What an amazing experience at the Project GRAD dinner Wednesday evening -- thanks in large measure to a Buchtel alum sharing a most basic story of how his journey really began.
Leon Harris went from Akron kid to Ohio University grad to CNN intern to CNN producer to CNN anchor and now sits in the big chair anchoring for WJLA-TV in Washington, D.C. Heck of a ride for a local kid, but his homecoming talk centered on what he emotionally described as the pivotal moment in determining just who he really is.
It came, he told a riveted audience of 325+, while on assignment in Africa -- an assignment he really didn't want. With free time before a flight out of Dakar, Senegal he visited Goree Island (this Wikipedia entry doesn't do justice to the description Harris provided), the final stop for cargo (human and otherwise) bound for the Americas. Unseen hands held on to him, he recounted, forcing an epiphany of the heart and soul. It clearly drives who Leon Harris is today, and where he wants to be.
His message was powerful and clear: the miracles, he called it, of directing his DNA to this very spot and time, miracles we all share in many ways but take for granted. Unseen hands pushing and pulling us to places and roles we can choose to play in leading others.
What gave Leon Harris even more impact was the extended family sharing this First Annual Achieving Dreams Celebration, honoring the teachers such as Erie Island Principal Johnnette Snowden Curry; the parents such as Russel Neal, Jr; the volunteers such as Susan Vogelsang and James Toles and the big names who gave of their time and passion such as Akron Superintendent Sylvester Small, University President Luis Proenza, Council President Marco Sommerville, Judge Brenda Burnham Unruh, Deputy Mayor Billy Soule -- role models in their own rights for making their own dreams reality.
By the way -- best line of the night went to Small, who noted he was always nervous in the spotlight because he felt it wasn't right to be recognized for doing what God intended us to be doing all along.
This wasn't your typical non-profit dinner; I wasn't alone among the crowd perched on the edge of our seats sharing the moments and the motivations to take what we heard to heart. I expected a nice speech from Leon but not the real and deep emotion of his personal testimony on what life can bring us and the ultimate responsibility we hold in helping others make their dreams come true.
Leon Harris gives generously to Project GRAD, helping extend 50 scholarships to 100 and even signing over his usual speaking fee entirely to Buchtel High -- that's $5,000 for those of you keeping score.
Lessons from the heart combined with putting his money where his mouth is: that's a great example for anyone stepping up and taking responsibility for the world around him.
Amazing work, Mr. Harris.