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Executive Director: “Put In The Work”

rahsaan1Rahsaan Harris went to school a biology major, but by the time he became Executive Director of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, he’d been to the Peace Corps, taught in New York City public schools, led a community technology center, and worked at a foundation. He says he’s not lucky; just good at being able to come off the bench and make a difference. Now he’s teaching others in the social justice and philanthropy worlds to do the same.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How long have you been doing this job?
I am the Executive Director of a nonprofit called Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy. It’s a lot of fancy words to say that we bring together people that work in philanthropy and provide leadership development for them so that they can have more impact through the work that they do. The organization was founded on the principle that people who work in grant-making foundations and other organized philanthropy need support, but there’s also space in our network for people who are committed to social change work and making an impact, even if they don’t currently work in a foundation.

How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail?
On the program side, I’m constantly looking for opportunities to highlight what young and emerging leaders can do and how it can transform philanthropy. So what does that look like? It’s encouraging people to become thought leaders by getting them to write blog poss and lead webinars. It’s trying to get people to act locally by organizing convenings and leading meetings of their peers to discuss issues and share best practices. It’s trying to identify common themes that could be part of a curriculum to help our leaders stretch themselves beyond where they would typically go.

On the financial side, to keep this thing going, we have to raise money. So I’m out there every day thinking about how we add value to the field of philanthropy and social change movements. I’m making the case about our value to those who would be our institutional supporters and help fund the work that we do. The reality is that without the funding, none of the other stuff would be able to happen.

I also engage our board in making sure that what we do fits our mission and tell as many people as possible about why that mission is so important.

rahsaan4What was your journey to doing this kind of work? How did you get here?
In school, I was a bio major, but after I graduated I decide to join the Peace Corps after graduation and do environmental education in Uruguay for my 2 years. When I got back, I became a teacher in the New York City Public Schools, inspired by my Mom’s work as an educator and the work I’d done abroad, and my mentors at the time told me that technology was going to be more and more important to being a good educator, so I looked for after-school programs that would let me use technology and started volunteering for HarlemLive.

HarlemLive at the time had a very inspirational director who was basically the soul of the organization, but he didn’t like a lot of the functional work that has to get done on the administrative side when you’re running an organization. I applied for and got a Fellowship from the Open Society Institute to become Associate Director and help him organize what he was doing – it was one of my first formal leadership positions. When my Fellowship ran out, the community technology center Playing2Win, which is where HarlemLive was located, needed an Executive Director and had seen the work I’d done with HarlemLive, so they hired me. That was the first time I got the Executive Director title.

It sounds easy, but along the way, I’d taken a lot of executive training programs and coaching programs on how to write a strategic plan and how to meet people and how to create a budget and all of that. I did all of that while I was at HarlemLive, because I was trying to educate myself on what it takes to be a leader, from how to excite people about what you’re doing to how to know when you’ve made an impact.

While I was Executive Director at the Playing2Win, I got connected to the foundation Atlantic Philanthropies through my landlord at the center, of all people. He helped me get the interview at Atlantic Philanthropies and I ended up staying there for seven and a half years. That’s when I learned about grantmaking. During that time, I did a lot of work trying to be an ambassador to the Harlem community and people of color to make grantmaking less mysterious and more accessible.

When the Executive Director position at EPIP became available, it took everything I’d done and brought it together – my Executive Director experience, my experience that building networks across the field is the way that you build power and make yourself more important than whatever your title says, and my network of  different foundations and organizations that I built over my career. Now I help to build those networks for other folks.

rahsaan2What is your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you?
I’m a black man who comes from a legacy of community work and activism and politics. My mom is an educator and my dad worked in politics for years on campaigns and as a public administrator. They both emphasized the importance of giving back to the community, especially the black community, because they believe we stand on other people’s shoulders who came before us and we have to honor their struggles. That always stayed with me and has helped to motivate me no matter what I’m doing.

I think that sense of community is now ingrained into who I am. A bunch of buddies and I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro last summer and we did it together and I loved having that shared group accomplishment. I remember at one point, one of my friends wasn’t feeling as well and I had the choice between going ahead with a group that was going faster or hanging behind and going with him, and I made a choice to stay with him, because it wasn’t about how fast I could go, it was about doing it together.

