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BY MICHELLE E. BROWN
Minneapolis is the largest city in Minnesota and the 46th-largest city in the U.S. With its smaller neighbor St. Paul, Minneapolis makes up the Twin Cities, the 16th-largest metropolitan area in the United States. It’s known for its cold winters, strong music and performing arts scenes and of course, his Royal Badness, Prince.
As of Nov. 7, Minneapolis can lay claim to another, no two, benchmarks – the election of two transgender members to its City Council Phillippe Cunningham, a transgender man to the 4th Ward and the historic election of Andrea Jenkins the first transgender woman of color elected to a major city council in the country. She will represent the city’s 8th Ward.
Jenkins was a guest on “Collections by Michelle Brown” in March where she talked about her work as an artist, poet, trans oral historian and throwing her hat into the political ring.
With eyes that seem to look deep into your soul and a smile that warms your heart, Jenkins is one of those people who leaves a lasting impression. We first met at creating change in Houston, TX. I was sitting with our mutual friend Kylar Broadus when Jenkins joined us. She had a copy of her book of poetry “The T Is Not Silent.”
Jenkins remembered that meeting. “We ordered cocktails and your partner had a beer. We were talking about being in Houston your home Detroit and Chicago where I’m from. Kylar was there and it was a really a special moment.”
Although Minneapolis is home now, Jenkins is originally from the Chicago area. Chicago is a city very rich in culture – from African-American culture to LGBT culture to transgender culture even more specifically to black transgender culture. Although Minneapolis has one of the largest LGBT populations in the United States, it’s not Chicago.
She republished “The T Is Not Silent” in 2015. With the second edition Jenkins was actively seeking a broader audience. “If you read you know some of the book,” Jenkins said. “It’s not necessarily transgender related. Some of the poems are but all of the book come from a transgender woman’s perspective. I was actively trying to reach a broader audience of people who are concerned about social justice, about human rights issues and are concerned about women’s rights issues.
Besides her poetry, Jenkins is known as playwright, a curator, a visual artist, a spoken word artist performer and public speaker. She has also been the Trans Oral Historian for the Tretter Collection at the University of Minnesota. The Curator of the Tretter Foundation came to an event Jenkins was sponsoring – The Transgender Equity Summit – at the City of Minneapolis in the hopes of enlisting Jenkins assistance in recruiting people for the job. “I looked at the job description and I thought to myself I want this job. Unfortunately, because of the transgender community’s invisibility for so long and really hiding in the closet, in the corners and in basements there was few records and papers and books and organizations to really try to collect their stories. The Foundation figured the best way to try to get information was to actually talk to transgender people and to do an oral history project.” Jenkins said.
Jenkins has interviewed and collected the oral history of over 150 members of the transgender community ranging in age from 18 to 80. “You know me I’m a storyteller. It is about telling stories. It’s about uplifting the transgender narrative and shifting the cultural awareness of Transgender identities.” She said.
And now she is in politics. What inspired her and motivated her to get into the City Council race?
“Great question! You know I have been involved in politics for a long time. And even relating it back to my Chicago life. You know is was a very political city. You know there is no shortage of white power movements coming out of Chicago as you are fully aware. But there were also other influences for me. The Black Panthers had very strong roots in Chicago. There were social justice and civil rights pillars like Jesse Jackson and Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Number 44, President Barack Obama was from Chicago too. So there’s a rich, rich tradition of politics in Chicago. In fact, the first campaign I ever worked on was for Harold Washington who was the first black mayor of Chicago when I was 18 years old. It was the first time I ever voted, and I voted for him twice. So, you know politics is sort of been in my blood, but I literally work in politics here in Minneapolis for 12 years with the diversity council members. I got a chance to really see you know how the sausage gets made and how the political process works. And really get to know the people of the ward that I’m in you know they’re my community members.”
And they got to not only get to know Andrea Jenkins and saw her as a fierce, hardworking and incredibly committed leader. She received over 70 percent of the vote for her 8th Ward seat on Minneapolis City Council!
What a difference a day makes! Minneapolis went from having zero African American council members to now having three, not to mention two trans council members. “We don’t just want a seat at the table. We want to set the table,” said Jenkins on election night.
This trans sister is not silent. She roars and is one of many new voices elected Nov. 7 re-setting the table for an inclusive, diverse and equitable America. The archived interview of Andrea Jenkins’ full interview is available on the “Collections by Michelle Brown” podcast on Blog Talk Radio, ITunes, Stitcher or SoundCloud.