Doing the Harder Thing: Building a City for a New Generation | with Shannon Hardin

We are currently living through one of the largest community experiences that will ever take place in our lifetime. Columbus has done an incredible job of reacting to the demands of the community as we deal with the coronavirus pandemic — and that is in no small part due to the leadership of the city government, and the leadership of the private sector. So, today, we’re going to get to know one of the people leading this city right now, City Council President Shannon Hardin, and explore how he’s helping shape the community of Columbus.

Born and raised in Columbus, Shannon’s mother was a Democrat who worked as a clerk at the City Hall and his father was a Republican who raised horses. The dynamic of those two differences made an impression on Shannon as a teenager. His father would say, “Never be something so much that people stop asking for your opinion,” and Shannon has taken that to heart with his approach to governing. At a local level, in particular, practicality has to take precedence over ideology.

Shannon attended Columbus Alternative High School, which had an internship requirement. He was 15 years old at the time, and he began to intern at the Mayor’s Action Center, the precursor to the 311 Call Center. It was here that he fostered his love for public service.

Even though he always had access to City Hall, Shannon still grew up in the hood. Every time he would leave for his internship, he would notice the disconnect between the people who needed services and the people who made the decisions. The people from these marginalized communities had been let down so much that they stopped trusting the system that could give them a leg up.

After graduating from college, Shannon began working for the mayor. Shannon was traveling with the mayor and, on a flight home, he said, “Shannon, you need to run for office.” Shannon was hesitant — he was young, liberal, black, and gay — but the mayor insisted that was only an issue if it was an issue for Shannon. Columbus was growing and needed to see itself in its representation. That was when Shannon began to see that his role as a public servant could involve sharing this story and providing representation.

You could still call Shannon a reluctant leader. He cares a lot about the city and the people who live there, and he ran for the position because it felt that it was time for a generational transition. Columbus could not wait for the old guard to tackle the big issues, and someone needed to start shaping the community for the next generation.

Columbus is in the midst of one of its first states of emergency. The City Council and government have had to learn to live in this new normal just like everybody else. They quickly passed laws that councils could now be held virtually instead of in-person, and they are working hard to protect those that are most vulnerable in the community. On the other side of this, there will be a lot of work to do, but we will be stronger for it — in Columbus, and the rest of the world.

What Brett asks:

  • [07:37] What was your early life like?
  • [12:57] What was it like to have such different lives between your parents? Where di you find your own self?
  • [21:01] What was it like to be African American in the city government and at what point do you come to terms with your sexuality?
  • [30:15] How did you learn to navigate taking criticism and noise?
  • [35:37] At what point did you start to come out with those closest to you and what was it like?
  • [45:48] Can you talk about your decision to step into City Council President?
  • [54:04] What is it like for you right now during these hard times?

Lessons for intentional living:

  • We are all pressured to put ourselves into boxes or assign ourselves with labels. This is the quickest path to becoming irrelevant. Never align yourself so strictly to your groupings that you lose sight of your individual perspective and ideology.