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Listening is an Act of Compassion

Advice from Bipartisan Policy Center’s Calvin Harris

Calvin Harris with Fellows sitting and standing around him

Calvin Harris with with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 25 – As a native from St. Louis, Missouri, Calvin Harris is no stranger to disability advocacy. Harris’ mother worked in the neuromuscular lab at the Washington University School of Medicine, which created a path for Harris’ passions for disability advocacy. Harris volunteered with disability groups, most notably, serving as a camp counselor for the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Camp for Kids, where he befriended many kids with MD.

Calvin Harris smiling and facing the camera with crossed arms and wearing a striped tie color photo

Calvin Harris, RespectAbility Chairman

“The work of RespectAbility is critical to ensuring that my friends from MDA Camp, as well as the 56 million Americans living with a disability, have an opportunity to participate in all aspects of our community,” said Harris, who became the Chair of RespectAbility’s board earlier this month.

As the current senior manager of public affairs at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Harris has not strayed too far from disability advocacy. He was the first treasurer of RespectAbility and continues to embody the spirit of an advocate. As treasurer, Harris oversaw fundraising efforts, approved budgets and ensured the organization was compliant with state laws and regulations. As a new set of board of directors and advisors transitioned earlier this month, it was Harris’ spirit and dedication to ensuring opportunity for people with disabilities that propelled him to become the new chairman of RespectAbility.

“It is only natural,” claims Harris, “for anyone who values empowerment and inclusion to be drawn to the work of RespectAbility.”

In addition to his work at RespectAbility, Harris noted in his talk with RespectAbility Fellows that collision between political party ideals is imperative and that the best ideas result from battling and negotiating with people on both sides of the aisle. During Harris’ talk, three themes emerged. The first is that we need people to stay engaged, rather than just resist. The second is that more people with disabilities should run for public office. Finally, change comes in incremental steps, so we must be relentless.

Harris also provided advice for young adults who are looking into careers with leadership positions.

“I encourage anyone who is thinking about a career in communications or politics to practice the art of listening,” Harris said. “Listening is an act of compassion and the foundation of productive dialogue. It is impossible to empathize with a particular community or effectively serve in a leadership role without this important skill.”

The 2017 Summer Fellows are incredibly excited about RespectAbility’s mission and engagement within the disability community and look forward to seeing the organization flourish under Calvin Harris.


RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact [email protected] for more information.



Meet the Author

Sneha Dave

Sneha Dave is a Policy Fellow. A sophomore at Indiana University, she is the founder of the Crohn’s and Colitis Teen Times, a nonprofit organization with a mission of providing support to teenagers battling Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.

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