Gloria D. Harris, a life-long Austin resident, received an award for her community activism and childhood educational advocacy during Austin Coming Together’s Early Childhood Symposium on Oct. 12.
Harris, describes herself as a longtime advocate of the pursuit of education as the path for changing your life. As a mother of 11 children, Harris proudly states that all of her children went through Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Now, as a grandmother of 21, she boasts that many of her grandchildren are attending CPS, and that most started in early learning programs.
Since 2003, Harris has worked as an educational ambassador with COFI (Community Organizing and Family Issues) and POWER-PAC (Parents Organized to Win, Educate and Renew — Policy Action Council). As an educational ambassador, between June and October, Harris goes door-to-door, block-by-block in the Austin, Lawndale, and West Garfield Park communities talking to parents about the importance of getting their children involved in early learning programs.
“I’m passionate about it (early learning) because when you do your best, then you will learn that other things in life become important,’ Harris said. “It’s so important to have a child in school instead of out of school. If a child doesn’t learn anything, then how can he teach his or her children?” Harris said.
Harris said she believes early learning prevents a lot of dropouts. “It prevents a lot of other things too,” she said. “When a child attends early learning programs they are more sociable. They get along better with other children, and they move through the system better.”
Harris has been very successful in helping to get children involved in the city’s Ready to Learn Program, which is a newer version of Head Start. She also serves on the governor’s office’s Council for Early Learning.
Harris said when COFI and POWER-PAC learned there weren’t any parents on the governor’s council they got together and elected her to serve. As a council member, Harris said she participates in talks about the budget, “such as places where the money needs to be, and what programs need to be done.”
Harris believes her greatest strength lies in successfully getting everybody involved in early learning. “My greatest success, I believe is in talking to people about early learning and other programs such as Stepping Out of Poverty and Restorative Justice.
She is thrilled at having worked on and successfully won the effort to restore recess for CPS students. Harris said the campuses were closed as the administration felt they were unsafe, and the students were retained in the building all day. The victory came about when the group conducted a study, which determined that keeping the children in from recess wasn’t helping them.
Harris said her love for education came from her parents, “My father went to college, but my mother didn’t,” she said, but they always stressed the importance of getting an education in order to improve your life. Along with her now deceased husband, Harris instilled the importance of getting an education in her children by keeping a lot of books around the house and encouraging them to read.
Harris said that when she talks directly to parents she tells them the importance of getting their children in and keeping them in school.
“I’d say keep them in school, but don’t just send them. Make sure to know what they are doing. Stay on them to do their homework. Get involved with the schools and find out what they are doing in the school,” Harris said. “Sometimes the kids are messing up because no one is watching them,” she said.
After more than 30 years of being an educational advocate for children, Harris is not slowing down.
“With God’s will, I want to keep on helping people,” she said. “Successful people need to hang around successful people. Success comes with doing. You cannot move anything by sitting down, but you can move a lot of things if you stand up,” she said.