Huldah Momanyi-Hiltsley says she wants to be the next lawmaker to represent District 40 in the Minnesota State Senate. If she’s successful, the Kenyan American would be the first Black woman to ever be elected in the 67-member upper house of the state legislature.
“What has lacked over the years [in District 40] has been the representation in leadership, from the school board all the way to the House of Representatives, and the Senate in terms of what that demographic looks like,” she says.
Momanyi-Hiltsley, who is currently the president of Mwanyagetinge, an organization of Kenyans in Minnesota, has lived in Brooklyn Center for more than twenty years. She says that the city’s representatives need to resemble their constituents. She considers fair representation as a key to solving the district’s issues.
She decided to run for the seat after Sen. Chris A. Eaton, who has represented District 40 since 2011, announced that she will not seek reelection in 2022.
Members of the Minnesota Senate are eligible to serve four-year terms if elected in years ending with a two or a six, and two-year terms if elected in years ending with a zero.
Located just north of Minneapolis, District 40 is home to the most culturally diverse population in the state. About 60 percent of the district’s residents are persons of color, according to the 2020 U.S. census data. Currently, the district includes the city of Brooklyn Center and part of Brooklyn Park in Hennepin County, though the final boundaries won’t be known until redistricting is completed.
U.S. law mandates that every ten years, boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts must be redrawn to ensure representation in legislatures reflects census data. Momanyi-Hiltsley says the redrawing of district boundaries has always reflected the changing demographics of Minnesota.
“What I want to see is fairness across the board,” she says. “I’m hoping that once that’s set and done we can look at it and say redistricting was done fairly and that every voice was counted in terms of what the demographics looks like.”
But Momanyi-Hiltsley says she’s not running merely to make history as the first Black woman in the state senate. She has a plan. She wants to address public safety, affordable housing, small business and education support, as well as immigration reform. Of the issues listed, she considers public safety to be the most critical.
“I’m looking forward to finding sustainable solutions that create an environment where everybody thrives,” she says.
Early last year, District 40 was thrust into the national media as reports of the killing of Daunte Wright surfaced from Brooklyn Center. Wright, an unarmed 20-year-old Black man was shot and killed by police officer Kim Potter during a traffic stop on April 11.
On December 23, a mostly white jury after deliberating for about 27 hours over four days found the former Brooklyn Center Officer guilty of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter.
“All the residents no matter your background no matter your race no matter what community of color or any community you come from, you as a resident of District 40 [should] feel safe,” she says.
Momanyi-Hiltsley says she wants to build trust between the residents and law enforcement. While some activists and legislators have called for total disbandment and defunding of the police, she says does not support legislation that would dismantle law enforcement but would rather explore ways in which the police and citizens are able to have greater trust for each other.
If elected, she says she will take a collaborative approach in addressing the district’s issues and needs with regards to safety.
“I think that the more we collaborate, the more that we talk about what we want this community to look like the more we will create an environment where all of us thrive,” she said.
Chelsea Youngquist, a local activist and resident of District 40, says the inequality in the distribution of resources in the district has kept parts of the city flourishing, while others have been deteriorating.
“We need change in our district,” Youngquist says. “I think that a lot of our constituents’ needs aren’t being met by the current folks in office.”
Youngquist says Momanyi-Hiltsley is the right person to represent the district in St. Paul. She says she so strongly believes in Momanyi-Hiltsley that she has volunteered for the campaign.
“One meeting with Huldah and you’re a fan because her intelligence and her commitment to her community is very obvious and contagious,” Youngquist says. “She will ensure that more voices are being heard. That’s why I like her.”
Human resources specialist and long-term friend of Momanyi-Hiltsley, Mary Ngunu, has witnessed the candidate take on community leadership roles in times of uncertainty. During the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Momanyi-Hiltsley banded with other community members to create a task force to ensure that members of the community had access to the essential resources they needed during the long lockdown. She even led a search for Keegan Oyugi, a young Kenyan American who went missing last summer and was later found dead weeks after a single-vehicle car crash.
“I’d like to see someone who puts actions behind words,” Ngunu said. “It would be great to see someone who stands behind the public and that is Huldah.”
After living in District 40 for over two decades Momanyi-Hiltsley says she considers the area’s diversity as its greatest strength. It is the main reason she and her family enjoy living there, she says.
“The demographics have changed drastically over the years, which is a good thing,” she says.