Hill Harper Is Running For U.S. Senate – But Here’s What You Might Not Know

The actor, author and activist wants to serve Michigan in Congress. But his path has been an interesting one.

With a long career in film and television and an established reputation in activism, actor Hill Harper running for congress wasn’t on everyone’s political bingo card this election cycle. But he’s thrown in his hat with an announcement on Monday, saying he’s vying to serve Michigan in the U.S. Senate.

"We're in a state where I think the triple blue leadership in Lansing has done really hard work moving the state forward, but in Washington, D.C., it's still broken. And folks feel like it's still broken. And I'm one of them," he told The Detroit News in an interview.

Harper, 57, who is also a bestselling author, is running against, so far, five other Democrats for the nomination. He hopes to battle against one of the four Republicans who want the seat being vacated by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who announced in January that she would not be running for re-election in 2024.

Most recognizable for his role on the CBS hit show “CSI: NY” and the ABC drama “The Good Doctor,” Harper has an interesting story that makes up his path to seeking public office for the first time. Here are some things you may not know about the aspiring lawmaker.

He was a classmate of Barack Obama at Harvard Law School.

Okay, maybe you did know about this one because he’s never kept his relationship with the 44th president a secret. He’s said in past interviews that the two met on the basketball court while both were law students, several years after he graduated Brown University with a degree in economics. He later campaigned for Obama during his first run for president. “He went to law school knowing why he was going. I went straight from undergrad to grad school. He had a sense of gravitas and judgment. I looked up to him then and I look up to him now. He gets it right,” he told NBC’s TODAY in 2008.

He has an educational background that matches other politicians.

Harper earned his juris doctor from Harvard Law and his Master of Public Administration from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1992. He also carries an armful of honorary doctoral degrees from places like  Winston-Salem State University, Cheyney University, Westfield State College, Tougaloo College, Le-Moyne Owen College, Dillard University and Howard University, according to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. He received another honorary degree from Rhode Island’s Providence College in May.

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He owns a coffee shop and a mansion in Detroit.

In 2017, Harper bought the historic Charles T. Fisher mansion, once owned by the automotive magnate, while filming in the Motor City. He said he fell in love with the city’s “creative energy.” He began renovating it as a place for him and his son Pierce to live, and while doing that, he purchased Roasting Plant Coffee, a store in the city’s downtown where he had previously been an investor. He involved his Manifest Your Destiny Foundation, which focuses on youth in marginalized communities, to help with job training in the area. He said others had tried to discourage him from settling in Detroit, but he was determined. “I want my investment to help the city. I want it to help the community, he told the Detroit Free Press.  “It’s where I can have actual positive impact and then hopefully by my presence encourage other people to move in and invest as well.

He’s an investor in the fintech space.

In 2020, just before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Harper began working on what would be come the Black Wall Street app, a digital wallet that allows peer-to-peer payments of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Partnering with Najah Roberts, an expert and early adapter in the crypto space, Harper targeted closing the racial wealth gap by focusing on unbanked African Americans and others who need financial education. “It’s not just about transferring money to folks, it’s about transferring information, ideas, and building community, and we see that that is the real value and the real differentiator,” he told CNBC in 2021.

He has backing from several other African Americans in the political sphere.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin is the frontrunner among Democrats in the Michigan senatorial race, so defeating her in the primary would be an uphill battle. But Harper has Black political pham in high places. According to TIME magazine, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker encouraged him to run for office. Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock also visited him in Detroit to speak about his experiences. He’s even reportedly a contemporary of Maryland Gov. Wes Moore. It is unclear if Obama will endorse him or become involved with his campaign. With a win, not only would Harper be Michigan’s lone Black representation in Congress. He would be one of four Black men in the Senate, including Booker, Raphael, and Sen. Tim Scott, who is running for president as a Republican.

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