Do you love what you do? Do you think you’ve found the right path?
Absolutely. I love the fact that it’s entrepreneurial. It’s not guaranteed that my paycheck is going to be there every day. It’s scary, but I do like the fact that I get to put together a vision and programming that will attract funding and that it’s up to me to make sure that my paycheck will be there by doing what I need to do.

What kind of challenges do you face?
The fact that funding landscape for this kind of work is always changing means that nothing is guaranteed, even my pay. That’s especially true because we’re an intermediary organization – we’re not directly saving the whales or creating the after school program. We’re supporting the people who fund those efforts and work in those fields. Sometimes people take that for granted and that can make raising funds so much harder. Always making sure that we’re sustainable and relevant keeps me up at night.

What do you need to succeed in this field?rahsaan5
As far as education goes, having an undergrad and some kind of Master’s degree is what I would recommend to be able to advance and not feel like anything’s getting in your way. But once you get past a Master’s, there’s no need to get education for education’s sake. Just getting an education without worrying about what it means or how you’re going to use it isn’t going to cut it.

A lot of the experience that I got, especially with HarlemLive, was through volunteerism. I wasn’t getting paid to do that after school program but it ended up educating me in a number of different skills. I learned how to manage a board of directors, how to write grants, how to apply for a 501c3, how to do research on potential grant-making organizations. I learned by seeking opportunities and finding organizations that gave workshops on topics I needed to know more about. The first step, though, was getting involved in a community. Once I put myself out there, I could see where the opportunities were.

What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?
Put in the work. Volunteer and do it before you’re paid to do it. Try to lead and manage teams in your volunteer time, at your mosque or synagogue or church. If you’ve never mentored, be a Big Brother or Big Sister and try to teach a younger person something. Do things that bring you feedback – go do public speaking or have someone critique your writing. Try to raise money, whether it’s for your alma mater or your church or a Race for Kids or the New York City Marathon. Create space to do the things in your volunteer life that you might not be able to get from your work life. That way, when they come up in your work life, you’ll be ready.

No one is just going to bring you the perfect opportunity at the perfect time just because you deserve it. You have to be ready at any moment to be put into the game. It’s kind of like the backup basketball player who’s sitting on the bench – if the starting point guard twists his ankle and you get put in the game, you’ve got to be ready to go. And that moment can come at any time. So you’ve got to always be ready for it. Ambition alone does not give people opportunity.

rahsaan3I think that some of my colleagues at times feel like they’ve gone to a good school or gotten the right degree or found the right passion and they’re clear on what they want to do, but they’re not clear on how they’re going to continuously improve their skills and be ready for opportunities. You have to go beyond that and think about where you’re week, where you should be shoring up your skills. You’ve got to think beyond yourself. The more that you get out of our own needs and comfort zones and work on being open and available to others and to yourself, the more opportunities you’ll find.

What advice can you give those who may want to put themselves out there but are introverted or shy?
If you like your job and want to do it better, you’re going to want to get out there and see what other people are doing and learn best practices. Plus, there’s no guarantee that your organization is going to want to employ you forever, and the connections that you make may be able to help you find your next opportunity. I think it’s a mistake hiding your head in your one organization and thinking that doing a good job there is the be-all and end-all and is going to get you to the finish line. Because the moment a boss changes or funding changes, that could be all gone. If you don’t have a network to rely on, it’s a harder row to hoe.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
I hope to have executed a successful transition out of EPIP. I love my job, but it’s not about being the King of the castle forever. In five years, I hope to have done a great job figuring out who the next leader of EPIP is. My next focus is going to be on helping at-risk communities get the resources they need to be successful. I’m not sure exactly how or what that looks like, but I want to be able to move resources around to make lives better for the most vulnerable folks.

  • Jeremy Heath

    This was quite the insightful story, especially the part about relying on one organization to be your “be-all and end-all.” I have a younger brother and he has finally realized the same thing, that building a network and getting out in the community to connect with people is vital.

