“Kenyatta: Do Not Wait Your Turn” (2023). Cast: Malcolm Kenyatta, Matthew Jordan-Miller Kenyatta, John Fetterman, Conor Lamb, Lee Daniels, Holly Otterbein, Mary Kenyatta, Chardae Jones. Archive Footage: Muhammed Kenyatta. Director: Timothy Harris. Web site. Trailer.
Regrettably, convincing idealism is an increasingly rare commodity in political circles these days. With so many politicians looking out for themselves and their cronies, it’s become difficult to find those we can genuinely trust. Indeed, how are we supposed to put our faith in what they say? Every so often, though, there are those who come along who appear to defy such low expectations. These charismatic individuals tend to exude authenticity, usually because they’ve emerged out of circumstances comparable to those being experienced by their constituents. And that relatability, in turn, generates believability among voters and the hope that these figures can accomplish in office what they profess to do during their campaigns. That’s the kind of credibility to come out of the new film biography of a possible rising star in the political world, “Kenyatta: Do Not Wait Your Turn.”
State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-PA) may not be a household name as yet, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be at some point. The native of north Philadelphia, who was elected to the Keystone State’s legislature from his home district, is the first openly gay person of color to serve in the Commonwealth’s statehouse. And, because of the solid, enthusiastic, grass roots support he has generated among voters, he’s being looked upon as someone with a promising political future, primarily because he appears to be the real deal, someone whom people believe they can trust.
That support is largely driven by his outspoken nature, someone who’s not afraid to say his piece and does so with a no-nonsense yet eloquent, highly articulate manner. What’s more, given his working class upbringing, he can relate to the kinds of challenges faced by the economically challenged constituents in his district. He knows what they’re experiencing, because he’s had to contend with such issues himself. And, considering his sexual orientation and minority status, he has had to fight for recognition on these fronts, something that has steeled his resolve to push for the rights that he and others in the LGBTQ+ and African-American communities have been denied but deserve. He advocates passionately in these areas, insisting that everyone should have access to life’s basic necessities and equal rights without having to struggle to simply get by.
That kind of activism is in Kenyatta’s blood, too. His grandfather, Muhammed Kenyatta (born Donald Brooks Jackson, 1944-1992), was an ardent civil rights advocate and an organizer for the Head Start program, which provided early childhood education and health care services to impoverished minority children and their families. It’s an influence that apparently rubbed off on the younger Kenyatta, who became an organizer of student protests against educational budget cuts while he was in college. Subsequently, in 2017, at the age of 27, he announced his plan to run for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, an election he handily won a year later, becoming one of the youngest candidates ever to win and serve in the state’s legislature.
Kenyatta endured some homophobic pushback during the primary associated with that first campaign, but it ended up not having much impact in the general election, where he captured a whopping 95% of the vote. He sees himself as an out-and-proud gay man, empowered in who he is and in his relationship with husband Matthew Jordan-Miller Kenyatta. The duo quite obviously has a deeply loving partnership, as evidenced in scenes of their everyday personal life and from their joyous wedding ceremony. This footage thus reveals yet another aspect of Kenyatta’s authenticity that has consequently translated into avid support from his followers.
In 2021, Kenyatta made the decision to tap into the wellspring of goodwill he had built up by making a run for the US Senate from Pennsylvania in the 2022 midterm election. This campaign makes up the bulk of the film, showing the candidate in efforts to ambitiously widen his name recognition on a larger political stage. It documents the challenges the candidate faced with financial difficulties, exaggerated questions of electability, biased punditry and media coverage, and a lack of support from his own party’s officials, including in his home district of Philadelphia. Nevertheless, these obstacles did not stop Kenyatta from soldiering on with his own style of out-and-proud, shoot-from-the-hip style of politicking, especially against his two better-known, better-financed, more widely recognized Caucasian opponents, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and US Rep. Conor Lamb, both of whom bested him in the Democratic primary. But Kenyatta’s loss in the Senate race didn’t knock him out of politics. His name remained on the ballot for State Representative, running unopposed and handily winning reelection, where he continues to serve. And, since completion of the film, he has announced his candidacy to run in the 2024 statewide election to become Pennsylvania’s Auditor General.
What’s perhaps most inspiring about Kenyatta’s story, though, is his beliefs in his abilities, his ambitions, his policies and himself, qualities that come through loud and clear in this documentary. And those traits, in turn, have become beliefs in him in the minds of supporters, including those outside his home state, such as filmmaker Lee Daniels, who hosted a fundraiser for Kenyatta during his Senate campaign with the backing of Hollywood influencers. It’s no wonder Kenyatta is being looked on as a rising star in his party, someone whose name is likely to be around for a while, both in Pennsylvania and beyond its borders.
