Kevin Harris for Council, District 5

About Me

 

 

About Me

 I believe that the seeds of my activism were sown while growing up Jewish in a small town in the southern Virginia where neither blacks nor Jews were allowed at the local Country Club. Thankfully that policy has changed, but it provided me a first- hand experience of the personal harm caused by discrimination.  My 33 -year work career in the nonprofit, government and private sectors, characterized by the roles listed below, will provide me a uniquely diverse perspective from which to govern.

Community Activist – As a lifelong community organizer and activist, I’ve learned the power of active listening, meeting people where they’re at and accepting differences. I’ve also learned that a small group of dedicated people can together build movements for social justice way beyond their numbers. My roots as a community activist dates back to my days organizing the largest civil disobedience campaign at the University of Colorado, Boulder in the 1980’s, to serving as organizing director for the US Student Association and continued with leading successful referendum campaigns to oppose turf fields and development projects that would have destroyed community landmarks. Activism is in my blood and I will always be someone who stands up for what is right and be unafraid to speak truth to power.

International Bridge Builder – After working on a community cooperative building homes in Nicaragua during the Contra War, and as the founder of a student exchange program between students in the US, Cuba and Canada in the early 90’s I gained a deep understanding of poverty, the fortunate and privileged life I lead growing up in the US, and a strong sense of cultural sensitivity. Although I speak Spanish now, I know what it’s like to start working in a country where you don’t speak the language I also developed keen negotiation skills by negotiating agreements between the US and Cuban governments to permit a US-Cuban student exchange program to be licensed during the Cold War. After spending time in Cuba during the “Special Period”, not a day goes by that I don’t think about how fortunate I am to have potable running water, easy access to gasoline and food, and a political system that allows me tremendous political liberties.

Government Planner – As a neighborhood housing planner for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, I worked to build bridges of understanding in communities characterized by conflict caused by changing demographics. I served community organizations such as CASA in Langley Park, condominium associations on the Route 1 corridor in Alexandria, and a neighborhood coalition in Anacostia working to manage the upheaval caused by a Hope VI development project. I came to understand the perspectives of both residents facing displacement, governments trying to do what was best, and developers eager to play a constructive role in the development of the community.  I also understood the importance of implementing a data-driven approach to planning.

Nonprofit Human Services Staff – As the Director of a bilingual Youthbuild program serving 16-24 year -old dropouts at the Latin American Youth Center, I gained a deep understanding of the immense challenges that new immigrants face in moving to this country. They face discrimination on a daily basis and many were hampered by the poor educational system in their home countries. Most importantly, I learned about the resilience of young people determined to fight all odds to realize their dreams.

Technology Entrepreneur –  As the fifth person in a startup software company dedicated to helping nonprofits more effectively measure impact, I learned how to build a company from the ground up. I started with not much more than a laptop and cell phone, and in 8 years took a company with 4 founders and 23 clients to over 150 staff and thousands of clients to become the national leader in outcomes measurement software for the human services sector. This was where I really cut my teeth in the business and learned how to use data to inform decision-making, and lead teams with integrity. A few years after I left the company, they were sold for $100 million.

Small Business Owner – Another surprising life changing experience came after I grew tired of the grind of the corporate sector and the toll it was taking on me and my family. I knew that I had to make a change and one that would bring me more happiness and make me a better husband, father and person. I left my job and pursued a personal passion for making people happy through food. I built a small catering business through which I learned how damn hard it is to begin and operate a business on a daily basis. For the first time in my life I wasn’t receiving a guaranteed paycheck from someone else – wow – what an eye-opening experience. I gained a newfound respect for the courage it takes to be a small business person and the challenges they face on a daily basis simply making payroll and keeping the doors open. It’s a precarious life that one cannot understand until you try it yourself.

Current Volunteer Roles

Currently I serve in a volunteer capacity in the following roles: member of the Route 29 Bus Rapid Transit Corridor Advisory Committee; Board Member of the North Four Corners Civic Association, Volunteer for Silver Spring Village, Treasurer of the United States Student Association Foundation, and Board Member of Lori’s Hands based in Delaware.

I live in the Four Corners neighborhood of Silver Spring with my wife and twins. My passions are my family, spending time with friends I hold dear, cooking, soccer, dancing salsa, and doing Zumba with my friends at the Silver Spring YMCA.