On Thursday, May 20, 2020, we lost a giant of a person, a great leader housed in small stature who demonstrated her love for her community through service.
Andrea Harris, a petite person, had a voice twice her size, an inquiring and demanding mind, and a heart and soul that embraced all humanity. Andrea was a fighter-agitator for justice, equality, education and economic development for all. She was committed to encouraging others to respect themselves, the development of communities, and the establishment of positive racial relations. Andrea was willing to speak truth to power and friends, and it was often to their disgust and annoyance. She was a visionary.
Andrea Harris was our friend, and she was a dedicated friend of the little person. She challenged North Carolina’s governors, members of the North Carolina legislature, U.S. Congresspersons, and local governments to provide more resources and better governance for their constituents, regardless of party affiliation or friendship. Andrea was a bipartisan agitator. Her strategical and demanding mind allowed her to challenge presidents of banks at the time of mergers to gain greater access to capital for low-wealth communities, small and minority businesses that were denied capital during regular bank operations. The bank presidents learned to respect Andrea, for her knowledge of the system and her determination to help her community and constituents.
Andrea’s love and commitment to our local area began with her leadership at Franklin-Vance-Warren Opportunity Program (FVW). There she started the first rural transportation program in the state, enhanced the Head Start program, and provided affordable housing. Although her career and leadership talents allowed her to assume other statewide positions, she never ceased caring about or monitoring FVW’s progress. She continued to secure resources for the organization and did not hesitate to share her disappointment when the organization failed to live up to higher standards. She used her memberships on local and state boards to challenge them to serve their constituency in new and evolving ways to meet current needs and accept fiscal responsibility. It broke her heart to see our citizens, parents and students accept low standards in education. Andrea knew the future of our communities was dependent on excellent and robust education systems.
Andrea Harris, a Bennett Belle, took off her fancy white gloves after graduation in 1970, put on her strategical thinking cap, sharpened her collaborative skills and relationships, and committed herself to the growth and stability of Bennett College throughout her life after graduation. She did much more than giving money; she fought for new programs, strong leadership, and stayed in the accreditation struggle. Andrea also fought for additional resources from the federal government. She loved and served this institution well. I wish I could claim to be the loyal alumna of my alma mater as was Andrea, who was one of a kind.
Andrea and I had a long relationship. I knew her throughout her adult working career in various positions. She would honor me by asking for my advice and often politely ignore it. She called me her mentor or big sister and was very protective. We sometimes disagreed on strategies, but never on goals. She didn’t mind telling me what I should do and why. She never gave up on the potential for economic and human development in her beloved home area.
Andrea wore red and white, I pink and green. However, we were sisters in the fight for humanity. She was a Methodist, and I a Presbyterian. We both struggled to serve and love God. Andrea, although not perfect, was a great servant-leader throughout her life. She is now with her Creator. Greatness and perfection are not synonyms. Andrea’s service was the evidence of her love for our community. For that, we are more than grateful. We thank God for her life.
Eva Clayton is a former U.S. congresswoman and former U.N. official with the Food Agriculture Organization who resides in Warren County.