Zakiya Summers-Harlee is a hard worker. No. She works hard. Born in Houston, Texas and raised in Jackson, Miss. the 37-year-old COCHUSA member wears many hats. State Representative. Business owner. Wife. Mother. Mother to black sons.
Summers-Harlee never thought she would be involved in politics. At 12-years old, she recalls her family going to breakfast with a family friend- infamous Frank Melton- who would later become mayor of the city of Jackson. It was at that breakfast Melton announced Summers-Harlee would one day become a politician. She denied the prediction fervently and stated that she didn’t have a taste for politics. Despite her protest, Melton’s words came true.
A Future Begins
Years later, she began engaging in politics after purchasing a home in the neighborhood where she grew up. She decided she would become a vested member in her community and resolved to join her neighborhood association. Soon, she would be taken under the wings of her neighbors, local political power couple Peggy and Credell Calhoun.
“As she was growing up, she was a very bright child. She was always very bright,” Credell Calhoun remarked when asked about his experience with young Summers-Harlee.
Calhoun, who at the time was the Neighborhood Associations’ president, remembers how he thought it was odd or more specifically “Kind of strange for young folk,” to want to become involved in an organization like the Neighborhood Association when Summers-Harlee decided to join, but that he wasn’t surprised. He knew that it was just the beginning.
“She’s on track to do wonderful things in Mississippi,” Calhoun stated.
Peggy Calhoun, who at the time was a County Supervisor, encouraged Summers-Harlee to consider filling the unexpired term of the previous Election Commissioner who had resigned to vie for another elected office. Summers-Harlee decided serving as Election Commissioner would be a natural next step to the work, she had previously done within the voting rights arena.
In 2015, appointed by Peggy Calhoun and then confirmed by the board of supervisors, Summers-Harlee took office as Election Commissioner. At the end of her term, she began a campaign for to renew her term in office as Election Commissioner. It was during this time that she became pregnant with her youngest son, Mathis. It became increasingly difficult to run a campaign while pregnant. She lost her campaign but decided to give it another shot.
A year later, in November 2016, she won the seat for Election Commissioner after garnering a landslide 65% of votes and winning by over 10,000 votes.
After serving as County Supervisor for 29 years, Peggy and Credell Calhoun decided that Peggy would retire and that Credell would run for her seat thus vacating his seat as Miss. State Representative for the House District 68. They suggested that Summers-Harlee consider running for the office.
Summers-Harlee resigned from her seat as Election Commissioner in 2109 and began her campaign for State Representative House District 68. She beat her Republican opponent with 73.2% of votes.
A Future Fulfilled
Inaugurated in January 2020, Summers-Harlee has since served as the Mississippi State Representative for House District 68. Her district covers portions of Hinds (west and south Jackson, Byram, Terry) and Rankin (Pearl, Richland) counties
She describes starting local as a great beginning point for anyone- especially young people- who desire to get involved in politics but aren’t sure how or where to begin. She offered the following advice:
“All politics are local. ALL politics are local. The way you can do that [get involved]-or your entry point could be simply getting involved in your neighborhood association or getting involved with the school that is in your community. Introduce yourself to your local officials because those are the folks that are the closest to the community, the closest to the ground, and can put you in position to meet other people in the area where you can begin to develop relationships and do more work.”
Some of Summers-Harlee work while in office has included taking part in Mississippi’s decision to take down its state flag which featured the Confederate flag. She states the taking down of the Confederate flag likely would not have been possible without millennials and Gen Z (those born from approximately 1995-2010) pressuring Mississippi’s elected officials.
(Stay Tuned for Part 2)Zakiya Summers-Harlee will discuss millennials and political engagement in the upcoming edition of <The Truth>, the official publication of the Church of Christ (Holiness) USA. Subscribe today!