement no longer means simply running for office in Kenyatta’s eyes. It can be as simple as voting, helping a campaign, or even running a campaign.

“When you consider yourself politically engaged, everybody does not have to run for office,” Kenyatta said. “As a young person, you can share your story with officials, you could find a campaign and support it, or if you want to, you could run yourself.”

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