21-Year-Old Student Runs for Mayor of Newark


Kasai Guthrie

Kasai Guthrie, 21, is a University of Delaware student running for mayor of Newark. He decided to run after he was faced with discrimination by the Newark police.

By Stella W. '19, Padua Academy

Kasai Guthrie grew up on government assistance and food stamps. He watched his mother work tirelessly to send all of her children to private school, and has experienced racial discrimination in Delaware firsthand. Today, at 21, he is running for mayor of Newark.

“What made me actually think about running was digging deeper into, you know, the problems in Newark,” he said. “After digging more into issues facing the students in Newark, that’s when I decided to run.”

Specifically, it was a party Guthrie held that sparked his mayoral candidacy. After the Newark police arrested him for throwing a party on his personal property, he was put in a jail cell overnight. He spoke to students and residents and came to the conclusion that this treatment was typical, especially if you’re not white. Guthrie is African American.

“I witnessed how police handle parties and engagements with individuals representing other races. The experiences I personally had with the Newark police were definitely drastically different,” said Guthrie. “Once I figured out it was more problems in Newark, I wanted to tackle those.”

Guthrie believes there is a gap between the students and the residents of Newark, and aims to address this disparity as mayor.

“A lot of the residents and older senior citizens living in Newark don’t like the university’s growth,” he said. “It should be a loving relationship. The residents should be proud of the university, not look down on it, because the university is doing some great things.”

Despite the University of Delaware having been named the number-one party school in the nation by the Princeton Review in 2018, Guthrie believes that the university has more to offer to Newark’s residents.

“Although we were ranked number-one party school, we were ranked top ten for other departments like education and innovation,” he said. “The university just purchased a 270 acre plot of land called STAR campus. They’re bringing a lot of science, technology, innovation companies to their campus. In a few years I really believe Newark will be the hub for technology and innovation.”

Guthrie hopes to develop programs to assist all of Newark’s demographics.

“Right now the current mayor [Polly Sierer] only helps her demographic, which is fine, but I feel as though she should be using her funds to basically provide services that help all demographics, meaning low income, senior citizens, and it’ll help working class residents as well,” he said. “I basically want to provide services and many other things that are going to help all demographics of people.”

I basically want to provide services and many other things that are going to help all demographics of people.”

— Kasai Guthrie

In addition to bridging this gap, Guthrie also hopes to tackle housing and parking problems, as well as addressing the issue of race in public schools.

“There is a big racial divide in Newark,” he said, citing that several years ago the University of Delaware was faulted for a lack of diversity. “That’s clearly mandated, to start accepting a more diverse crowd of students.”

Attending both public and private schools growing up, Guthrie feels he saw the racial and economic divide firsthand.

“A lot of people came from well-off families [at Salesianum School], then a lot of people at Glasgow High School came from single-parent households,” he said. “The teachers wanted to teach at Sallies and then the teachers at Glasgow just wanted to send students through, to just get to graduation. Everybody is looking forward to going to college at Sallies, then at Glasgow everybody doesn’t even know if they can’t even afford going to college.”

As mayor, he hopes to show students in public schools that they can move forward even with a system that is not in their favor.

“I was just graduating high school three years ago, and if you told me that I was going to be running for mayor, I would look at you like you were crazy,” said Guthrie. “The role that I could play is being a motivation to students of color, but also to students that want to find their purpose and want to reach a level of success that they don’t think is attainable. It definitely is attainable through hard work and consistency.”

Guthrie also intends to focus on mental health in schools.

“Mental health plays a big role in the some of the downfalls of students today because it’s not widely talked about and it should be,” he said. “A lot of students commit suicide at this university, and that isn’t really talked about.”

At only 21, Guthrie recognizes that facing accusations of inexperience will be difficult in his campaign. But he is confident that he has the experience he needs to succeed.

“The one skill set that I have and that is very needed and can never be taught is caring for others enough to find common ground and ultimately solutions,” he said. “I respond to problems with solutions, especially when the problem is affecting a large group of people.”

The one skill set that I have and that is very needed and can never be taught is caring for others enough to find common ground and ultimately solutions.”

— Kasai Guthrie

Guthrie is no stranger to hard work. As well as being an entrepreneurship major at the University of Delaware, he currently runs two companies. He founded We Need Our Fathers at age 15, an organization that helps reconcile the relationships between fathers and their children.

“Starting that organization helped me to travel around the world and talk to father groups and organizations,” he said. “I’m actually releasing an online course that is going to help children with absent fathers, you know, grow up, and it’s going to teach children grow up with absent fathers to get over that hurdle that they were faced with.”

His second company, Neggster, aims to teach financial literacy.

“I grew up in a single-parent household, and a lot of people in that demographic aren’t really literate financially,” Guthrie said. “So I wanted to briefly teach my peers and also my demographic of people to be more financially literate.”

Born and raised in Newark, Guthrie believes that the city has potential for growth and success that he will be able to harness as mayor.

“What I love so much about Newark is the community spirit that it boosts. It’s young spirited, when you go down Main Street it’s so full of energy,” he said. “I’ve been here my whole life and I see the growth in Newark, and I also see what Newark is going to be in five to ten years.”

Guthrie’s next step is to begin canvassing and raising awareness for his campaign.

“It sounds simple but it’s just tedious, knocking door to door, spreading my message, meeting with a lot of people from Newark and business owners from Newark, which is bridging that gap, doing all that hard work to get that mission completed,” he said.

All tedium aside, Guthrie’s ultimate goal is to foster a community of understanding and support.

“I’m really excited to just show and motivate kids just like me who dream big and want to get things done but think that their age is too young to do things,” he said. “In reality, you know, you could be 21 years old and run for mayor. I just want to motivate young kids in Delaware and across the nation, you can dream big and you can actually accomplish things.”

This story was originally published on Padua 360 on January 14, 2019.