At 19-years-old, Kalan Haywood is already making history in politics.
The Milwaukee teen is running to represent Wisconsin’s 16th Assembly District. And if the Cardinal Stritch University student is elected, he’ll be the youngest lawmaker in the state.
Haywood won the August primary, defeating five Democrats in a race with no Republican challenger. He’s pretty much secured the seat unless there’s a successful write-in candidate.
Although Haywood is still in his teens, he’s spent much of his life dedicated to creating change for his Milwaukee community and sharpening his political skills. He volunteered on his first political campaign at 13-years-old. At 15, he was elected to the Milwaukee Youth Council, serving as president for two years.
YR Media’s Nayo Campbell spoke with Haywood about his historic race and what he hopes to accomplish if elected .
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length
Nayo Campbell: When did you first fall in love with politics?
Kalan Haywood: When I was eight years old. In 2009, I met (Milwaukee) Mayor Tom Barrett. I listened to him talk about his job and his vision for the city of Milwaukee. It was in that moment that I said I want to do what he does.
After that initial introduction with the mayor, I went on the Internet and learned about him as well as politics in general. But it really wasn’t until I was in middle school that I learned about the Milwaukee Youth Council, a 15-member body who represents young people in their district. We dealt with the city budget and legislation regarding youth issues.
In addition to the Milwaukee Youth Council, what other activities did you participate in to gain experience?
I volunteered on my first campaign when I was 13 for State Representative David Bowen. That was my first experience on a campaign and being really involved. I was just as nervous knocking on doors at 13 as I am at 19. So I worked on his campaign until he won, and then I interned inside his office in Madison, WI.
After that, I worked as an intern for Alderwoman Coggs for a summer and helped her organize the Bronzeville Week, which is a really big week here in Milwaukee and is an event that celebrates African American culture. From there I was also able to work with Senator Lena Taylor. So I was able to work both at the state and also city levels to get a feel for different aspects of politics.
What made you decide to run at the age of 19 and in this election?
When I was in high school I was debating whether I was going to run for a city, country, or state seat. But when I looked at my ties to my district, I realized I was educated and raised in the 16th district, my church is in the 16th district and I’ve done community work within the district. When I was looking at the current landscape from a young person’s perspective, I realized the district needed that perspective to shake things up. I knew there was no better time to run and that I should just go ahead and take it.
What are the top issues facing young people in Wisconsin’s 16th district?
So the 16th district is extremely unique. We have some of the wealthiest people in Milwaukee, but also some of the poorest people. Whether you’re a young person, middle age or elderly, we all have the same top concerns. One is education. We have to make sure young people are getting a good quality education, whether it’s K-12, going to college or a trade school. Another one is employment, and that includes young people. We have to make sure we have life-sustaining jobs so we can build wealth.
Across the country, there is a cycle of poverty that has trapped people for many generations, and they can’t seem to break that cycle because of not getting properly educated and not getting good jobs. So I want to make sure that there is proper education so that can create more good jobs and build wealth. So with education, getting people employed—that breaks the cycle of poverty, but it also leads to us having safer streets.
Do you feel like your age helps or hurts you in regards to getting others to support you?
I would say because of my many years serving in the city, many people knew I was going to run and told me to do it. But when I decided to run, people would say maybe you should wait or you are too young.
So at the start of the campaign, a lot of people doubted me. But now we’re at a point where I’ve changed their minds, and they see that I’m going to make things happen. People are excited to see that I have the energy. They see the possibility that I will be able to go get things done because I have the time to do it.
How do you balance still being a young person and having a social life?
I’m still young, so of course, I want a social life. But it has always been about prioritizing. Over the last few years, I’ve had to sacrifice—not going to a party to get work done. Hopefully, in 2020 I can get some help and get more people to run. But right now it’s all about prioritizing in order to make a change.