Kashawn McKinley Get Chance As Problem Solver In Atlantic City

By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media

ATLANTIC CITY — Kashawn McKinley, Atlantic City’s director of constituent services and special projects, said he learned his problem-solving skills from his late grandmother, and that he will make social equity the core of the city’s new cannabis industry.

He also said he intimately understands his importance as a role model as an African American male in the community.

A native of Atlantic City and Pleasantville, and the former collegiate basketball player, like his boss Mayor Marty Small, Sr., McKinley shared with Front Runner New Jersey his beliefs on serving the local residents and making sure the community benefits from the state’s growing cannabis business.

McKinley, best known by his nickname “Kash,” praised his grandmother, Pauline McKinley, in the interview, saying she is “where I get my hustle, ambition, gift of gab and the ability to be myself in every single room I walk into.”

“I believe that skill [to solve problems] was inherited. I watched my grandmother solve every problem when I was younger with just her will. It’s in my DNA.”

As Small’s director of constituent services, McKinley is in charge of engaging Atlantic City residents and coming up with answers to some of their most pressing problems.

“In a nutshell that’s exactly what I do, find traditional and creative ways to solve any problems that the residents, tourist and commuters have in Atlantic City,” McKinley said. “It doesn’t hurt that for the last two years I was the mayor’s confidential aide/assistant, so every room that he walked into, I was right alongside him. We had multiple meetings a day with owners, presidents, managers and high-level execs.

“I got an opportunity to see from the top down how problem solving is done in different arenas. Whether it was meeting with the governor on policy and procedure, casino executives on the industry, Boardwalk merchants on the upcoming season and etc., I always kept my mouth shut and my ears open. I wanted to get a thorough understanding on how high-level people in powerful positions handle their problems,” McKinley added.

McKinley is also the Small administration’s point person in the development of recreational cannabis, which has kicked into high gear around the state this year. He said the industry, though, must be a positive for the Black and Brown communities in the city and not adding an ill.

“[It will be about] social equity or nothing,” McKinley said those looking into starting cannabis businesses in Atlantic City and their engagement with the community. “My goals and plans are to make Atlantic City the ‘East Coast Hub’ for cannabis. My philosophy is simple, you can do good, and do good.

“I try to be extremely clear to cannabis companies who want to bring their operation to Atlantic City. We’ve experienced an industry where promises were made and the residents of Atlantic City are still waiting for promises to be fulfilled.

“I have an opportunity to do things the right way with the cannabis industry. We are encouraging and providing tools and resources for locals to have a stake in ownership. There’s still a lot of residents who do not see the potential of cannabis in Atlantic City, but I do. I have a vision and a plan and under the mayor’s administration, I’m executing,” he continued.

McKinley, who played high school basketball at Pleasantville and collegiately at Sussex County College, said while he and Small both love the game, their relationship to it has been more of a running joke between them than a bonding experience.

“He’s 10 years older than me so we never got a chance to actually see each other play in real time,” McKinley said. “His love for basketball and my love for basketball is still a running joke of ours. He thinks he would’ve killed me on the court because he’s 6-foot-6 and was a problem in the paint.

“I try to let him know I was a point guard with impeccable ball-handling skills. I would’ve run circles around him. For the record, we only played horse in his back yard and as fate would have it, I’m undefeated on his home court.”

McKinley shared more of his story with Front Runner New Jersey and his presence as one of the top African American administrators in Atlantic City government.

Kashawn McKinley attending Mayor Marty Small Sr. Inaugural Gala on Saturday, June 4 at Harrah’s Atlantic City.

FRNJ: Tell me about your family and where you are from. Whatever you’d like to share.

Kashawn McKinley: As long as I can remember my grandmother has always been the matriarch of my family, Pauline McKinley, rest her soul. I grew up watching my grandmother, mother and aunts work hard and create opportunities for my siblings, cousins and myself. The women in my family have always been the backbone to upholding the family structure. My family grew up in Atlantic City, the city I currently reside in. Atlantic City is the city who raised me, and where my roots are deeply rooted. My family moved seven miles away to Pleasantville, which some like to call Atlantic City’s rival, but I look at Pleasantville as the little cousin of Atlantic City. A large portion of families in Pleasantville are originally from Atlantic City. I spent my high school years in Pleasantville and a few years after high school. Pleasantville helped me hone my skills that I learned growing up in a fast-paced city like Atlantic City. Specifically, community engagement, public speaking, and leadership. Atlantic City planted the seeds, Pleasantville watered them. Traditional classroom learning never was my strong suit. I did a year at Sussex Community College and Atlantic Cape Community College. Realizing that who you know in some instances is far more valuable than what you know. I began my journey of creating a network to help shape my future.

