Tallahassee, Fla. – Cheryl A. Harris, C.P.M., chairwoman of the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) Industry Cluster and Allstate Insurance Senior Vice President of Sourcing and Procurement Services, will deliver the keynote address for the FAMU National Alumni Association Fundraising Breakfast, which will be held in conjunction with the annual alumni convention on Saturday, May 16 in Houston, Texas. Last year, the event raised more than $100,000 for scholarships and university improvements through alumni chapter contributions and individual pledges.
Harris says she plans to encourage alumni to invest in the FAMU of the future, which will look a lot different from the FAMU of the past.
“As Rattlers it’s our responsibility to preserve our legacy and prepare for the future,” says Harris. “Preparing for the future can only be done through the use of metrics, heightened levels of performance, and a renewed sense of accountability. We are all operating in a new world and we must be open to welcoming change What’s most important is supporting the university to ensure there’s a FAMU sitting on the highest of seven hills 125 years from now.”
Harris hopes her message will inspire a new sense of urgency with alumni to get involved in the giving process or challenge themselves to give at higher levels. She believes financial support of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) is more important today than ever before since so many students need outside support through scholarships and financial aid in order to afford college Harris was born in Chicago to teenage parents who didn’t have the money to send her to school. Scholarships made all the difference in her chance to pursue a higher education.
“My family could not afford to send me to school, but someone told my mom about Silas Purnell, founder of Ada S. McKinley Community Services in Chicago,” recalls Harris. “Mr. Purnell made a career out of helping inner city youth attend college. I went to his office located in a south side housing project and Silas had made the rounds with many schools that had money to give poor inner city kids. With his help, I applied to the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Worchester Polytechnic Institute, the University of Washington and FAMU. I was accepted into four of the five schools and got money from four of the five, but I decided to go to FAMU.”
Harris was one of many future Rattlers majoring in business to receive the infamous “Superstar” letters penned by Dean Sybil Mobley, founder of the FAMU School of Business and Industry.
“If it were not for all of the people who had given to FAMU back in the day so that Sybil Mobley could give me a Superstar Scholarship, I don’t know where I would be today,” says Harris, who is thankful that she was able to break the cycle of poverty for her family. “I wasn’t supposed to make it. I am forever grateful for that opportunity and that’s why I give.”
Today, Harris and her husband (Brian Booker, a fellow Rattler) give to FAMU annually. Harris has solicited support from her current and previous employers to support FAMU – that’s over two decades of giving. Additionally, she supports FAMU with the gift of her time by serving as the Industry Cluster chair and as a member of the FAMU Foundation Board.
The hard work is paying off and she soon hopes to be able to call her nephew one of the newest members of the Rattler FAMU-ly. Although he is a special needs student living with narcolepsy, Harris and her sister believe FAMU will be the right place for him to find a nurturing environment and support system to guide him through school.
“My nephew went on the college tours and he is working on getting into FAMU,” says Harris. “That’s a demonstration of how much I still believe in FAMU. We initially thought about keeping him close [to home], but he needs to be in an environment where people care and want him to flourish in an academic setting. That’s what FAMU represents.”
To hear Cheryl A. Harris speak at the FAMU NAA Annual Alumni Convention on Saturday, May 16, register online at www.FAMUAlumniConvention.com.
Alonda Thomas Public Relations