Kenyatta’s perspective has served him well. The beliefs underlying his outlook have brought him political success at a young age, as well as increasing name recognition for his future. And, in his personal life, his commitment to living authentically has led to what appears to be a loving and happy relationship. But, perhaps most importantly, his beliefs have generated a growing level of support among his constituency, one that holds the potential to pay dividends for them and their way of life and, in turn, the politician’s own future.
The significance of these beliefs can’t be emphasized enough in light of the role they play in the manifestation of his existence, just as they do for all of us. This is a product of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we draw upon the power of these intangible resources in shaping the nature of our reality. It’s not apparent whether Kenyatta has heard of this school of thought, but, given the sincerity of his intentions and the track record that has come from them, it would seem he’s well practiced in its principles and their application.
Considering Kenyatta’s accomplishments thus far, he’s achieved an impressive record of success, even though not all of his ambitions have been realized as yet, such as his campaign for the US Senate. Nevertheless, the experience gained from such an endeavor provides beneficial life lessons for how to carry out future undertakings. He can thus build on that information in fine-tuning his beliefs for the opportunities that emerge down the line. He’s young, after all, and few of us attain our biggest achievements in our initial attempts. However, the wisdom that comes from such experiences frequently enables us to hone our beliefs and the skills that come out of them in tackling those greater challenges.
The strength of Kenyatta’s sustained resolve is especially noteworthy, another product of his beliefs. He’s zealously committed to his platform but also to encouraging others to follow his lead. In fact, as evidenced by one of his speeches in the film, he passionately urges his supporters to step up and take their rightful place. While he freely acknowledges the social and political progress that members of the minority and LGBTQ+ communities have made over the years, he also makes it clear that those who have come out of backgrounds like his shouldn’t have to sit back and wait for the opportunities to be bestowed upon them. He believes that such individuals should willingly step forward to pursue what they contend is theirs. In essence, as the picture’s subtitle espouses, he issues the rallying cry, “Do Not Wait Your Turn.” Indeed, patience may be a virtue, but there comes a time when it can run out, no matter how much belief support it may have.
One of the assets that will undoubtedly help him – just as with any charismatically inspiring leader – is the growth in support he has received from his followers. In the end, they play just as important a part as he does in the attainment of his success. By working with him, they’re also working for themselves in the pursuit of their shared objectives. And this is possible because of the beliefs they have in him, his platform and the goodwill he generates, a prime example of an act of collaborative co-creation. By joining forces and working together in this way, they have an enhanced opportunity for seeking the fulfillment of their mutual goals. This is indeed a win-win situation for all.
Given the challenges that Kenyatta and other politicians like him face in their ventures, one might wonder why they would willingly take on such arduous pursuits. But, as becomes apparent through this film, Kenyatta does so because he genuinely believes that it’s the right thing to do, an expression of the destiny he’s meant to live out, what some practitioners of this thinking call their value fulfillment. As depicted here, Kenyatta appears committed to his goals – and to the good that they can provide to all of his constituents and, maybe one day, to all of us.
In an age when politicians on both sides of the aisle are increasingly being seen as incompetent, self-serving and inauthentic, it’s refreshing to learn about one who apparently defies all of those traits, and viewers can now learn more about this inspiring individual in director Timothy Harris’s excellent debut documentary feature. The film charts the obstacles its protagonist has faced, but it also shows that he’s more than just a politician. This profile showcases that he’s also an individual whose experiences, upbringing and personal life have shaped his policies and the apparent authenticity of his message, one driven by compassion, heartfelt sincerity and a growing intolerance of a system that seems hellbent on preserving a status quo that’s ever more exclusionary than not. This well-balanced, superbly integrated approach makes for excellent documentary filmmaking, giving audiences a comprehensive view of its subject and reason to see why he could easily be looked on as a rising star in American politics, one who speaks for many who don’t feel that their voices are being heard by the current establishment. Executive Producer Al Roker and his colleagues have created an insightful, uplifting watch, one that may actually give us some bona fide hope for the future of the nation’s politics – not to mention the nation itself.
Finding this film may be a little difficult at present, given that it’s primarily been playing the LGBTQ+ and documentary film festival circuits. However, considering that Kenyatta is gearing up for another campaign and the fact that the production has the backing of a high-profile executive producer like The Today Show’s Al Roker, it’s hard to imagine this release not receiving wider distribution at some point. Check the film’s web site for updates.
Some viewers might claim that this picture is little more than a piece of liberal political propaganda, and, admittedly, that’s an argument that could be seen as having some merit. However, given the deplorable state of American politics at the moment at virtually every level of government and leadership, we can use all of the help we can get, particularly when it comes to inspired solutions that can cut through the clutter, nonsense and juvenile partisanship that keep our society locked in place and mired in its problems with little hope of resolution. And, because of that, we should keep our options – and our minds – open to look for ways to make progress happen. The least we can do is listen to what visionaries like Kenyatta have to say in the hope that they can help lead us out of our current circumstances. There’s too much riding on this not to do so.
Copyright © 2023, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.