Ayanna Pressley was widely seen as a long-shot candidate when she announced plans to run for US Congress. She currently serves on the Boston City Council, and many people thought that her opponent, ten-term congressman Michael Capuano, would defeat her easily in the Democratic primary. But on September 4, Pressley won a stunning victory against Capuano. Now, she is poised to become the first African American ever elected to the House of Representatives from Massachusetts.
Pressley will be running unopposed in the general election, since there is no Republican candidate for Congress for the district. You can read more about Ayanna Pressley here.
Pressley married Conan Harris in 2014, when she was 40. Harris was a strong and vocal supporter of his wife’s campaign, posting on Facebook about how proud he was to vote for his wife.
Here’s what you need to know about Conan Harris:
1. He Spent Ten Years in Jail on Drug Charges — And Then Vowed to Make a Difference in His Community
Harris was arrested for the first time when he was in the seventh grade. He got in trouble because he and some friends beat up a boy who lived in a rival neighborhood. “We beat him up pretty bad, jumped off the bus and ran away,” Harris told , a reporter at Northeastern University. He went on to serve ten years in prison on drug trafficking charges.
Harris also said that growing up in a violent neighborhood made him and his friends reckless and violent themselves. He has described how the death of his friend Marvin, when both boys were just 14, caused him and his friends to spiral downwards. “We went from having an argument and Marvin getting killed, right there on that corner, to everything changing for us,” Harris said. “[Our behavior] went from being mischievous to something more serious, because we knew we could be harmed.
But when Harris got out, he said he was determined to turn his life around — and to make a difference for other inner city kids in Boston. He earned a sociology degree from Boston University, and he went to work for The Boston Foundation’s StreetSafe Boston program, starting first as a program coordinator working with “at-risk individuals”, and working his way up to be a manager, supervising 20 case workers.
2. Harris and Pressley Both Work at City Hall — Although Not For Long
Harris is the deputy director of public safety initiatives for Boston’s mayor Martin Walsh. He was hired in May to work on “coordinating a citywide approach to tackling complex issues causing and perpetuating crime.”
Pressley currently serves as City Councilor at large, and works out of the same building as Harris. The two are just one floor away from each other. Pressley’s staff has said that she had nothing to do with Harris’s hiring.
Harris has said that his background working with at-risk youth and gang members will be an asset to him in his current position, which he started in May. When he was hired, Pressley issued a statement saying “I’m so proud of the career Conan has built serving the community he grew up in on issues of youth development, violence prevention, gang intervention, and re-entry.”
3. Harris and Pressley Both Grew Up in Single-Mother Households
Pressley, 43, grew up in Chicago. She says that her father struggled with substance abuse and was in jail for much of her childhood. She was raised by her mother. As a young woman, Pressley decided to drop out of college and work full time so that she could support her mother.
Harris also grew up in a single mother household. He’s written that he was raised by a family of “strong women” — but he’s also spoken about the plight of young people who grow up in single-parent households and can be tempted to join gangs, if only because they are searching for a sense of family and a sense of belonging.
4. Harris Has a 9 Year Old Daughter From a Previous Relationship Who Lives With Him and Pressley in Dorchester
Harris has a nine year old daughter named Cora. He’s a loving father who has publicly thanked Cora for, in his words, giving him “the best title he has ever had, and that is father.” He also posted on Facebook about how proud he was to be working with his wife, his daughter, and his mother to get Pressley elected. “For me, this picture is everything!” Harris wrote. “My mother, wife, and daughter all working hard toward the same cause.”
Cora lives with Harris and Pressley in the Ashmont/Adams neighborhood of Dorchester.
5. Harris Is the Director of the Boston Chapter of My Brother’s Keeper, An Initiative Created by Barack Obama
In 2016, Mayor Walsh appointed Harris the director of the Boston chapter of My Brother’s Keeper. The organization is dedicated to “addressing persistent opportunity gaps faced by young men of color.”
Harris said, “It’s really about supporting programs that are there to support black and brown young people and giving them sincere opportunities. When you think about black and brown boys throughout the city, how do we make sure we’re supporting each one of them?”