The ideal candidate for a state deputy
It wasn’t long after Malcolm Kenyatta began messaging Matthew Jordan Miller on Instagram in April 2016, when Mr. Kenyatta began to wonder if the man he’d started dating had any bad news.
The social media profile of Dr. Miller was perfect. Likewise his hair. A friend of Mr Kenyatta was convinced there was trouble and told him, “Malcolm, he could be a murderer,” he recalled.
Mr. Kenyatta, 31, is a Pennsylvania State Assemblyman and Democratic nominee for the US Senate. dr Miller, 32, has a Ph.D. in Urban Planning from the University of Southern California, is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and Director of Justice and Affiliation at the university’s Stuart Weitzman School of Design.
The two linked on social media after Mr. Kenyatta, who was recently named a delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, landed on a list of LGBTQ leaders to watch. dr Miller, who goes by the name of Dr. Known to Matt, he was just finishing his PhD and was putting out what he called a “rather platonic” message.
“I said, ‘Hey, I think you’re doing great things,'” said Dr. Miller. “‘It would be great to meet you.'”
Mr. Kenyatta doubted that would happen for a number of reasons.
First, his commitments to his hometown of Philadelphia — where he served as co-chair of a political action committee and also served on the boards of the city’s Fairmount Park and the local chapter of the National Organization for Women — steadily undermined the possibility of a long-distance relationship.
And second, Mr. Kenyatta’s girlfriend Nikkita Thompson (the one who was skeptical about Dr. Miller’s Instagram account) scrapped the idea that the two would ever meet to save Mr. Kenyatta from repeating a romantic mistake of the past.
“I feel like catfish fishing was at an all-time high back then,” said Ms. Thompson. “Malcolm looked at him through the lens of social media where so much is fake.”
Mr. Kenyatta soon agreed that he should retire. “I went through a list in my head of reasons why it might never work,” he said. “I was afraid that if I talked to him and there was this great personality to match this beautiful person, I would catch feelings and there was nothing I could do about it.”
But within a week they called again.
“Why not throw a little caution to the wind?” Mr Kenyatta recalled the thinking. “If it doesn’t work, I can always block him.”
By May, they had taken their conversations to FaceTime. At first, Mr. Kenyatta said, “I was just really happy that he was a real person.” (Ms. Thompson was, too: “Dr. Matt said the right thing,” she conceded.) In the summer, Mr. Kenyatta got the feeling that something important was taking shape.
“Matt was creative and smart,” he said, with interests that span photography, film and culture. “In my mind I’ve always wanted to date someone artistically inclined where it was, I don’t know what you’re saying but it sounds wonderful.”
dr Born in Mountain View, California, Miller spent his childhood in several Northern California cities with his parents, Gerald and Debra Miller, and six siblings. In addition to a Ph.D. he holds a master’s degree in urban planning from MIT and a bachelor’s degree in urban studies from Stanford University.
dr Miller’s grandparents, Dorothy and Kenneth Martin, inspired his journey through the academic world. “My grandfather was a janitor at Stanford Hospital,” said Dr. Miller. “He said, ‘This place is for geniuses.’ That kindled a flame in me.” His grandmother’s heritage made him interested in urban planning. “She grew up in poverty in East Palo Alto and died young. From a young age, I wanted to find ways to address the issues she was facing.”
Mr. Kenyatta, a third-generation North Philly who still lives in the neighborhood (now with Dr. Miller), could relate. Kelly Kenyatta, a grandson of civil rights activist Muhammad Kenyatta who died in 1992, was a health worker and his father, also Malcolm Kenyatta, was a social worker. Mr. Kenyatta was their only biological child, but his parents adopted his three siblings before divorcing in 2000.
Shortly after the end of their marriage, Mr. Kenyatta, who was on the cusp of his youth and already familiar with the concept of public service, was introduced to it by his mother.
“We had just moved to a new block after my parents got divorced and I thought I hate it here,” he said. “It’s dirty. I remember coming home one day and in the kitchen really complaining about it. My mom lit a Newport cigarette on the stove. She said, ‘Boo, if it’s that important to you ‘why don’t you do something about it?’” At age 11, Mr. Kenyatta became a junior block captain with the task of keeping the streets clean.
