Political strategist and self-proclaimed “thought leader” Kenya Parham has made it her life’s work to advocate for civic engagement and social activism through her unique perspective as a millennial. The Orange County, California, native currently serves as the West Coast ambassador for the nonpartisan organization “Vote it Loud,” a platform used to mobilize, educate and empower people of color to exercise their right to vote.
Tonight, her organization is proudly hosting the prestigious inaugural Multicultural Media Correspondents Dinner at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The black-tie affair will highlight the diverse leaders in the media industry, including: host, actor-comedian, writer and producer Chris Spencer; honorees Richard Lui, journalist and anchor for MSNBC and NBC; Blanquita Cullum, host of “The Hard Question”; Todd Brown, CEO of The Grio; Cenk Uygur, host and co-founder of The Young Turks; journalist Patricia Guadalupe; Victor Shiblie, publisher of The Washington Diplomat; Kim Keenan, CEO of the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council; and Armstrong Williams, founder and CEO of Howard Stirk Holdings. The lifetime achievement award recipient is the Hon. Charles B. Rangel, U.S. House of Representatives.
Parham spoke to rolling out recently to share her thoughts on the importance of voting, activism on social media, and her personal testimony of why she champions Vote it Loud.
Why is voting important?
The electoral process is valuable, not just in allowing your voice to be heard, but for the powers that be to understand that you are a contingent voting block that can be counted on. There is a reciprocal exchange that happens particularly for people of color. It is extremely vital that we speak up and have our voices heard. It is also important that we do so in an organized fashion and that we organize around the ideas and issues that affect us and the people who look like us. We should be not be bombed down by partisan politics in the process.
How do you politically engage for social change?
I think myself personally and Vote it Loud are two different types of engagement. “Vote it Loud” is a nonprofit and a nonpartisan organization. We deal mostly with advocacy and making sure that there is an intentional multicultural inclusion across all sectors. We talk about the multicultural presence in media. Vote it Loud also makes sure that people of color not only have a presence in a representative form, but also that their voices are amplified and heard clearly.
What are three reasons to be socially engaged for change?
One, because we do have the power and we really do push the needle, so to sit out when you’ve got it is a missed opportunity and it’s also a disservice to the countless folks who’ve fought and gave their lives to make sure that we could be where we are now. Secondly, I think that with how America as a nation was founded we are always in the process of becoming better. Being involved with social change and the electoral process is a live laboratory happening in real time. It is exciting to know that this process is valuable and that we can affect change and shape the kind of world that we desire to live in.
How do you use technology to share politically and socially?
I love talking about this. I think the admin of social media has totally changed the game and not only in electoral politics, but also in organizing. What is so beautiful particularly for people of color is that it allows us to control our narrative for the first time ever. We are controlling meeting each other exactly where we are. It kind of levels the playing field. With everybody being able to participate on a platform like social media it gives us the opportunity to be cosigners, amplifiers, endorsers and raise the conscious level for folks to look at the world through a different lens. What are we endorsing with our double taps and our likes? What are we spending our time talking about when scrolling through our news feeds? I think that manifestation is tangibly really powerful for folks. The same principle someone uses to curate their timeline is the same principle I can use to curate my community.
How important is activism?
Activism is everything. Every time I take a breathe I am being an activist and I learned that from my parents. I am a Black woman and I was raised in Orange County, California. My presence in some situations was activism. My parents both work in higher education and their presence at some of these ivy towers was activism. I think we have to understand how political we are as beings and particularly for people of color what that looks like. There are some universal truths with people of color with how we are perceived although we do have differences of opinion.
What do you see as the three most important social issues facing the Black community?
I think that we are in a very interesting place. I really do think that we are experiencing a renaissance now with the Black community. If we can open our eyes and be keen to understanding what the environment is around us. I think how things have manifested with the Obama tenure you have to walk away from that feeling affirmed and encouraged. We have much more to do but now we know what we can do as long as we are organized and very clear with our objective. I think that we’ve got to honest about some very serious issues. I think that making sure our youth are educated and matriculated though primary and secondary education is extremely important. Education is still vitally important. We need to be very real about what is happening with the middle class. We need to repair some institutions as a people to make sure that we don’t lose that stronghold.
What does Vote it Loud mean to you?
We actually have a campaign called “Vote it Loud” and one of the things that I talk about is that I vote it loud because I believe that civic engagement is awesome and it’s empowering to be able to effect change. It’s a tool to be able to affect change and the minute that the light bulb went off for me it changed my life. It changed the way that I interact with my peers and colleagues. I have seen that light bulb go off with thousands that I have worked with in policies. We really can affect change. I also vote it loud out of reverence and respect for the people in my life who are still around who gave everything so that I can stand on their shoulders with their arms out stretched and being in the places where I am. We have so much work to do and I want to build on the work that was done before.