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Dr. Grace Harris Is Remembered for ‘Her Spirit of Hope’

GREENSVILLE/EMPORIA DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

LOCAL BOARD MEETING

The Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services Administrative Board will hold its regular meeting Thursday, November 15th, 2018, at 3:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services located at 1748 East Atlantic Street.

GREAT OPPORTUNITIES IN TECHNOLOGY AND ENGINEERING CAREERS (GO-TEC) GRANT

GO TEC PROGRAM COORDINATOR

FOR THE EASTERN REGION LOCATED AT SOUTHSIDE VA COMMUNITY COLLEGE

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Please visit the employment page of our web site at http://www.dcc.vccs.edu/Employment/employment.htm for details.

Danville Community College is committed to becoming a model higher education institution for diversity and inclusion and invites multicultural professionals from all backgrounds to contribute to its aspiration for building an inclusive community where everyone is given equal opportunity to reach their full potential.  Employment will be contingent upon the results of a background check.         

By George Copeland Jr and Adam Hamza, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Dr. Grace Harris, whose life and career stretched from the roads of rural Halifax County to the halls of the Virginia State Capital, was celebrated Saturday at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.

Nearly 200 people, including family, friends, legislators and educators, assembled to remember Dr. Harris, who died Feb. 12 at age 84. She was praised as a “thoughtful, forward-thinking leader” by Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao. Dr. Harris remains the highest-ranking African-American woman in the college’s history.

Rao cited her 48-year tenure at the school, where she served as a dean, provost and acting president, as fundamental to VCU’s community and culture.

“I’ve talked a lot about VCU and its commitment to public good. That’s Grace,” Rao said. “VCU is committed to excellence and inclusion. That’s Grace.”

Rao also made clear that those present “must never forget” how racism initially barred Dr. Harris from attending VCU (the Richmond Professional Institute at the time) during her college years. As a result, Harris had to start graduate school out of state – at Boston University, where her classmates included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Members of the Harris family shared memories and personal stories of how they viewed her legacy.

In the course of their life together, Dr. Harris and her husband, James W. “Dick” Harris, had two children – James and Gayle. James Harris described the work ethic his mother instilled in him growing up in a letter read by his wife, Noelle Harris.

“She showed me what hard work, talent and dedication can do,” James Harris wrote. “And I’m glad to say and show her that I listened.”

Gayle Harris reminisced about the openness, kindness and respect her mother showed her throughout their life together.

“How wonderful it has been to have such support, encouragement, acceptance and love,” she said.

Recalling his time working with Dr. Harris on VCU’s Board of Visitors, Roger Gregory, chief judge of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, remembered the “prescription of life” she brought during her tenure.

“She gently wove her spirit of hope into the tapestry of every professional endeavor she had and every professional encounter,” Gregory said.

A number of political leaders, including Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, attended the service. U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner were unable to attend but wrote letters sending their regards. Dr. Harris served on Warner’s transition team for his term as Virginia governor in 2001. When Kaine was governor, she helped him choose appointees to university boards of trustees.

Former Gov. Douglas Wilder noted the challenges Dr. Harris faced and overcame as a woman of color in a racially segregated state and society. He also spoke of the importance of her legacy at a time of national upheaval and change for women.

Quoting Dr. Harris directly, Wilder left the audience with words of inspiration: “I will persist until I succeed, for I was not delivered into this world in defeat.”

That inspiration was evident in those in attendance. Leon Sankofa, president and founder of Family and Youth Foundations Counseling Services in Hampton, said Dr. Harris’ outreach efforts led him to enroll in VCU’s School of Social Work, where she served as assistant professor from 1967 to 1976.

“She was my idol,” Sankofa said. “She still is.”

Dr. Harris’ legacy of compassion extended beyond the funeral’s speakers and audience. Band leader Rudy Faulkner, during the opening musical selection, briefly mentioned the kindness the Harris family showed him one Christmas many years ago.

It was this compassion and kindness that Jullian Harrison, Dr. Harris’ grandson, saw as her greatest quality.

“Yes, she was smart. Yes, she was kind. But also, she was empathetic,” he recalled. Harrison said that is what made his grandmother so special.

“In a day and age when leadership and power is so synonymous with the focus on self, the fact that she could build a legacy and foundation based on kindness and to have it be successful is what made her.”

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