He later enrolled at Temple University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 2012. The year before, Mr. Kenyatta’s father died of a brain hemorrhage after suffering an epileptic seizure while waiting for a bus in Philadelphia. His mother died in 2017 from a stroke caused by diabetes.
A year after the death of his mother, Mr. Kenyatta was elected to his current office, representing a district that includes his hometown of North Philadelphia; He later earned a master’s degree in public communications from Drexel University.
Mr. Kenyatta and Dr. Miller originally planned to meet in person in November 2016 when Mr. Kenyatta was due to travel to Los Angeles. But dr Miller eventually told him to cancel because at the time he was defending his dissertation proposal. “I just didn’t know if I could be there for him in this condition,” said Dr. Miller.
As compensation, Dr. Miller moved to Philadelphia a few months later, and the two finally faced each other on February 4, 2017.
as dr Miller arrived, Mr. Kenyatta was in love when he saw him at baggage claim. “I felt like I had known him for a long time,” said Mr. Kenyatta. Before they spoke, they kissed. “That was the moment I fell in love with him,” he said.
dr Miller, who had never been to Philadelphia, was knocked off his feet when he returned to LA. Being with Mr. Kenyatta was “like food for the soul, not candy,” said Dr. Miller, who joined Mr. Kenyatta in 2018 after winning the state MP primary, was soon providing support in the trenches and receiving a crash course in the city and its politics.
“I was in the back, was his timekeeper and made sure he ate,” said Dr. Miller, who is now a member of the Philadelphia Art Commission.
The following year, with the stress of the campaign behind him, Mr. Kenyatta began considering applying. “I knew I wanted to do this for the long haul,” he said. dr Miller felt the same way. “In our moments of struggle we had taken care of each other and healed each other. I’ve never had anything like it,” he says.
They became engaged on July 4, 2020 while strolling through the gardens of the Shofuso Japanese Cultural Center in Philadelphia, an already emotional day for Mr. Kenyatta as the holiday marks the anniversary of his mother’s death. “But I’m just asking, how can you find something positive in something that should be negative?” he said.
dr Miller’s acceptance of the ring, which Mr. Kenyatta had designed with a friend and local jeweler, Henri David, became the antidote to his Independence Day grief.
On February 5th, Mr. Kenyatta and Dr. Miller at the Met Philadelphia, a concert hall in the district Mr. Kenyatta represents. Rose petals and candles lay scattered on his stage in front of 10 chairs occupied by friends of the couple, all of whom were vaccinated. Covid and another hectic campaign season, they said, ruled out something much bigger. But they plan to host a bigger reception in 2023.
Before Rev. Leslie Callahan, a pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church, declared the two married, several guests stood up to speak. Although no family was present, Fatima Kenyatta, Mr Kenyatta’s sister, wrote a blessing which Ms Thompson read aloud. “You know Mom is here, smiling and screaming and screaming how proud she is,” Ms. Thompson said as Mr. Kenyatta fought back tears.
In handwritten vows, Mr. Kenyatta, wearing a midnight blue jacket and dark trousers, named Dr. Miller’s greatest gift. “I promise to hold you up and hold you down,” he said.
dr Miller, dressed in a white suit jacket and dark slacks, promised to remind Mr. Kenyatta of his true north, North Philadelphia. “I vow to be not just your mirror, but your prism that reflects your light in new colors,” he said.
On that day
When February 5, 2022
Where from The Met Philadelphia
swept up Mr. Kenyatta and Dr. Miller jumped the broomstick into married life after kissing on stage to mark the official beginning of their marriage. A first attempt did not go as planned; dr Miller accidentally kicked the broom. The second attempt was the charm.
Local and reserved After the ceremony, of course, the couple kept it local. A photo session outside the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia was followed by drinks with guests at Bob & Barbara’s Lounge, a nearby bar.
high praise After their marriage, Mr. Kenyatta and Dr. Miller via snail mail Congratulations from the President. “Your marriage and your love story means so much to so many — in Philadelphia and across our country,” read a letter on White House stationery, signed simply “Joe.” A separate letter of congratulations came from Hillary Clinton.