FNNJ: What brought you back to the Atlantic City area in 2007? Then politics?

Kashawn McKinley: It was 2008 when I came back to Atlantic City. My lease was up on my apartment and I wanted to move back to Atlantic City. I grew up in Atlantic City, but never lived on my own in Atlantic City. But to be quite honest at that point in my life I was the “Life of the Party,” but the party was just in my one-bedroom apartment. I love Pleasantville, it nurtured and help me tap into a part of myself that Atlantic City would’ve never allowed me achieve. I think because some of the big Atlantic City life aspect kind of stunt some people’s ability to naturally be their god given self. But I knew in order for me to grow into the life of the party of Atlantic City, Atlantic County and ultimately New Jersey, I would have to go back to my hometown and start my campaign for operation “Take Over.” When I moved back to Atlantic City, and even before I moved to Atlantic City. I knew the single most important person to me being a community leader was Marty Small Sr. He was doing community engagement events, was able to freely go everywhere in Atlantic City, he was active in the school system, he was already a council member, and throwing the best night life events in Atlantic City had to offer. He was wearing many hats and wearing them well. I saw something in him that I could associate and eventually mirror in my own lane. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Marty was catching wind of a young man in the community who was making noise in the community and eventually took me under his wing to mentor and help hone my skills to be a future leader of the great city of Atlantic City. 

FRNJ:  I saw that your mother works two jobs and you were raised by her and your grandmother. How proud are they of you?

Kashawn McKinley: My mother grandmother Pauline McKinley passed away. God bless her soul. Even though she didn’t get a chance to see the maturation of Kashawn McKinley. I know she’s smiling down and didn’t have a doubt in her mind no matter what path I choose she would support and be the proudest grand mom in the world. Her wisdom and her outlook on life is how I walk my life’s path. Help all, pour into others, understand that you’re a king and don’t take no shit from no one. Finally, there’s nothing more important than family. My mother Paulette McKinley, most affectionately known as “Kay” to her family and friends. Till this day my mother has never told me no, for anything. She overly works in my opinion but let her tell it. She works the perfect amount of time to live life how she wants to live it. My mother is extremely proud of me. It’s so heartwarming to be able to have your mother proud of the life decision your making. It’s a testament to the job well done she’s done with raising me and the belief and values she’s instilled in me. I know this is cliché, but I have the best mom in the world. I would be remiss if I didn’t give a special shout out to my four aunts. Juanita Tutis, Karen McKinley, may God bless their souls. And to Christine Simmons, and Anita McKinley. I can’t just give my grand mom and mom all the love. It takes a village to raise a child, and my village did a perfect job.

FRNJ: FRNJ works to present role models to the community. How seriously do you take your role as a role model? Why?

Kashawn McKinley: I take my role as a role model extremely serious for a number of reasons. The first is because in some urban cities the image of a black man being a role model tends to go to guys who are in sports and entertainment. The typical role models are normally guys that some of the kids will never meet, never be in the same room with. I live in the neighborhood that I grew up in. It’s satisfying to be able to get up in the morning and walk two blocks to work and the kids walking to school see me in a suit going to City Hall to do the good work. In my neighborhood I’m looked at as the neighborhood hero because guys like me are normally allowed to be in rooms I’m in. Or able to make the decisions that I’m making. The best feeling is when you see a young boy or girl, and you see a younger version of yourself inside of them. That makes it all worthwhile that have a whole life to live and you can have a small part of shaping their bright future.

FRNJ: Who has and continues to inspire you (parents, teachers, etc.)?

Kashawn McKinley: The mayor of Atlantic City, Marty Small Sr. is my biggest inspiration in my career path, and how a black man in America is supposed to represent in 2022. I could write a book on how his actions and decisions are things real men are made of. There’s a host of men and women that help shaped me and I look up to. From teachers and coaches and elders in the community who always gave me jewels and insight on how to make it in America. The single most important and inspirational figures are my family members. Specifically, my older cousins. Toye Tutis, Jewel Tutis, Joey Tutis, Jermaine McKinley, Dawaine McKinley Ronnie McKinley, and My uncle Ronnie McKinley. I wouldn’t be the man I am if it wasn’t for my family.

FRNJ: Anything else you would like to add?

Kashawn McKinley: To all the Front Runner New Jersey readers Atlantic City is open for business. We are welcoming and I am the voice of Atlantic City. Tap in, come in, get comfortable because it’s ‘Go time!’ Follow me on Instagram @ChasinKash

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