The 35U began with a vision to inspire the leaders of tomorrow by telling them about the leaders of today. With millions of people involved in government,education,business and community service across the country, it sometimes may be hard for the 35U to connect to leaders individually simply due to an age barrier. The 35U to us is any young adult from the ages of 18-35 in this country. These individuals have a voice – they can vote, serve, and most importantly, they can make a difference for future generations.

Never has there been a point in history in which information could travel as fast as it does today, and although this sometimes can be inhibiting, it is also what makes the 35U so powerful. The 35U Features is a tool to showcase young adults that serve their community on a national and local scale. Our goal is to get young people more involved than ever and to inspire them to be catalysts for progress that our nation sometimes seems to lack. Today, Columbus, Ohio political leader Shannon Hardin is our subject. He has a lot of wisdom to share with up-and-coming politicians and community leaders alike, and he tells us what a leader means to him.

Why did you choose this career path?

I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to serve the public. I know that “serve the public” sounds cliché, but that was about all I knew. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go into News and reporting and make sure that the public was informed and engaged. I seriously considered going into the military and serving my country that way. It wasn’t until high school that I started to become a bit more focused on how I thought I could best serve. In 10th grade I began an Internship in the office of Mayor Michael B. Coleman. I worked for a little old lady in what was then called the Mayors Action Center. I answered calls all day from residents and directed them to the appropriate department to get their answers met. It was pretty basic but I always felt I was having an impact in each caller’s life that I talked to. My senior year of high school, my AP government teacher assigned us a project to create “something” that would solve an issue in our community, and that would have life after we stopped working on it. Six of my friends came together and decided that we would try to change a State Law that prohibited high school seniors from having an excused day off to work at polling locations on the day of elections. We also worked to ensure that students could get paid for their days work. We were successful in getting our bill passed. The first year, 30 students from around the state took part in our program. 10 years later, nearly 12,000 students have participated in Youth at the Booth. These two experiences made it clear to me that I wanted to serve in government because it was the best way for me to help people and to get things done.

Who inspired you to get involved?

My personal and professional mentor is Mayor Michael B. Coleman. The Mayor has served the City of Columbus in elected office for nearly three decades. First as a Columbus City Council Member, then as Council President, and for the last fifteen years, as the first African American Mayor of our City. The Mayor has always been personally supportive of me. He encouraged me to study Political Science at Morehouse. He encouraged me to come and work in his office after college. The Mayor has taught me how to be a public servant and how to just do what’s right. He is pragmatic, but also a dreamer.

How do you define a leader?

A leader is someone who has a vision and who is able to motivate people to follow and work towards that goal.

What projects are you currently involved with in the community that engages the next generation of leaders?

Before I was appointed to Columbus City Council, I lead the effort to remake the Create Columbus Commission, the City’s Young Professionals Organization. I worked to get the City to fund the commission at $80,000 and to allow the commission to grant out monies to YP organizations that were helping to attract and retain young professionals in our community.

I also created the Applications for Purpose Pride and Success (APPS) program, a youth development and gang reduction program. The city works with many at risk youth to help give them paths to success. This program started as a $400,000 program and has grown in the past 5 years to nearly $5 million.

What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders who want to get involved?

Start now! Age is not prohibitive; it can be one of your greatest attributes. Also, I would encourage folks to link up with other likeminded individuals.