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36 Intriguing Delawareans • Keith James

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Youth advocate Keith James’ 2016 plan to run for mayor of Wilmington was stopped by a law that says he’s too young, so the 22-year-old is moving to change the law and one for city council members. It’s not the first time he campaigned for change. In 2014, he founded Voices for the Voiceless, a group to speak for the downtrodden and against violence, crime and drug problems ravaging the city.

James knows that hellhole firsthand. He was 14 when he started dealing drugs, as a way to cope with shaky family finances in a household headed by a single mother. “I knew money was the issue, and I had a way to make my own cash before being old enough to legally work,” he writes in his self-published memoir, “Open Minded: From Dope to the White House, That’s Impossible! Isn’t It?” He was 15 when he became addicted to Xanax, 16 for heroin. 

After working with a mentor—and witnessing a friend successfully battle cancer—James quit drugs cold turkey on Feb. 16, 2013. He’s been clean since. 

To prepare for his mayoral 2020 campaign (and 2032 run for the presidency), he’s researching “best practices from around the world” that could help Wilmington “stop violence, create jobs and focus on education” and gaining political experience with a six-month stint that started this summer with the Liberian Congressional campaign of Henry Costa and the presidential campaign of Benoni Urey, Costa’s uncle and the country’s richest man. “Young people should not only be at the table but leading the conversation,” he says.   

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