In January, OD Harris was sworn into office to serve on the City Council. Over the course of his term on the City Council, Councilmember OD Harris stressed that he hopes to “be a voice for underrepresented, marginalized and minority communities in Chandler.”
In celebration of Black History Month, we sat down with Councilmember Harris to discuss his seat on the Chandler City Council and to learn what celebrating Black History means to him.
Q&A with Councilmember OD Harris
1. What does it mean to you and your constituents that you are a Black city councilmember serving the City of Chandler?
For me, this is a powerful moment of reflection. It’s sobering to think that I am the fourth African American man to serve on the Chandler City Council and to know that, just 200 years ago, my ancestors were slaves in this country. I am deeply humbled that, now, one of their descendants is a leader in this community. It is truly amazing to see how far we’ve come as a community and as a nation. I am humbled and forever grateful for the opportunity to be where I am today.
It is so important to me and for the people of Chandler to be able to look at the council and see diversity. The council should not be a window for people who look like me. The council should be a mirror. When people can look at the dias and see a reflection of themselves sitting up there, they can feel empowered to say, “I can do that too.” I hope that my being here inspires people to be hopeful that they, too, can be leaders in our local government. I hope somehow it inspires people that, together as Chandler residents, we can look past our differences and make a truly lasting impact on our community.
At one point before being elected I was asked, “Is Chandler ready for change? Is Chandler ready for diversity?” — By me being here today I think that question has been very much answered. Chandler is a diverse City that has proven how much it values that legacy. I am thankful to those who have come before me and am hopeful of all the work we can get done while I am serving as a member of the Chandler City Council.
2. Why is it important to you to have diversity on the Chandler City council?
Because the City Council represents our City! Our City is so diverse. At any given time drive down the street in Chandler, you can hear just about any type of music playing from somewhere. We embrace culture here!
For me personally, I have children, and it's important to me they see themselves in offices of power, especially in the place they live. I want to be a part of a City where my daughters see diversity at the very top levels of leadership.
The biggest pride I feel is when I am able to take pictures with young children and get to see them excited to imagine themselves in the role of a councilperson. I think it’s important to show underrepresented, marginalized and vulnerable communities what it really means to be represented.
As councilmembers, it is important for us to recognize the vision of change that residents asked for when they elected me and Councilmember Ellis onto the Council. We embrace that as a hopeful statement. I’ve been embraced by my colleagues and the staff here with nothing but warm love and smiles, and they are excited for me to be here as well. So here we are now, ready to jump into action.
3. How do you celebrate Black History Month?
Before the pandemic, you likely would have caught me attending events and celebrating with African American speeches, acknowledging leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and embracing current and former Black political leaders who have made history through their historic leadership, such as former president Barack Obama, for example. Even though we can’t attend too many events in person right now, we can still do so much to embrace the leaders who blazed the trail that I now have the privilege to walk along.
I celebrate Black History Month because, at one point in our history, Blacks were not celebrated. Black History Month is another month to raise awareness that Black people should be celebrated. We have done so much for this country, and for this City in particular!
It’s important for me to acknowledge the people who paved the way in Chandler, such as our very own Zora Folley. Not only did he fight in the ring against Muhammad Ali, but he also fought for our City through his time on the Chandler City Council. Those are the type of people we are acknowledging this month from the Chandler perspective. Among many others, we are acknowledging former Mayor Coy Payne — he was not only the first African American mayor in Chandler, but the first in all of Arizona as well. A lot of people don't know that he was a fiery guy who believed in fighting for civil rights. That is why so many people respected him. He stood tall in the trenches with integrity. What an amazing story. We have so much to celebrate and be proud of here in Chandler.
4. Is there a cultural tradition of yours that you would like to share with Chandler?
Dancing! Know that when the music gets going, I will be dancing — always! I hope Chandler residents can see me and see my big, bright optimistic smile and know I’m on their side. Even when things are hard, I hope people can see me smiling and giving out hugs and fist bumps when it's safe to do so and feel like they can approach me and share what's on their mind. That is what I look forward to, and Chandler can expect those types of traditions from me.
5. What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month is a celebration of Black contributions and achievements in our society, and for me specifically, it's about celebrating those who have made an impact on Chandler’s history.
6. What do you hope to achieve or work towards for the Black community and other minority communities in Chandler?
I have a long list of hopes and goals I’d like to work on during my time here, but one of the first things I want to see happen is making sure we get COVID-19 vaccinations to the marginalized communities and make sure people in these communities have transportation to get there. We also need to work to make sure people have an outlet to get information on how to get those vaccinations, such as having access to a computer.
I also want to see our Black and Brown businesses thrive. Through providing resources to businesses and making them aware of the resources Chandler already has available, we can help ensure they succeed in our community. Additionally, we want to make sure affordable housing is available and we continue to expand the options here in Chandler.