COLUMBUS (WCMH) – “We do not serve to get elected, we get elected to serve.”
That is the quote you will find if you go to the bio page of Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin.
At the age of 32, he is in his second term as president of City Council, the youngest person ever elected to sit in the president’s chair.
He is also the first openly gay Columbus Council leader.
But he does not want to be defined by age, orientation, or skin color, his immutable characteristics. He wants you to see the things he can control.
“You know, sometimes folks talk about being a history maker, I don’t think folks will remember – hopefully, they won’t remember – that I was just a first, but they will remember some of the things we’ve done policy wise that have improved their lives, which will then make it all worth it,” Hardin said.
Hardin is a native of the southside of Columbus, and a current resident of the east side of the city, whose first job after Morehouse College was in the office of his mentor, former Mayor Mike Coleman.
“And the greatest thing about a mentor is they see in you what you don’t see in yourself, and they go about making sure you can live up to your potential,” Hardin said.
Coleman pushed for Hardin to be appointed to the council in 2014, and Hardin quickly asserted himself as a leader. The biggest challenge he sees now is getting the city ready for an expected explosion of growth while not leaving anyone behind, especially marginalized young people.
“And not just for black kids, but for white kids on the west side and those folks who just by virtue of their station in life, where they were born, have been told, ‘Uh-huh, this is not for you.’ As a community, we can’t grow unless we create real opportunities for them,” he said.
Hardin also has to navigate through the council’s role in dealing with allegations of police violence against black citizens and, while it is not his sole identity, he cannot separate himself from his ethnic heritage, his sexual orientation, or the weight of being a role model.
“You know, I think a lot about the first African-American council president Jerry Hammond,” he said. “It wasn’t that long ago, 20 or so years ago. Going back and learning his history and finding out not only was he the first African-American council president, that when the gay rights, anti-discrimination ordinance also came to council, he shepherded it through and he got so much stuff for doing that, they tried to repeal him, kick him off council. So when I think about leaders and those folks who put their name first, they do the harder thing, and so hopefully, as being a history maker, that we can all lean into doing the harder thing. I draw inspiration from the folks who showed it can be done, so hopefully, one day, there will be a kid, a young, black kid who says, ‘I can do that, too, but then I can do the harder thing as well because Shannon was there.”