It has been a true honor to have known and worked with Andrea Harris all my life. I met Andrea in kindergarten, which was the only one in our town for blacks. We grew up in segregation when the world was black and white and when blacks in particular were expected to stay in their place.
Even then, Andrea was different and ahead of her time. In kindergarten, she was pushing the lines. In elementary and high school, she was a leader and member of all the academic societies. She played the piano and was bow legged and cute to top it all off. We enjoyed the best of teachers in our early education at Eaton-Johnson and the Henderson Institute. We had teachers and administrators who believed that we could be what we wanted to be and rise above the circumstance and environment in which we were forced to operate.
If segregation did anything for those of us growing up in this very strong, values- and goal-oriented community, it made some of us love our people even more. Andrea was a values-driven individual who was consistent all her life. Coming from a true middle-class family, she never acted differently or separated herself from her friends and the issues of the time. She was compassionate and bold with courage that was contagious.
The Warrior for Justice was being formed as she went off to college and life beyond Henderson. During the turbulent years of the civil rights movement she was being shaped by her experiences as a student at Bennett College and the surroundings of A&T State University and the city of Greensboro. This experience moved her closer to the work she would do for life.
When Andrea and I reconnected after college, she was on her mission of justice and inclusion. She had some clear visions and goals, was thinking very strategically about capacity building, justice, public policy and enabling folk to represent themselves as she was doing community organizing.
She became very focused on ownership and wealth creation as we moved our goals to access to capital, homeownership, entrepreneurship and institution building. She was there as we formed our early strategies to engage financial institutions on their affirmative obligations to not red line black and low-income communities. She was bold and strategic in these negotiations. She was there when we decided to engage the state to include minority interests in the state budget via targeted investments that would support both community priorities and minority controlled institutions. She spent many nights at the General Assembly supporting and encouraging legislators to hold the line on these critical investments. She was there leading discussions that led to the creation of a number of critical institutions that would be minority controlled and led. She gave 25 years of her professional life to one of those institutions, The Institute of Minority Economic Development, which became a national model for equal opportunity, access to capital, minority participation and inclusion, procurement and construction. Everyone in the state and nation who worked in these areas of interest knew the Institute and Andrea and looked to her and this Institute for leadership. The Institute built a network of public and private partners that advocated for minority- and women-owned businesses, financial reform, public policy and stability and growth for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Andrea was a phenomenal woman who worked tirelessly for strong community life and quality education for all. Her faith made her a conscious human being. The sister I knew and respected will forever live if we follow her example.
Thank you Sister Andrea. We love you.
Abdul Sm Rasheed is a Henderson resident who is president/CEO of the N.C. Community Development Initiative and currently serves on the North Carolina Rural Infrastructure Authority board and the Vance-Granville Community College board.