From the day he announced his mayoral campaign to the date of his one month anniversary in the Mayor’s Office, Mr. Jim Kenney has remained consistent in addressing racism.
A year ago today, Mr. Jim Kenney, a former Philadelphia City Councilman, was inside City Hall announcing his intention to run for Mayor of the nation’s fifth largest city. The first week of February in 2015 was, by Mr. Kenney’s own admission, a successful one: donations were strong, he implied. When he was inaugurated as the Mayor of Philadelphia in January of 2016, Mr. Kenney joked about how his campaign announcement in the Mayor’s Reception Room may have been a bit presumptuous, but that City Hall was always special to him, because the first time he entered the building was in 1969 to see his father, a union firefighter, promoted to captain.
Mr. Kenney, throughout the campaign, often referenced his family. In one of his first sit-down, exclusive interviews as a mayoral candidate, the South Philadelphia born career politician, who at 17 years of age was a union dishwasher and busboy, told Techbook Online that his son, a white male in his mid-20s, had never been stopped-and-frisked by the police, and that the practice itself is an “unfortunate policy” that should be eliminated.
“If a police officer feels unsafe, they have a right to pat you down… for their own safety,” Mr. Kenney said to me in the back of a small South Philadelphia church. The problem that you face is… that if a young man, usually a young man of color, gets stopped three… four times a month… for walking down the street, that doesn’t create a good environment or attitude between the citizenry and police. There’s no reason to stop that young man; and that’s why we needed to decriminalize the possession of marijuana; not because it was a great thing to do, or that I’m encouraging people to smoke weed, but if you’re stopping only young black males and they get caught holding, then they’re getting arrested; and you’re not stopping my son, who’s twenty-five.”
When Mr. Kenney, who’s been Mayor as of today for exactly one month, was in his early teens, his parents would tell him to find a cop if he ever needed help. But many Philadelphia teens aren’t told that, he acknowledged. A late December 2015 article from The Associated Press said Mr. Jim Kenney “is not African-American but few white politicians are as comfortable discussing issues of inequality, mass incarceration and policing.” During my first interview with him on February 16th, 2015, Mr. Kenney asserted that it’s certainly the responsibility of the Mayor to lead on the issues of racism and race relations. When policing and governing in an urban environment, Mr. Kenney said, you have to take race into consideration, understanding that every community will view and react to things differently.
What impressed me most about Mr. Kenney was his willingness to embrace reality, instead of clinging to, and promoting to others, the idea that we live in a post-racial utopia. Moreover, Mr. Kenney, in definitive language, condemned our society, labeling it as “inherently racist.”
“We’re still not in a post-racial era of American politics or discourse,” Mr. Kenney said, though he acknowledges that “in certain areas we have come a long way,” like in entertainment and sports.
But that same cross-cultural, cross-racial progress is missing, he suggested, from areas like policing and housing. Neither of the two aforementioned issues have an easy fix, though in the case of policing, Mr. Kenney argues that diversifying the police force so that it resembles the communities it serves, is a start. Given the national narrative around policing reforms, it should surprise very few that Mr. Kenney spent a significant time during his campaign discussing the subject. And even as Mayor, he hasn’t shied away from talking openly about policing and race.
During his first day in office, a reporter at a press conference asked what minorities in the City can expect to see differently with police under a “Kenney Administration.” Mr. Kenney said in reply that he will be diligently working to reform the divisive stop-and-frisk practices and increase the diversity of candidates who seek to become officers of the law. And just this week, at a historic black church during the unveiling of the #RichardAllenForever U.S. postage stamp, Mr. Kenney remarked that the accomplishments of Reverend Richard Allen, the founder of Mother Bethel A.M.E Church who was born into slavery in 1760, have been systemically ripped from the history books in an effort to deny the great contributions to American life by black people – Mr. Kenney received a warm applause from a largely black audience after that comment.
As both a Mayor and a mayoral candidate, one has to be prepared to speak in front of all types of audiences. And by doing that, you’re guaranteed to learn something from them. When asked by Techbook Online for a comment today regarding what he’s learned new about the City since announcing his run for Mayor on February 4th, 2015, Mr. Kenney through his Communications Director released the following statement:
“I’ve learned more than I thought possible about the diversity of the city and its people. It’s been a tremendous year. I thank the people of Philadelphia for entrusting me with this honor, and for welcoming me into their homes both as a candidate and now Mayor.”
Mr. Kenney’s views on important issues, as both a candidate and a Mayor, have remained consistent, a rarity in politics these days. In the year in which I’ve covered him intently, Mr. Kenney – who during his inauguration speech said “Black lives do matter” and that the majority of police are dedicated, hard-working civil servants that are willing to lay down their life for others – has kept one thing at the top his mind and tongue: the people of Philadelphia; let’s hope that, too, stays consistent.
CLICK HERE to listen to ‘Why the Black Vote Matters,’ a podcast from The Dr. Vibe Show featuring a panel of black male thought-leaders, including the co-founder of the ‘Vote or Die’ movement.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™