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Rep. Jordan Harris (MEd’08) Shares His Experiences as Guest Speaker

Posted on 11/23/2021 12:52:41 PM

Pennsylvania Representative Hon. Jordan A. Harris (MEd’08) shared his experiences growing up in South Philadelphia to his rise as the Democratic Whip in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives with students in Cabrini’s Men of Color Leadership Academy on Friday, October 29 in the Widener Lecture Hall.

Ronald W. Whitaker II, EdD, Director for the Men of Color Leadership Academy and Cabrini’s Center for Urban Education, Equity, and Improvement, introduced Harris — who is the youngest member of leadership in the PA House or Senate — as a “rising star and leading voice in the PA legislature on issues that matter most to his constituents, including criminal justice reform and education reform.”

Harris asked the young men in the audience where they grew up before sharing his journey from South Philadelphia to Millersville and Cabrini Universities, then to public school teaching, and eventually political office, where he represents Philadelphia County’s 186th District.

“I knew I wanted to do something bigger than what I saw on the corner of my block,” Harris said. “What that meant I did not know at the time.”

The state representative said there came a time in his youth when he had to put the focus on himself—and he encouraged the Cabrini students in attendance to do the same.

“You guys are in a position right now where I know you’re worried about your moms and your younger siblings, but you have to focus on you,” he said. “This is the perfect opportunity for you to be selfish. What you do over the next few years will determine what the next 10, 20, 30 years of your life will look like.”

Harris said he made his undergraduate and graduate schoolwork a central focus as he sought to improve himself and set forth a career path. He sought to make a positive impact on his surrounding environment as his teaching career progressed, but grew increasingly frustrated.

“I loved teaching middle school but I got frustrated,” he said. “There were things I saw that I wanted to change.”

Change was elusive, even as Harris moved up to the local school board and eventually the office of former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. It wasn’t until he was elected to represent South and Southwest Philadelphia in 2012, at age 27, that Harris felt he could truly affect change.

“I’m in a position now where a person could come to me with a problem and I could actually fix it,” he said, referencing the bipartisan Clean Slate bill he co-authored in 2018, which seals the criminal records of those convicted of certain misdemeanors after 10 years conviction-free. The legislation was the first of its kind passed in the United States, and other states are looking at this bill to emulate similar legislation.

Harris said his Master of Education degree from Cabrini helped to inform his perspective as an educator and politician seeking both education and criminal justice reform.

“I use what I learned here at Cabrini to help me with regard to the way I look at education, education reform, and education policy in Pennsylvania,” he said after the lecture. “The idea of life being fair and balancing the scales for everyone, many of those things I learned here at Cabrini.”

Harris told the students their journeys were just beginning.

“I want you to know that anything I did you can do better,” he said. “Your neighborhood…is the beginning of your book, not the end. It’s the first chapter. All those other chapters in between are really up to you.”