ChangeMakers: Andrea Jenkins, first openly transgender black woman elected to public office

Minneapolis City Council member Andrea Jenkins at City Hall.
Minneapolis City Council member Andrea Jenkins is photographed at Minneapolis City Hall on Friday.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Every weekday in February, MPR News is featuring black Minnesotans making history to celebrate Black History Month.

Minneapolis City Council member Andrea Jenkins is the first openly transgender black woman elected to public office in the United States.

Jenkins moved to Minneapolis in 1979 and has worked in social services and county government as a policy aide for two previous Ward 8 City Council members. She is also an award-winning poet and curator for the University of Minnesota's Transgender Oral History Project.

Editor's note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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What does it mean to you to be a black Minnesotan?

I don't necessarily think of myself as a black Minnesotan. I think of myself more as a Minnesotan, I guess. But you know, what it means to me as a black Minnesotan — specifically because of the fact that Minnesota has some of the worst disparities between blacks and whites in the entire country — as a black Minnesotan I have a responsibility to try to help change that dynamic. And consequently that is why I sought public office.

What figures have shaped you into who you are today?

I would probably start with Harriet Tubman. You know this is Black History Month, and a lot of people sort of think of her as a cliche, as it were, and sort of the only thing that our broad history books point to ... Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington Carver. But you know figures like that, particularly Harriet Tubman, demonstrated a huge amount of courage as well as a love for their people, and more broadly for humanity. The fact that she got herself to freedom but recognized that she could never be free until all other people were free, and (they) sacrificed and went back, time after time after time, to help people get to freedom. You know, she is just a tremendous inspiration to me.

My mother and my grandparents who really taught me what love of family is all about and and how that love of family extends out to our broader community.

I am wearing a T-shirt right now that has an image of Maxine Waters on it. I'm inspired by her leadership. There are so many people that really I try to take little bits and pieces from, from multiple folks and then let that guide my life and career. I will say that as an African-American transgender woman, I'm really inspired by the work of folks like Marsha P. Johnson and Miss Major, Sylvia Rivera — women of color who really helped to start the LGBT revolution or as it was framed at the time, the gay rights movement. But they certainly inspire me. And I think it's important to make that recognition. 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. And so, you know, activists in general, people who are standing up for humanity, people who are really trying to move this country to a place where it fully lives out the true meaning of its creed.

What's your vision for the future of black Minnesotans?

My vision for the future of black Minnesotans is a vision of wealth creation, of parity in educational pursuits. The end of criminal injustice that is perpetrated on blacks in Minnesota. Increased homeownership, increased access to health care, increased access to safe and livable communities.

My vision for black Minnesota is to be on par with all of Minnesota.

Correction (Feb. 26, 2019): An earlier version of this story should have stated that Andrea Jenkins is the first openly transgender black woman elected to public office in the United States.