BELLE ISLE — Larry Miles may quickly be becoming known as the selfie king.
In the past few weeks, he’s stopped a number of fellow residents of Belle Isle to ask them to take a selfie with him — photos that he then posts on his social media sites.
“I stop and say, ‘Hey, I’m running, let’s take a selfie,’ ” he said. “They all love it. I think it’s fantastic.”
What’s unique about what Miles is doing is that it’s not an effort to post the highest number of selfie photos with other people on his social media pages. He is running, all right, but not as a jogger or part of a daily health routine. The running refers to his run for the Belle Isle city commission, in the municipal election that’s coming up on March 10.
Out on the campaign trail, meeting residents and talking about the issues that he’s campaigning on, Miles has found that his requests to take selfies with constituents has turned out to be a great way to meet people — and to introduce himself.
“I’ve always been a photo fan,” Miles said. “So I’ll say, ‘Want to take a selfie together? I’m not saying you’re endorsing me, I’m just saying I’m out meeting people and let’s take a picture together.’ “
It’s turned out to be a great way to break the ice, he added.
“They can see I’m genuine,” he said. “Visualization is very important. People sharing a moment from someone else’s life is important to people, and taking a photo together is something people can relate to — and I want to be able to relate to people. I think that’s important.”
Miles’ creative use of social media and the selfie phenomenon has made his time out on the campaign trail pleasant and fun, an enjoyable way to connect with voters. It combines emerging high tech social media trends with old-fashioned grassroots campaigning.
But there’s also a very serious side to Miles’ campaign. He got into the race last December, he noted, following almost two years of coping with a personal tragedy that shocked his family: the death of his son.
“My son passed away in June 2013,” Miles said. “He was 21 and he had an accidental drug overdose. of illegally obtained prescription drugs.”
It was a tragedy that no one in the family saw coming, he said, and when it did, it was devastating.
“That’s one of the toughest things any family can go through,” Miles said. “His death is a direct result of the pill mill doctors who prescribe highly addictive pain pills to everyone who asks. I met a pharmacist on the campaign trail and he noted that there were dozens of people lined up at his pharmacy with the same script of the same dose from the same doctor. The drugs are then sold on the street. The medications that killed my son are a direct result of the disgusting greed of the physicians, pharmacies and drug manufactures who know these drugs are being abused but have no desire to stop it due to their financial windfall. Their greed killed my son.”
No one in the family was aware this was happening until it was too late, he said.
“We didn’t understand that there were signs to watch,” he said. “We raised our son right. But he was a risk taker. My son was brilliant. But he had this weakness that we didn’t know about — until it was too late.”
It was social media, as it turns out, that gave Miles an opportunity for emotional healing. Through sites like Facebook, he began to connect with others around the country who had undergone similar experiences — families still reeling from the tragic loss of a child.
“When my son passed away, I began communicating with people on a national basis,” he said. “It was easier to communicate with strangers than with people I know.”
What he and other parents learned, he said, is that awareness of the problem could potentially prevent future tragedies.
“There needs to be better education out there of what a parent could do to make sure this doesn’t happen,” he said.
He also felt more strongly on the need to support law enforcement and the job they do making communities safe.
“That was a natural progression,” he said. “We’ve got a good police force here. We need to be supportive of them.”
That was partly why Miles decided to run for the seat on his city commission. He felt he had a role to play in helping the community.
“I was asked to run,” Miles said. “This isn’t something I had on my radar. Several people asked me to run. It just seems to me everything is coming together for me to run for this office. I feel like there is a higher hand guiding me. I’m a supportive person. I think it’s important of me to be supportive of other people. We have a great community. I want to be a part of that.”
In the meantime, Miles said he plans to keep using unconventional methods — like those smiling selfies — to reach out to voters.
“This is my first time running,” he said, “so I’m going to be pretty different.”
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