by Peter Kusnic
Running for office has long been on Reginald Harris’ radar, but it was a lunch with former Cincinnati City Councilmember Yvette Simpson in July 2017 that set him on his current path During the lunch, Simpson -who was running for Mayor at the time – mapped out a four-year plan for Harris. They had met at a campaign event just months prior, and Simpson saw great potential in the professional ballet dancer-turned-social worker and nonprofit leader.
“She essentially sat me down and said: Look, you need to run for office, and these are the things you need to do,” says Harris, who is running for a seat on Cincinnati City Council in 2021. “Yvette’s been my political mentor ever since.”
If elected, Harris would become the first openly gay Black man to win a council seat in city history, and only the third out LGBTQ+ person sitting at that table. The Buckeye Flame spoke with Harris about his run and why his unique combination of experience makes him uniquely qualified for the position.
What drew you to politics?
I grew up in a very civically engaged family, so public service is not new to me. My run for office is driven by a desire to get to the root causes of the social and economic disparities in this country. As a clinical social worker and behavioral therapist – though all of my clients are unique individuals – I’ve encountered consistent similarities in terms of lack of affordable housing, lack of access to quality education, intergenerational poverty, all of which affects mental health. I realized early in my social work career how policy decisions impact the day-to-day lives of my clients and their families, and I think that perspective is urgently needed on Council.
How has your past experience prepared you for Council?
I’ve spent my life as a coalition-builder. Finding support as a young black boy on the south side of Chicago, becoming a professional ballet dancer – that’s not the typical career path, so I often found I had to seek out folks to build alliances with and learn from. I recognize that sustainable change can only happen when folks work together for a common cause. Mobilizing and organizing different types of people toward a shared goal is a skill I developed as a young person and one I’ve intentionally honed throughout my life.
What are your policy priorities?
The way policies are written can be very disembodied from the actual lived experience of those policies. For example, some housing voucher programs will place people in neighborhoods with no access to transportation or jobs – so, yeah, they got the housing voucher, but they’re off a bus line and no one’s hiring nearby. How can you maintain housing under those circumstances? This is very concrete for someone like me who’s working directly with these communities and witnessing firsthand the effects of policy decisions, but for some elected officials, it is more abstract, so it can be difficult to anticipate unintended consequences when developing policy.
What does it mean to you to be out and running for office?
It means the world to me. I believe representation matters, especially for young folks. All types of people should be able to rise into leadership positions. My mother tells the story of when I was five years old; there was a boy in the neighborhood who’d ride up and down the block on his bike, and I told my mom that I wanted to marry him. I didn’t understand that was different – I just knew from Disney movies that if you felt this way about a person, you married them. Being openly gay has always been a major part of my life, and that confidence and pride in my sexual identity, coupled with the intersection of my race as a black man, will provide a lens of complexity to Council that is critically important to equity and inclusion in governance.
- Learn more about Reginald Harris’ bid for a seat on the Cincinnati City Council by visiting his website.
- Registering to vote LITERALLY takes less than two minutes. Go to https://www.vote.org/register-to-vote/ohio/to start and finish this process right this very second.
Peter Kusnic is a writer and editor based in Cleveland, OH.