Johari Harris

Johari harrisBuilding Bridges for Kids

It was in her sophomore year at The City College of New York, the first of her three years volunteering at a Harlem Children’s Zone charter school, that Johari Harris says she “realized that I was very interested in working in education because of the disparities that I saw due to a poor educational system and the great things that could happen in a great educational institution.”

That experience -- made possible by a $10,000 per year Josh and Judy Weston Scholarship for public service, which relieves select City College students from having to earn a paycheck -- set her on her current path. After graduating in 2009, she joined Teach for America for a two-year stint teaching fourth grade English language arts and social studies in New Orleans. Now she’s headed to South Africa under a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship.

"I'm interested in comparative education, trying to build bridges between cultures. The Fulbright will allow me to explore that on another level," she says.

It will be her second sojourn in South Africa. In the summer of 2008, she volunteered in Cape Town with World Teach, a nongovernmental organization founded by Harvard students in 1986 to lend educational assistance in developing countries. To pay her way, she raised $4,500 in tax-deductible contributions from family and friends.

"Fourteen years after apartheid ended, South Africa was still divided between colored, black and white communities -- three very different worlds living next to each other." That experience has enlightened her teaching, not only with classroom management techniques learned from a Cape Town teacher whose classroom was jammed with 44 first-graders, but also with a cultural and historical framework.

"African-American students often don’t know much about where they come from and the greatness they come from," she says. "I want to show them the world beyond their own. I want my students to be citizens of the world. We all have an impact on the world and it's your choice whether it will be positive or negative."

She has not yet decided upon her future plans. Perhaps a master's in the social and cultural field. Perhaps a related doctoral program. “One of my professors at City College, Roy Middleton, once told me that your work should be your play, and at the end of the day, my passion and play is working with kids."