By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior Correspondent
If Gladys Harrison isn’t the most unique candidate to run for Congress out of Nebraska, folks would be hard-pressed to find who is.
Harrison, a Democrat, runs her late mother’s popular Omaha eatery, “Big Mama’s Kitchen.”
She isn’t the least-bit wealthy and doesn’t have health insurance because the required monthly premiums are much too costly.
She has a criminal record – when she was 18, Harrison once worked as a cashier and failed to ring up an item one of her friends checked out at her register. She immediately fessed up to that crime and reportedly spent a weekend in jail.
But, she’s also a walking-talking billboard for the working-class and underserved.
“I’m ready for whatever people want to bring up about the things I’ve done. Many of the problems that I’ve had are a result of being a single black woman trying to raise a family on one paycheck,” Harrison told NNPA Newswire.
“Those same issues that I faced, you know, many folks in America, men and women are facing those same kinds of problems,” she stated.
Harrison said it bothers her that over the last few decades, the American dream has become an unachievable reality for most.
“The voice of working-class and middle-class Americans have been drowned out by lobbyists and special interest groups. This, combined with the astronomical cost of health care, the burden of student debt, and the lack of jobs that pay a decent wage have led many Americans to have to work two or even three jobs to make ends meet,” she stated.
“Most people who run for office are lawyers, people who served in the military, and people who have a lot of money. We don’t have many people in Congress who know what it’s like to struggle to pay the gas bill. We don’t have many who understand the underserved, the working person, the single mom,” Harrison added.
“That’s why I am running.”
Harrison is among four Democrats running to unseat Rep. Don Bacon for the Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District.
Kara Eastman, Ann Ashford, and Morgann Freeman are the other Democrats.
Harrison said she’s well-suited to address issues like affordable health insurance for everyone and to push for living wages while making sure tax policy helps the lower and middle classes.
Her platform also includes gun control, education, and criminal justice reform, with which, like all of her other mandates, she’s had personal experience.
“Justice is a huge issue for me. Our unfair and unbalanced justice system has affected my family personally, and it has for generation,” Harrison said. “Justice is not doled out evenly in this country. And if you’re poor and especially if you’re poor and black or brown, the justice systems do a job on you, and I’m not just talking about sentencing,” she stated.
“Prisons have become for-profit corporations. Somebody’s making money from the phone calls that inmates make to their families.”
Harris stated that America once produced some of the greatest minds.
“We had problem solvers, and thinkers and creators and innovators. And that’s not happening anymore, and there’s a variety of reasons,” she stated.
Born and raised in Omaha, Harrison counts as a 4th generation Nebraskan with deep roots in the local community, where legendary human rights activist Malcolm X was born.
As a youth, Harrison spent her summers at Galleghars pool, enjoying treats at the Dippy Donut Shop, and learning valuable skills as a Brownie and Girl Scout.
Harrison attended Omaha public schools, and she’s never been a stranger to the value and reward of hard work – she got her first job at age 14.
Later as a high school senior, Harrison earned election as the Nebraska State President for Future Business Leaders of America.
She worked at U.S. West Communications for 22 years, later becoming a member of the Communications Workers of America, Local 7400, where she served as Steward.
Eventually, she helped her mother achieve a lifelong dream of owning a restaurant, opening Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering in 2007.
Big Mama’s has since become a fixture in the Omaha community and has also gained national notoriety, appearing on the Food Network, the Travel Channel, Sundance Channel, and the Cooking Channel.
It was just a year ago that Harrison’s mother, Patricia “Big Mama” Barron, passed away in 2018.
Harrison still works at the restaurant with family members.
“They don’t make people like my mother anymore. My mother was one of those people who had been through everything, including destruction, divorce, and disaster,” Harrison noted.
“But she had an uncanny ability to do something about it. In spite of her condition (Barron battled breast cancer), if she wanted to know more about something, she got involved. She taught my sisters and me that same thing.”