If elected in 2022, Kendall Martinez-Wright would be the first transgender woman of color to be in Missouri’s House of Representatives.
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The community activist to local politician pipeline has been gaining traction, and Missouri’s Kendall Martinez-Wright is following in the footsteps of trailblazers like Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Pramila Jayapal and Jamaal Bowman.
Similar to these members of Congress, Martinez-Wright understands the value of community, education, representation, and building movements from the ground up.
She is an Afro-Latina trans woman from Palmyra, Missouri, and recently sat down with AL DÍA to talk about why she’s running for her State House’s fifth district seat in 2022.
If elected, Martinez-Wright would become the first transgender woman of color to hold a seat in Missouri’s House of Representatives — a poltical sphere that is mostly white, male and conservative.
To make history in this way, especially during a time when state legislatures across the country are attempting to pass laws that limit the rights and freedoms of trans people, would mean the world, said Martinez-Wright.
“It would be an honor. I tell people that I didn’t do this to make history, [I did it because] I was tired of people’s voices not being truly heard. I want to be, and I always have been, an advocate for showcasing everyone’s voices, whether they agree with me or not,” she said.
She represents multiple communities, and holds within her the rich history of Latinx and Black Americans, as well as the struggles and victories of the LGBTQ community, from the Stonewall riots to marriage equality.
It’s been a major reason her campaign has picked up steam since her announcement on April 22.
She doesn’t apologize for who she is, nor does she pretend to be something she’s not.
“I’m just like, ‘hey, here I am. I’m Black, I’m Puerto Rican, and I’m trans.’ I want to showcase that we are each uniquely made, but we are each the same. And I want to amplify that,” said Martinez-Wright.
Speaking of amplifying voices, Martinez-Wright did that for her fellow Black Missouri community members last summer, when she participated in the protests for racial justice, in what she referred to as a “call to action.”
She spoke about the gaslighting she’s experienced from people in her area that believe we are living in a post-racial world.
For Martinez-Wright, standing up for the Black Lives Matter movement is about more than elevating a conversation, it’s about reminding the country that these issues have not disappeared.
“I still vividly remember stories of my grandmother and my great grandmother and various other family members who lived in those times and how they fought to exercise civil rights,” she said. “People just have this idea that this world is different now. I have to remind them this is what we still have to fight for.”
In June, Martinez-Wright took a trip to New York City to help campaign for mayoral candidate Maya Wiley through door-to-door outreach, phone banks and canvassing.
When asked about the mayoral race, Martinez-Wright said all citizens of NYC should see and experience more equity to watch their beloved city become stronger than it was before. It was that realization that prompted the “last minute trip” to support Wiley, one of three Black women running in the election.
“I think that right now, more than ever, especially for Black women going into politics, it’s a huge step. We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams. So I am a firm believer that, you know, when it comes down to it, we’re going to not only talk the talk, then walk the walk,” she said.
The proud Boricua candidate also endorsed two other candidates, Tracy McCreery, running for Missouri State Senate, and Justice Tyrone Horne, candidate for Jackson County Missouri legislature.
Martinez-Wright said she’s supported McCreery for a long time, and appreciates her allyship to so many different communities, including African-Americans, Latinx Americans, LGBTQ individuals and more.
“She has been a champion,” she said of the Missouri State Representative.
“She has been a champion,” she said of the Missouri State Representative.
Martinez-Wright met Horne through a mutual friend, and got to work with him on several projects. If he wins, Horne will be the youngest Jackson County legislator in the state of Missouri.
He would make history not only as being young, but also as being an African-American and Pacific Islander.
“He is also a member of the LGBTQ community, which is huge. This allows for his constituents to see someone at the table that looks like them and that identifies like them. And that’s what we need to really push this country forward,” said Martinez-Wright.
Prior to announcing her own run for office, Martinez-Wright was making moves behind the scenes in local politics through her work with Empower Missouri and the Mid-Missouri Young Democrats, where she focused on human rights, infrastructure and criminal justice policy.
She describes herself as a “mover, shaker” in these areas, and has been one since 2010, when she joined Family Career and Community Leaders of America and Future Business Leaders of America while in high school.
Now that Martinez-Wright has ventured from high school activism and community work all the way to running for office, she relies on daily inspiration to fuel her campaign and stay grounded.
“When I wake up in the morning, first of all, I give God the glory because I was able to see another day. And then afterwards, I just remind myself why I do this. I’ll look at my phone and see a Snapchat from my sister with a photo of my baby niece, something cute or something funny, or I’ll see a text message from my mom that gets me going,” she said.
Martinez-Wright has also been motivated by the support given for her run from family, friends and across social media. She said it gives her comfort as she faces down intimidation of the majority Republican legislature.
As a longtime advocate within the Missouri legislature, Martinez-Wright has observed some issues that weren’t being addressed as priorities, and she’s now seeing them more clearly as a candidate.
For example, over the last 11 years, she has heard conversations about Missouri’s wild hogs, and the problems they cause for the local agriculture industry.
“Back in the day, I was like ‘why are we talking about this?’ But then I did some research and it turns out that this is a serious issue with wild hogs creating a detriment to the agricultural community,” said Martinez-Wright. “And as a candidate, I realize that this is something we do need to address because I know that for small rural areas, this is money and time being destroyed.”
Learning more about this problem made her see that “the smallest thing” can have a significant impact on the local economy, environmental health and people’s livelihoods.
Martinez-Wright is also focused on providing healthcare for vulnerable populations in her town. Recently, the Missouri legislature refused to fund Medicaid expansion, which is now in the hands of the courts.
If the funding is delayed any further, the repercussions could be disastrous.
“It can severely hurt these establishments, like nursing homes, to the point of closures. So we’re talking about thousands upon thousands of senior citizens who are significantly disabled being displaced, and left in the dark,” she explained.
Missouri prides itself on being a pro-life state, but Martinez-Wright views this terminology as a true oxymoron given certain situations, like its denial of Medicaid expansion.
“This is not only an economic and social situation, but a humanity situation within the state, and we’re talking about thousands of individuals who rely on these services on a daily basis and are being disenfranchised. That’s unacceptable,” she said.
In addition to agriculture and healthcare, Martinez-Wright prioritizes education and human rights. Moving from community organizing to running for office as an openly trans Afro-Latina from a small town was a huge leap, but she is pushing forward despite the odds.
If elected, Martinez-Wright said that the legislature “better be ready,” because she is not afraid to tell the truth.