Name: Shannon G. Hardin
Profession: Columbus City Council Member
One Word That Describes You: Empathetic
What does being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction mean to you?
It’s truly an honor to be recognized for public service and representing my community. As a council member, my job is to serve the people of Columbus. Columbus is the 14th largest city in the country and is projected to grow by more than 500,000 over the next 30 years. Despite low unemployment, many in our city are still struggling. It’s important that those individuals know that I, along with my colleagues, are here for them and that we understand their experience. My family and my neighborhood on the far south side faced many of the same barriers facing people of color across our city. With that experience informing my work, I try every day to make sure residents have safe neighborhoods and good paying jobs. I’m excited for the privilege to showcase black representation and public service.
What are you doing as a BEMM to help support black male achievement now or in the future?
In 2014 President Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper, calling on cities, nonprofits, and the private sector to bridge opportunity gaps for boys and young men of color. Hearing this call, former Mayor Michael B. Coleman and I organized summits on all sides of the city to hear directly from Columbus youth about the barriers they face. The stories I heard during those summits mirrored much of my own experience: boys spoke of their need for mentors, safe neighborhoods, and salable skills. The Columbus MBK initiative is a collaborative effort that, based on feedback from boys and young men of color in Columbus, aims to improve the lives of young men of color and track our collective progress through metrics and goal setting. No single program will be able to solve these systemic issues; it will take committed collaboration to move the needle. With Mayor Andrew Ginther supporting this work, I look forward to getting results for our young men.
What are some examples of how you turned struggle into success?
As an openly gay young black man, I was very concerned about going up for Columbus City Council. Each of my identifiers was, at least in my mind, an impediment to elected office. I remember having a conversation with former Mayor Coleman. “I can’t run … I’m gay, I’m black, and I’m young!” I said. He told me that those were the very reasons why I needed to run, to give voice to our diverse and growing community. My first year in office, some folks told me to hide that part of myself, particularly around churchgoers, but that would have meant living outside my authentic truth. I’ve made sure to show my community what a gay black man looks like. I’ve tried to close the gap between LGBTQ issues and the black community. It’s our young black people who are still acquiring HIV and AIDS and facing homelessness at rates far exceeding the rest of the community. We as a community have to stand up for our young people. Regardless of what victories we’ve achieved, there is still work to do. Even considering the barriers ahead, I believe that Columbus is headed toward a more inclusive future.
What is your Extraordinary Impact?
I got my start in constituent services. I used to work in what was then called The Mayor’s Action Center. I spent my days answering the phones and doing my best to solve constituents’ problems. It was an amazing feeling to make people’s day better just by being responsive. For example, if the garbage truck missed someone’s house, we’d get it to circle back and pick up their trash. In the grand scheme of things, these wins can seem small, but it changed that person’s whole day. And you could hear the difference in their voice. While as a council member I have to think big picture, I still try to handle a couple constituent concerns each day.
What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others?
The most important quality I look for is compassion. It can be difficult to put yourself in the shoes of someone with a different experience or perspective. I have amazing respect for those folks who are able to show true compassion and empathy for others. It’s foundational to how we interact with others and how we stand up to fight for our brothers and sisters.
What are some immediate projects you are working on?
Last year I helped start the Barbershop Books program in Columbus. Partnering with Councilmember Elizabeth Brown and Columbus City Schools, we put books and reading stations in 10 barber shops around Columbus. It’s a simple way to get more kids reading in a safe environment. Based on the strong results we’ve seen, we’re hoping to expand the program to 20 more shops. I chair the Small and Minority Business Development Committee on Council. Last year, Mayor Ginther and I created the city’s first ever Office of Diversity and Inclusion. ODI is tasked with ensuring both workforce and supplier diversity. One ongoing project within ODI is the disparity study, which compares our current disadvantaged business utilization rate to what’s available in the community. The disparity study will ultimately result in a more fair bidding process for businesses owned by women and people of color.
What is the best advice you ever received?
My father once told me, “Never be something so much that people stop asking your opinion.” This has been a guiding ethos for my time in public office. I look to evaluate each proposal, each piece of legislation, and each community conversation with fresh eyes and an open mind.
What is some advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?
Be courageous. The issues that face our community can be daunting. There are rarely simple solutions to problems such as low or under employment, community safety, and social justice. This means that as men in our community, we have to have the courage to say what we believe and do what is called for to move the community forward. This means having the courage to speak truth to our friends, family, and the community at large.
How do you prep for an important business meeting and/or event?
I surround myself with very capable staff. I trust my team, and I delegate responsibilities. When preparing for important meetings I meet with my team and ask tough questions. I make sure I have a firm understanding of the topic, and then I run through scenarios of how the meeting could go. Most importantly, I try to never take a meeting without a written agenda.
As a busy Modern Man, how do you unwind on vacation?
I’m a firm believer in vacations and self-care. A true vacation consists of a beach and a view! One of my favorite vacations was to Belize. My little sister and I flew into the mountain region on a tiny four-seat plane and stayed at a resort for two nights. We then went down to one the many islands (or atolls) and stayed for several nights. Nothing on the agenda, just chilling and eating good food!
If you could travel and stay anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I’m looking to visit Thailand next. I hear they have amazing beaches, remote destinations, and spicy food!!
Anything else you’d like to say?
Thank you for the opportunity to share my story.
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Come celebrate the BE Modern Man 100 Men of Distinction at the first-ever Black Men XCEL Summit, Aug. 30 – Sept. 3, at the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.