This past March, the United States learned that almost seven million Americans identified themselves as multiracial on their Census 2000 forms. Matt Kelley has been living as “multicultural” all of his life. Growing up in two small towns in Washington State, he had to become accustomed to curious stares. People sometimes made comments, and others just wondered. Matt is the son of a Korean mother and a Norwegian/Irish father, and as a child, he was confused and isolated from other children because of his heritage.
Today, people may not be as judgmental; however, this was the first time in the Census’ 210-year history that they gave the option of being multicultural available. We see prominent figures in sports, politics, and other professions that are products of mixed heritage families. Nearly 1 in 6 babies born in cities like Seattle, WA, Sacramento, CA and San Antonio, TX are multiracial. Though the numbers are growing, there is still a definite lack of awareness about multiracial people. It is also astonishing to know that biracial children are the fastest growing population entering the juvenile justice system.
As a 19-year-old freshmen in college, Matt decided to do something to help this undeserved segment. He almost single-handedly created MAVIN, which is the only magazine specifically focused on celebrating multiracial youth. Mavin is taken from the Hebrew-Aramaic word meaning “one who understands.” Matt is trying to make people acknowledge that everything is not just black or white, there are people who exist in the middle; and once people realize that, it is not so easy to pit one group against the other.
In 2000, he created the Mavin Foundation. This is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting awareness of multiracial young Americans. Since starting MAVIN, Matt has never been paid for the work he does. He has volunteered approximately 300 hours monthly to promote multiracial youth. Matt still has bills, and the magazine still has financial needs; so he has worked as a busboy, pre-school teacher, and an apartment manager.
In addition, Matt coordinated the 3rd Pan Collegiate Conference on the Mixed Race Experience in 1999. Hundreds of students came together to celebrate their diversity. Matt also volunteered to teach a full-credit course at Wesleyan University entitled, Racially Mixed in the U.S.A. Since MAVIN debuted, hundreds of newspaper, magazine, and television features spanning five continents have featured stories about Matt and MAVIN. Because of his innovative approach to race issues, Matt was named one of Seattle magazine’s “9 to Watch In The Next Century.” Teen People magazine named him a local hero, and Seattle’s TRIBES Project designated him as a “Race Scholar.” Matt has worked tirelessly to increase mainstream society’s awareness of multiracial young Americans.
In addition to MAVIN, Matt has donated thousands of volunteer hours to Child haven, a nonprofit Seattle organization that serves children who have had to suffer with abuse and neglect. Currently, he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Association of Multiethnic Americans and the Central District Forum of Arts and ideas, a Seattle-based nonprofit celebrating African American culture.