    I also wanted to comment on the title, “Put In The Work”, which is sometimes lost on people. When something good happens to someone, it isn’t necessarily luck. That person has put in time and effort to put themselves in a position to be ready to optimize the opportunity that arises; just as you mentioned.

  • Jakar Oriseh

    Great story! Proud and can look up to you for your hard work.

  • CarlG

    Really great story! I really commend his dedication to social justice and he set a standard that I aspire to!

  • MarvinCP

    I’m amazed at what this person accomplished because they took a lot of risks and are motivated to do their job the best that they can. Also, he is looking towards the future and planning ahead, making sure that he dies not get stuck in one place or job. The program which he is currently part of reminds me of my old charter high school, where in our STEM class, we were required to make a project that was for the community. It was a fun experience and we designed a garden for our community since there was little vegetaion, just concrete.

  • Jasko Kenjar

    This is an amazing story because it is hard for minorities to move up in the business world and Rahsaan definitely is living proof of the statement: “the sky is the limit”. This inspires all of us minorities and shows with the right intention, hard work and determination that anything can be possible. The best thing about his career is he makes a living but he also gives back to his community. I am an IT student who aspires to be a Senior software developer but I hope with the lessons I have learned from Rahsaan, I can be so much more.

  • Alison Lopez

    Rahsaan Harris is for one, a great leader of his community. To me, one must always remember where they come from and by doing so, one could be able to give back to a community of our own ethnicity and race or even another minority community. One expression that stood out to me was his parents emphasizing the importance of giving back to a community, “especially the black community because because they believe we stand on other people’s shoulders who came before us and we have to honor their struggles.” With this kind of foundation, Rahsaan was able to give back to his community. Coming from a background in working at a non-profit museum, El Museo del Barrio, being able to give back and represent a organization that helps preserve the Latin American culture in the United States of America is truly gratifying. I was able to reconnect with my ethnicity and in the same time, be a part of educating others though art.

    I hope to one day, be a part of the peace corp just like Rahsaan Harris and develop my own non-profit organization.

  • Darren Usher

    What an aspiring story of understanding that our lives should never be solely focused upon ourselves. Giving is one of the most rewarding activities that all can engage with.

    This reminds me of going to the Boys & Girls Club of America and helping the children build diy VR goggles. Seeing how something as basic as cardboard over cell phones could create engagement with students on not only technology but also storytelling reinvigorate this appreciation of giving time to people you have never met. ‘Putting in the work’ as Mr. Harris puts it in any field is not integral for your progression in your career, but also it is important in aiding others in feeling comfortable to be inspired and go for their own dreams as well.

    Thank you for sharing your experience, it has reminded me to focus on this angle of giving through the scope of storytelling and action within my own community.

  • Anonymous

    This is an incredible story. I really do applaud this man for all his
    hard work and dedication.

  • masghari

    This story is a great example of a passionate philanthropist. I can relate to your story in the sense that I have also spent time doing philanthropic work where I was on a youth leadership committee. Myself and 5 others were responsible for giving away a $15000 grant to a cause in need. This experience help shaped me into the person I am today by showing me the importance of giving back to the community.

  • Abbie Hodgson

    This story shows growth and development. I only hope to achieve this, but I know i have started to. In October of 2012 I was asked to study underneath a well-known Goldsmith. He makes the finest jewelry and I had no idea I wanted to do that with my life until I met him. Before meeting him I wanted to be a Marine Biologist, but in the back of my head I always had a love for creative things. One of my main hobbies was drawing and painting, so when I met this well-known Jeweler and saw what he did… I knew I wanted to do it too, and now I’m attending Savannah College of Art and Design. I’m studying Jewelry Design.

  • Manuel Castro

    This story really demonstrates what someone will go threw to reach their dreams. I also come from a family that has worked long and hard to reach where they are now. I am from Venezuela, a country with many problems that hopefully will be resolved. My goal is to finish my career and aid my family and friend’s in need back in my country.

  • savannahenry

    Race and gender can play a huge role in how much work you need to put in. