Bartlett man runs for Senate, needs special van

Harrison Kelly

Harrison Kelly
Photo by Carolyn Bahm

Despite having multiple sclerosis, Harrison Kelly of Bartlett was active and on his feet for years, until the progressive disease weakened his legs so much that he couldn’t walk reliably, even with a cane.

Now he hopes to win a handicapped-equipped van to enable his political dream career.

Kelly was diagnosed with MS in 2004. He was playing volleyball one Friday night at church, when he began having problems with his legs. By the end of the weekend, Kelly had lost most of the use in both legs.

Medication helped, but Kelly’s symptoms have fluctuated over the years as the progressive, relapsing disease damaged the myelin sheathes around his nerves

For two and a half years, he taught seminars around the country on negotiation strategies, using a cane to walk. His health deteriorated, and he could no longer safely drive his standard van. Then the economy tanked, and his market dried up. He left that career and began accepting Social Security disability payments.

He has upgraded from a standard wheelchair to a new electric one as his MS worsened, and he keeps looking for ways to be active and contributing.

He writes fiction and has been published, including one story in the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series, but he still misses being mobile.

“There are so many things that, once you become handicapped, you do not realize how blessed you are to have the ability to drive,” he said.

He wants to run for the U.S. Senate, and that means he needs a vehicle to drive around the state for stump speeches and meetings with voters. He hopes to win a non-profit organization’s contest that awards specially equipped vans for people with mobility issues.

He wants to raise awareness about disabilities during the contest and in his Senate run. “If nothing else, it will shine a light on the problems the disabled have,” Kelly said. “… I live with that.”

About living with a disability, he said, “There are battles you go through. Just small signs. Try to go in a grocery store in a wheelchair.” He described trying to thread his way through the store while other rushed shoppers pushed past with their own carts and baskets.

Having a here-again-gone-again-back-again disability like MS can also be confusing to people around him. “People don’t intend to not be concerned, but they just don’t understand,” Kelly said. “Because in one moment, I can be fine; the next moment, I’m in pain. And sometimes you can’t tell.”

He feels ready to raise awareness for other sufferers and to take on politics.

“I’ve been trained by some of the best speakers there are, and some of the best teachers,” Kelly said. “And God wouldn’t allow that to happen unless he had a purpose for it. So I decided I’m going to go through this.”

He honed his speaking skills in his teens and early 20s, winning three state championships in public speaking at the high school level and a national college debate tournament.

To learn about writing legislation, he served as speaker of the senate at the University of Memphis and won awards competing with other student government bodies.

He was preparing for his dream career, and Kelly was offered a job as a speech writer for a Congressman who was running his first race.

But Kelly diverged from a path in politics then because he recalled what it was like growing up as the only child of a single mother.

He turned down the job.

“I never had a father, and I never had a brother or sister,” Kelly said. “And it was the most important thing for me to be a husband and a father, and I chose that.”

Some people may criticize that choice, but he said, “I think it’s more important to raise children who matter. Children who have principles.”

His children are grown, and he feels ready to try a new career.

This is his first bid for political office, and he admits the U.S. Senate is a lofty goal. Moving up in a political party means starting small and working your way up, Kelly said, but he is running as an independent.

“Sometimes you’ve got to give it a shot,” he said.


To help Harrison Kelly of Bartlett in his bid to win a wheelchair-accessible van enabled with hand controls, go online to vote. Voting ends May 9.

On that same site, you also can search for other potential winners by name, city and state. For example, Olive Branch police officer Mark Ayers, who was shot in the line of duty, is another candidate.

The competition is hosted by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA), a non-profit organization.

Written by Carolyn Bahm, Express editor. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email at