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From Homelessness to Political Candidacy

Keena Minifield

Keena Minifield ’20, who is pursuing a Master of Public Policy and Administration degree at York College of Pennsylvania, has a passion for affordable housing and voter education. That drive served as the catalyst for her November 2023 candidacy to become a York County commissioner.

As a single mom, Keena Minifield was living in public housing in York, trying to get back on her feet after overcoming homelessness. She wanted to continue her education after receiving her associate degree in social science in 2018 from Harrisburg Area Community College while homeless and sought a school that would keep her near her children, one that offered a bachelor’s degree in Political Science.

York College of Pennsylvania was the perfect fit.

“I had a great experience,” she says of attending the College. “It was helpful that there were also other nontraditional students in my classes. I felt like I blended in.”

Minifield felt welcomed and supported throughout her undergraduate experience. Her son and daughter were ages 9 and 10. After school, she and her children would sit at the dining room table doing their homework together.

From student to political candidate

Minifield earned her bachelor’s degree in Political Science in 2020 and wanted to put it to work. She knew she wanted to advocate and educate policymakers about the issues going on in their communities but did not know quite how.

Through a chance email in Spring 2019 from Professor of Political Science Dr. John Altman—who shared an opportunity from Chatham University’s Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics about their in-house political training for women called New Leadership PA program—she stepped into the world of politics. She attended their Ready to Run Pennsylvania training in Philadelphia this past January.

The spark to run for public office had been lit. She began pursuing her Master of Public Policy and Administration degree at York College during the Spring 2023 semester while researching a possible run for York County commissioner. She always was interested in who makes the rules in local government and why things operate the way they do.

“I just felt with everything I’ve been through and my advocacy for affordable housing and voter education, and also with everything that’s going on in local government, it inspired me to run,” she says. “I have a different point of view on things, having experienced homelessness and poverty.”

Minifield focused her campaign on affordable housing and government transparency, two critical issues she intends to address if elected.

“As someone who has used services and nonprofits around the county and someone who has gotten out of poverty, I could encourage others to do the same,” she says.

Prepared for the campaign trail

Minifield expects to earn her master’s degree in 2025, but she already has gleaned invaluable knowledge and experience through her graduate classes. Each course has helped her understand the inner workings of public policy, decision-making, and effective communication. One of her first-semester professors is Felicia Dell, the Director of the York County Planning Commission. Dell’s class, History and Theory of Urban Planning, provided important insights into York County as Minifield planned and executed her campaign.

Despite an unsuccessful candidacy, Minifield will continue to advocate for her York community. She acknowledges the challenges of running for office as a first-time candidate but encourages others to get involved in the political arena.

“I’m a big advocate for people, so I think I’ll still be involved in some way because I have a background in advocacy,” Minifield says. “I’m very interested in lobbying for good causes like affordable housing and fair treatment of others.”

Minifield hopes that her journey from being a homeless, single mom to earning her associate degree, to graduating from York College with a degree in Political Science, to becoming a graduate student, and aspiring to be a county commissioner will inspire others who face adversity and want to make a difference in their community.

She encourages every resident to stay abreast of what’s happening locally.  

“For somebody who is in the situation that I’ve been in, know that you can do it. There is a lot of support for you in the county and at York College,” she says. “Stay informed about what’s going on in your local communities. Voter education is a huge thing that everybody should take advantage of. Continue to vote and be informed and try to get involved in any way you can.”