Recently, a local children’s book author, journalist, activist, and storyteller visited Sanford’s campus to share her mission of empowering and encouraging students, especially young girls of color, with students in both the lower and upper divisions. Ms. Bettinita Harris responded to a personal invitation from her friend, Sanford English Instructor and Assistant Director of College Counseling Katie Trachtenberg '06, to visit the campus and meet with some of the students.
Ms. Harris began her day by presenting a slide show to the upper school students during their morning meeting. As a journalist for more than 20 years, Ms. Harris had a front row seat to history. Her PowerPoint showed the most impactful aspects of her career, including conversations with important people and crossing police lines in Louisiana during the Civil Rights Movement.
One moving slide showed Ms. Harris at the Whitney Plantation sitting next to a sculpture of a small slave girl. At that moment, she realized that the struggle of that little girl was also her struggle. She recalled her African American second-grade teacher telling her that she would never amount to anything. Ms. Harris remarked: "Anyone can put you in a box, but anyone can also accomplish something despite obstacles. You need to create your own labels because you can be assured others are willing to do it for you."
Following the Upper School morning meeting, Ms. Harris spent time with a small group of Lower School students. Thirteen students chose to participate in the program that included Ms. Harris reading her book Aria’s Crown, which is the first in her Sisters for Life, Best Friends Forever series. Harris' children’s books, inspired by her grandchildren, provide life lessons to help encourage and empower children of color, more specifically, young African American girls. Lower School Head Libbie Zimmer remarked how Aria’s Crown provided a springboard of interactions and hands-on activities that reinforce and support self-discovery, self identity, and self affirmation.
Katie reflected: "Bettinita’s presentation was serious and impactful. She really has an important message, and she has committed her journalistic voice and career to use her platform for those who cannot. Now as a children’s author, Bettinita is using her talents as a writer to help children of color, with an emphasis on African American girls, develop a strong self-image. We were so appreciative that Bettinita was willing to come to Sanford to share her message and insights."
Ms. Harris’s work with the students was a continuation of the efforts being made by the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee to enhance the educational opportunities for all Sanford students and to further explore the school-wide theme of IDENTITY.