Skip to content

State Rep. Jordan Harris: “Music is Oftentimes the Soundtrack of What is Happening in the World.”

April 17, 2015

JordanHarrisOnline01 At 30, State Representative Jordan Harris is the youngest elected official in Philadelphia County. The South Philly native was elected in 2012 to represent District 186, which includes parts of South Philly west of Broad Street and pockets in Southwest Philly, like Kingsessing.

He’s currently planning his annual summer block party/music festival. His last event drew more than 5,000 people to Chew Park on Washington Avenue to hear Jazmine Sullivan, Jaguar Wright, Kindred The Family Soul, Suzann Christine and many more local artists.

Our G.W. Miller III spoke with the representative about why he sees music as a necessity for society, especially in schools.

You’re not a career politician, right? What is your background?

Before running for office, I was a school teacher. I taught middle school social studies. I also worked for the city. I was the executive director of the city’s youth commission for about two years after being in the classroom.

What made you decide to get into politics?

I’ve always had a desire to be involved in government. My undergraduate degree is in government and political affairs. My masters degree is in education. Going off to college, I had a desire to learn how government affects our lives and how to be involved in using government to benefit the community that I grew up in.

I was in high school at Bartram Motivational. The school district at that time wanted to move my high school into the main building. I was president of the student government and I thought that was a bad idea. So we organized parents, students and teachers to advocate to keep the school open.

I ran into Senator Anthony Williams, who helped us through that process. He showed me how, if you use government the right way, if you organize, you can see your will imposed upon a situation.

You don’t seem like a politician.

I take that as a good thing!

I saw you on stage at the festival last summer (above). I thought you were the hype man.

Every year, I do a street festival. Last year I partnered with Kindred  The Family Soul and called it Kindred The Family Reunion. It was a part of my street festival, part of my summer series.

The points of the festival and series are one, there are children and families in my community that I represent, who can’t afford $60 per person to take their kids to Great Adventure or Dorney Park or anywhere like that. If only for a day, if only for a few hours, those kids get the opportunity to jump on a moon bounce or eat cotton candy or experience some sort of amusement park feel in the summer.

In addition to that, it’s an opportunity to use that to bring out a large number of people and get them valuable city and state service information. There were more than 40 different agencies that were out there giving out information and talking to people.

We also want to invite people into the neighborhood. There’s the hope that they’ll want to open up a business there or they’ll think, “Maybe I could live in this neighborhood.”
Is music a draw to bring people together?

Music is oftentimes the soundtrack of what is happening in the world. When Sam Cooke said, “A change is gonna come,” he was talking about the era in which he lived. When Marvin Gaye asked, “What’s going on?” It wasn’t just a song. It was an actual question about what was happening in the world. When James Brown said, “I’m black and I’m proud,” it was an anthem about being proud of who you are.

It also is something that unifies us – black, white, brown, yellow, Christian, Muslim, Jew, gentile, gay, straight, questioning, whatever. Music unites everybody.

That’s why we like to focus this event around good music.

Do you think you’re able to make an impact on the arts as a legislator?

I think government does play a role in fostering music.  On a nice summer day, you can walk down Broad Street and hear performers showcasing their craft. There are some places where government would want to shut that action down. But that’s part of what makes Philadelphia the beautiful city that it is.

Additionally, government has the ability to fund musical programs. Governor Wolf just gave his budget address. It is a bold statement that educating our children should be a state priority. My hope is that school districts will continue and reinvest their money in music programs. I tell people all the time: you don’t understand how music can affect people’s lives. It’s been shown that, from a therapeutic perspective, music is helpful.

Another thing that state government can do is partner with philanthropic organizations. I serve on the advisory committee for the Knight Foundation and over the last couple of years, the Knight Foundation has made millions of dollars worth of investments in the arts  here in the city of Philadelphia.

Does it get frustrating being in government?

Yeah, it does get frustrating. There seems to be this mindset that Philadelphia is a black hole of funding from the state. What a lot of people don’t understand is that Philadelphia and the five county region, we are the economic engine of this state. When you look across the commonwealth at all the counties that have bridges, state police, highways … a lot of them have that because of Philadelphia and the five county region’s economic engine. We need to do a better job making that known.

It’s also frustrating because I don’t think people view the importance of music and art in our culture. Music and art is transformational. It’s frustrating to get funding. But it’s encouraging to go around and see the places where it’s working.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: