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In Memoriam: Andrea Harris

Andrea Harris, co-founder of the Durham-based nonprofit, North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development, passed away on May 20, 2020. She was 72. A distinguished figure on Durham’s Black Wall Street, Harris won many leadership and business awards, including the 2018 Samuel DuBois Cook Society Award for Distinguished Service, as well as several Orders of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest honor. "It was Duke’s honor to recognize Ms. Harris as the recipient of the Cook Society Distinguished Service award in 2018," said Kimberly Hewitt, Duke’s Vice President for Institutional Equity and Chief Diversity Officer. "Though I never had the chance to meet her, her legacy resonates and inspires, at this moment in particular, as we think about the impact of today’s challenges on the communities to which she dedicated her efforts."

Harris broke barriers and opened opportunities for the economic advancement of businesses owned by people of color and women in the state. A native of Henderson, she grew up during the civil rights movement and completed a degree from Bennett College. Instead of continuing to graduate school, she chose to dedicate her life to community activism in the 1970s. She led rural multi-county efforts to improve the lives of thousands of low-income state residents by successfully challenging bank mergers that targeted minority and low-income neighborhoods.

In 1986, Harris and two colleagues co-founded the groundbreaking NC Institute of Minority Economic Development, a nonprofit focused on growing minority and women-owned businesses. Institute president Kevin J. Price wrote in his message announcing Harris’ passing, "Ms. Harris was an extraordinarily gifted, visionary leader. It was her vision and fortitude that birthed The NC Institute of Minority Economic Development in 1986. And for over two decades, she was at the helm of our organization, being a fierce leader and advocate for the marginalized and disenfranchised. She has left all of us a precious gift – the spirit and responsibility of continuing her work. Fortunately, The Institute remains an anchor in our community, dedicated to our mission – to strengthen the asset base of diverse populations through policy, education and opportunities."

Governor Roy Cooper said in his May 20 press release, "Andrea Harris was a trailblazer who never stopped fighting for social and racial equity in our state. When doors were intentionally shut, she broke through for women and minority-owned businesses to succeed, modeled excellence in advocacy and mentored scores of freedom fighters. She left an indelible impact on North Carolina’s business and African American communities, and she will be missed."

Davis-Royster Funeral Service in Henderson is handling funeral arrangements.

Written by Maria Moreno
Main image of Andrea Harris courtesy of The Institute.
Second image of Ben Reese, former Vice President for Institutional Equity retired, and Andrea Harris at the 2018 Samuel DuBois Cook Society Awards Dinner.