Hues of AU Alumni: Meet the Harris Family
American University alumni are diverse, each birthed with a background as colorful as the cultural history and hues they represent. A shining example of this uniqueness is the Harris family, where four siblings – Joseph, Tyrone, Mark, and Kendra – graduated from AU with lasting student legacies and great pride, remaining engaged as alumni of the university.
Tyrone “Ty” Harris, Esq., SOC/BA ’72, WCL/JD ’75, served as one of 11 multicultural reunion co-chairs during the 2013 All-American Weekend, so we asked him to share his view of why the Harris family decided AU was their school of choice and why AU means so much to them. Here’s what we learned:
Motivated by their parents to seek education as a means of empowerment and opportunity, Ty’s older brother Joseph “Joe” Harris, MD, CAS/BS ’70, was the first to attend AU. Joe and three other students began a popular black student engagement group called OASATAU (Organization of African and African-American Students at The American University) and motivated the university’s efforts to create the first Frederick Douglass Scholars (FDS) program.
In its first iteration, FDS provided academic and funding support for students in Washington, D.C. public schools and provided these students a new type of educational access. Ty was a member of the first FDS class in 1968, and was soon followed by his best friend and AU Trustee The Honorable Gerald B. Lee, SOC/BA ’73, WCL/JD ’76.
Mark Harris, JD, SOC/BA ’80 and Kendra Harris, PhD, Kogod/BSBA ’83 also followed in Ty’s footsteps as FDS members.
As a high school student, Mark was given the opportunity to host a sports segment on WAMU’s show Spirits Known and Unknown, then hosted by Judge Lee and the two-time Academy Award-winning Russell Williams, SOC/BA ’74, who today serves AU as distinguished artist-in-residence and professor of film and media arts.
Kendra was highly engaged in student life as a Nu Alpha Chapter member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., one of AU’s historically black Greek-lettered organizations. She continued her education after AU by completing an MBA, and earning a PhD in marketing and diversity management. She has had a twenty year career in higher education and is now also cultivating a blog, "HappilyNeverMarried.com".
When asked to share his favorite AU moments, Ty shared 12; but the one that most warmed our hearts was “the night that [he] married [his] AU college sweetheart, [the former] Pam Higgins, in a candlelight service at the Kay Spiritual Life Center [in] 1974.” Ty and Pam Higgins Harris, A.G.S., CAS/BA ’72, CAS/MEd '73 celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in June.
When reflecting on his volunteerism during reunion weekend in October, Ty says that coming back gives him “yet another opportunity to positively impact the lives of young people who remind me of myself, my family, my friends, and other [AU alumni].”
The Harris Family is one of many stories that make up the tapestry of AU’s history.
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