My Wausome Story: William A. Harris, Marathon County Board Supervisor, District 3
Original publication date: July 30, 2021
How does a young professional who had zero ties to Wisconsin, let alone Wausau, end up living here, and within two years, find himself sitting in an elected position on the board of the largest county in the state?
It’s a story I’m happy to share because I’m extremely passionate about this community. I moved here in 2018, and since then, I have been able to see firsthand the opportunities available and the ability to make a significant impact on the lives of people in the community.
My story started in southern Florida. I was born and grew up in West Palm Beach. I moved to the Midwest to attend law school at Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School. After receiving my law degree, I moved to Washington, DC to pursue dual master’s degrees in law and government and international legal studies at American University Washington College of Law. At that point in time, I could have gone anywhere to begin my career. But the Midwest was calling me back. I think part of it was because while living and studying in Michigan, I grew to like the changing seasons and living up north. I also wanted to settle down in a smaller community that would allow me to get involved and use my talents to help those most in need.
I moved to Madison, and while living there, learned of an opportunity in Wausau with Wisconsin Judicare, Inc., a non-profit law-firm serving low-income clients throughout northern Wisconsin. The role and the organization’s goals seemed to match up well with my career aspirations. I really wanted to work in a position that allowed me to make a difference, and do so in a community that provided opportunities for civic engagement and volunteerism. Wausau was calling.
After applying and interviewing, I was offered the position. In my role within Wisconsin Judicare’s Civil Unit, I would represent victims of domestic and child abuse, low-income clients facing homelessness, and clients facing employment discrimination. I felt this position would be a good fit because I’d be working directly with people while positively impacting their lives. I am so grateful I was given this opportunity because it’s been incredibly rewarding and I love the work that I do.
When I left Madison and relocated to Wausau, during my first full day here, I remember immediately noticing the friendliness of the people. As I walked down the street, a number of people I met would say hello or ask me how I was doing. It’s a small thing, but at the time, it was huge. I didn’t know anyone here yet, but I knew I was in the right place.
Early on, I was able to quickly get involved with the community. I’ve had different experiences in other parts of the country, but this too was unique. Talk to other young professionals and you’ll often hear how they struggle to connect with their community. It took me putting myself out there, but I was able to meet numerous people those first few weeks. The main spark was that I had gotten involved with a mentor program that connected me to judges, attorneys, nonprofit leaders, and business owners. The more people I met, the more I saw the opportunity to get involved.
Today, the work that I do is tied back to the community and I, just like so many of my neighbors, co-workers, and friends here, am contributing to ensure Wausau’s future is bright. I have been blessed to be a part of and serve my community through a number of organizations and boards. All those initial conversations opened doors and have allowed me to actively participate in this city. Presently, I am the Vice President of the Wausau Police and Fire Commission, a Member of the Wausau Police Task Force, a Member on the Board of Directors for the Hmong American Center, and a Member on the Board of Directors for the Boys and Girls Club of the Wausau Area. I mention these roles because I think it demonstrates the amazing opportunities to serve that are available here.
Additionally, this past April I began serving on the Marathon County Board of Supervisors for District 3, which covers the Downtown Wausau area. It’s worth mentioning, I never thought I’d get involved in politics, however I was inspired by a statement given during President Obama’s first campaign, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or time. We are the ones we‘ve been waiting for. My focus always has been to listen and connect with residents about the issues that are important to them. And now, in this role, I can be an effective advocate for them as well, working on their behalf to bring changes that will improve their daily lives.
As it turned out, I became the first black person to serve on the Marathon County Board. I think as a black man I do bring a different perspective, life experience and voice to the board. It is my hope that more minorities, people of color, different voices are heard as well, and that people feel – because maybe they didn’t see someone who looked like them before – that they also have a voice here and can speak up. I want everyone to know they belong here, and feel encouraged to also get involved in their community. This year we have seen more women, members of the Hmong community, and people from all different backgrounds take on leadership roles in local government. It is a testament to the fact that this area does appreciate the contributions of all its residents, including diverse populations. I always say, “We are stronger when moving forward together,” and I sense the majority of people here agree.
I am proud of the Wausau community and thankful to have found it. The residents here really are the city’s most valuable asset and biggest attraction. This is the reason I feel passionate about living here and investing in this community. For anyone looking for a city that will welcome you and allow you to quickly get to work making an impact, Wausau is it. Bring your passions and take the initiative to use them for the greater good. There is a very strong community spirit here. No matter what your passion or cause, you can make a real impact and ensure that Wausau continues to be a great place to call home.