2024 Candidate Profile: Kevin Harris runs for Council

2024 Candidate Profile:  Kevin Harris runs for Council

By James Matheson | jmatheson@alextimes.com

Kevin Harris has lived in Alexandria his whole life. After running for Council in 2021 but falling 750 votes short in the Democratic primary, Harris believes if he wins this year it would be an extension of his current duties in the city as a housing liaison, coach and minister.

“I want to do what I’m already doing, just on a larger scale,” Harris said. “That’s where my heart is, it’s with the people.”

Harris’ background isn’t in politics, but community organizing. It’s this work that has prompted him to get acquainted with politics in order to accomplish the changes he wants in the community.

Harris is president of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority Resident Association, a position he’s filled for more than 10 years. He owns a basketball-centered small business called Hoop Life, which hosts basketball camps, training sessions, before- and after-school programs and e-sports programs. Harris’ business also partners with the Alexandria Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities department and other jurisdictions to engage with local youth.

“I’ve been successful organizing around those things,” Harris said. “I know that I’ll be able to do even more at a larger scale if I’m put in that position.”

Harris said his role as a parent of four is a strength in his ability to accomplish things in the city. He lives in North Old Town with his daughters Amor, Jewel, Gabriella and Hannah-Rose and his wife of 20 years, Shawna.

Harris said his role as the only man in a house dominated by women developed his active listening skills and patience. As a result of his home life, he said he long ago realized things aren’t always going to go his way. But beyond being a parent, genuinely caring for the Alexandria community is what Harris believes best prepares him for Council.

“Just loving on people and being genuinely concerned with their well-being,” Harris said of his strengths as a candidate. “And communicating, because as a parent, sometimes when you’re trying to get things done, it’s about explaining and letting your child understand your heart.”

Harris emphasized the distinction between a role in government and responsibilities as a parent, a line he feels is often blurred in politics.

“Our role as government is to support. We’re elected to support and serve people and not to parent,” Harris said. “As a parent, I say, ‘I know what’s best, just do what I’m telling you to do.’ That’s not our role as elected officials.”

Harris is inclined to identify with the distressed communities in the city. He was raised by a single mother in an economically unstable community where homes were insufficiently maintained.

As a child, Harris attended John Adams Elementary before receiving a scholarship to attend high school at Mercersburg Academy, a prep school in Pennsylvania. Harris then attended Troy State University for one year before transferring to Lurleen B. Wallace Community College where he earned his associate’s degree.

Harris ultimately received a division one basketball scholarship in 2000 to attend Alabama State University, a historically Black university. In 2001, Harris’s team – for which he was a captain – qualified as a 16-seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, a first in the school’s history.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business management in 2003, Harris had a stint playing professional basketball for the Dakota Wizards. He eventually returned home to combine his knowledge in business and his basketball career to train local youth and serve as a consistent role model.

Harris continues his community outreach beyond basketball as a minister at Love of Christ Church in Del Ray.

“You can sit back and hope and wish that people prioritize the things that you feel are important – that the people connected with you and the people in the community feel are important – or you can step up and be the person to do it yourself,” Harris said.

Harris’s campaign is prioritizing affordable housing; diversity, equity and inclusion; working class families and the workforce.

“A lot of people who work here still can’t afford to stay here,” Harris said. “There’s still flooding in parts of our city. We still could do a better job of reaching marginalized communities in our outreach efforts. And housing is still super expensive.”

His work in housing over the last decade as president of ARHA, Harris said, has pushed him into creative problem-solving. He said many of the problems he’s presented with are urgent, forcing him to locate resources and work with the families quickly.

With the increased pull that comes with a seat on Council, Harris would advocate for additional workforce housing to Alexandria. Harris said this form of housing – made available for middle income families that aren’t dependent on government-subsidized rent – was a citywide shortfall made clear through his work.

Additionally, Harris seeks to address high turnover rates in the city’s workforce. He said neighboring jurisdictions pay more than Alexandria, causing the workers to leave the city for better opportunities elsewhere. He pointed toward the Alexandria Fire Department as proof.

“Our city has almost become a training ground for people to go to other places,” Harris said. “We have the burden of paying for those things: paying to train other people’s folks, which isn’t cheap. In the fire department’s case, it costs like $175,000 to recruit and train them firefighters; that’s not pennies.”

Harris aims to continue efforts for diversity, equity and inclusion in Alexandria. He said despite outreach services that are in place in Alexandria, there are still some communities who feel unheard. He especially wants to reevaluate the way in which city government communicates with communities of color.

Individuals like Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama have impacted Harris as a community organizer; both men motivated Harris to work closely with opposing sides of an issue.

“Oftentimes in government, we don’t get both groups in a room to really understand, what is the core?” Harris said. “The solutions aren’t mutually exclusive. You’re able to work the situation out.”

Harris wants to use his seat on Council to understand the core of what all sides of an issue want to accomplish. He used the Potomac Yard arena proposal as an example: By just talking to normal, everyday people, Alexandrians of differing races and economic levels, Harris found they didn’t want the arena in Alexandria. Had Council engaged with people upfront, Harris said, other solutions to the revenue problem in the city could have been workshopped. These organization, outreach and active listening skills are the tools Harris said he believes he can bring to Council.

“It’s really my work in community organizing and working with folks that has prompted me to get acquainted with politics in order to get things done in my community,” Harris said.

The community organizing and engagement aspects of Harris’s campaign nearly earned him a seat on Council in 2021. He said many residents related to his message in that campaign. He hopes he can get over the hump in the June 18 primary.

“I know my messaging resonated with people and I understand that people felt it,” Harris said. “People still want to be taken care of in our city. There are still people who feel like they’re not being heard. We can still do a better job getting more voices into the room, speaking to everybody and connecting with them.”