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Photo: Kendall Martinez-Wright
Kendall Martinez-Wright is out to make history in Missouri. Photo: Kendall Martinez-Wright

‘I’m Black, I’m Puerto Rican, and I’m trans.” Get to know Missouri trailblazer Kendall Martinez-Wright

The candidate for Missouri House of Representatives is not shy about her identity, and is out to make political history in her state in 2022.

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The community activist to local politician pipeline has been gaining traction and Kendall Martinez-Wright is following in the footsteps of trailblazers like 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 she were to be 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 is very enthusiastic about individuality, self-expression, and creating brave spaces for everyone to be heard, even if the person speaking shares different views than her own. Martinez-Wright is also supportive of  the type of unity that only comes from open-mindedness, active listening, and respectful dialogue. 

“It would be a huge honor and a very humbling experience if I was elected [as the first trans person in the chamber] mainly because we are living in an era where people are truly showcasing their authentic selves. And when people do that, it is a game changer,” she said. 

Martinez-Wright wants everyone, both elected and non-elected citizens, to see that self-love, uninhibited self-expression, and authenticity can change the world, and foster the sense of community she believes everyone craves deep down. 

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. 

Prior to announcing her run, 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. 

And now that Martinez-Wright has ventured from high school activism and further 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.  

If Martinez-Wright is elected, she intends to enact meaningful and long-lasting change in her beloved community. Two of her main priorities are education and human rights. 

She would like to see Missouri public schools embrace and implement curriculums that teach students about the history of people of color and the LGBTQ community in America, as this history is too often glossed over or simply ignored.

Martinez-Wright told AL DÍA that she was the one of only two Black students in her school growing up, and her sister was the only Black student in her class. A lot of students in small town public schools are not interacting with a diverse population, nor are they learning Indigenous history, Latinx history or Black history. 

“I might get some slack for this, but [many of our schools] are sitting on stolen ground,” she said, referring to the erasure of Indigenous history in the public school system. “In reality, students do need to be reminded of the atrocities of how this country was founded. They need to be humbled about how far we came, and what we need to do to continue the momentum towards equality.” 

Martinez-Wright is also a strong advocate for proper funding of schools. 

“When it comes to the logistics of it, education should not be a debatable topic. It should be something where we are all on the same accord, because if it were not for education, we would not be where we are today,” she said. 

In addition to traditional school funding, she also wants to establish job and vocational training programs that would assist formerly incarcerated individuals re-entering their communities. 

“Sometimes these individuals are stuck, because they haven’t been in society for so long, and when they’re trying to get reacclimated, some of them end up going back into their bad habits,” she said.

Martinez-Wright believes that people deserve a second chance and people that have done their time deserve the opportunity to show their community that they did what the court asked of them, and “did a 180” and are ready to contribute positively to society. 

But instead of getting this chance, many of these individuals “are getting the doors slapped in their face,”Martinez-Wright said. She wants the public to realize this too. 

“Bad choices of the past should not determine your future,” she said. 

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