| JM Rayburn
I FIRST MET Shannon Hardin at a Forge Columbus social event last summer. His knowledge of urban issues and neighborhood development made quite an impression on me. Little did I know that Shannon Hardin was on track to be appointed to Columbus City Council this past October. His appointment is well deserved after helping launch and lead numerous programs and initiatives that have improved our city’s quality of life and provided important services to residents.
As external affairs manager for the office of Mayor Michael B. Coleman, Councilmember Hardin led the development of the Columbus Volunteer Challenge, a partnership with the United Way of Central Ohio through which Columbus residents, businesses, non-profits, schools, universities, faith organizations, and other community groups come together in service to help build a community that is more inspired, proud, and engaged.
Councilmember Hardin served as the mayor’s LGBT liaison, providing a strong voice for the community in city government and working with Columbus City Council to ensure that the city earned a score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index. Hardin also managed the Mayor’s Religious Advisory Commission, which hosts a biannual faith meeting and annual prayer service.
I recently sat down with Councilmember Hardin to learn about his new role and his plans to make Columbus a stronger city through his public service.
Photos | Ray LaVoie
My mom has been a huge role model as well. She was in public service as an assistant to the mayor. She started in Columbus City Council a few months before I was born. I literally grew up in City Hall. She was able to show me that you can be kind and still get things done. Her work ethic was impressive as someone who balanced work life with motherhood. There is truth in the expression it takes a village to raise a child. I come from a very big family that so happens to be a close knit one. My grandmother and others helped my mother along the way. It wasn’t always evident that we were lower middle class and struggling at times. She clearly showed me how to do what you have to do with love and grace.
I hope my superpower is the ability to connect with people and to be empathetic. People come from all sorts of different backgrounds and experiences. We all have our faults and come from different situations. Even though I grew up around politicians, I don’t feel like a politician. When I talk about issues that are important to me, they aren’t political. They are personal.
I also thought it was important to bring a younger perspective to Columbus City Council. My hope is that I can bring a certain perspective being an openly gay African American male. Furthermore, my roots are in the South Side of Columbus, a neighborhood that has historically been disadvantaged and disenfranchised from the overall success of the city. I wanted to make sure that folks from the South Side have a voice and are represented well. I want them to feel welcomed to join into the success of the city. It will be a big smack in the face if we leave behind entire groups of people. We see that in our schools and there is work to be done. It only takes a 10-minute drive in any direction from Downtown to see that our success as a city is not being shared. I believe we can do better and we must.
Youth and youth safety programs are other areas to target public investment. When I was in the mayor’s office, I created the A.P.P.S. program, which is an acronym for Applications for Purpose, Pride, and Success. This program focuses on crime prevention and intervention. On the prevention side, we opened our city rec centers to provide a safe space as well as provide educational opportunities to further personal growth. On the intervention side, we focus on leaders of rift raft because they are still leaders. We hired intervention workers from neighborhoods. Some of these intervention workers served time and are reformed members of our community. We purposely chose these kinds of people because they can talk to troubled youth in a more authentic way than we can. Even though I come from the South Side, I wear a suit and a tie. I probably could relate, but the perception is I cannot. The intervention workers are street level social workers that help find those barriers to success. A lot of the leaders from the streets have deficiencies in education. We address this by providing GED classes and workforce development. We want them to enter into a career field that pays well. A lot of the folks out in our neighborhoods selling drugs and engaging in criminal activity lack role models and have lost faith in school because they don’t realize the return on investment.
We must work with at-risk youth because they have certain aspects of entrepreneurial skills and they know how to pull folks together behind them. So the challenge is to help them change course and use their skills for good. We need to show them there are other opportunities. That’s why I have decided to stay in my neighborhood. At-risk youth need to see that there is another way out. The reason why so many at-risk folks the in hood want to be basketball players, or football players, or drug dealers is because that’s what many people who look like them and with similar roots do. They don’t believe there is any other way.
On a personal level, I am in an interesting position of being from both the African American and LGBT communities. It’s been a learning opportunity over the past several months where I’ve begun to talk more openly about my sexuality than I have in the past. It’s not been out of shame, but I didn’t want that to be the center of conversation. What I am realizing, is how important it is that I acknowledge who I am and talk about it. When I look at who is still contracting HIV at high rates, it’s young African Americans in the LGBT community. I want to do something about it. I come from the church. I was grown and raised in the African American church. We all have our challenges and our stories about coming out and living in our authentic selves. In the Black community, it is not that easy because of the role of the church. The questions that we still have around our sexuality are still very present in how we are accepted. It’s been tough to be involved in the church and be openly LGBT. Hopefully, I can be an example for all folks in Columbus—straight, gay, black, white. The intersection between the black church and my sexuality is something I am still dealing with. But I do know one thing for certain: The love that Jesus Christ has for us and the love a same-sex couple have for each other is the same love. It’s rooted in the same place. These are tough conversations we need to have. We have to give it its time and space. It’s a generational story as well. My hope is that my role as an African American LGBT councilmember will be a meaningful contribution to the movement.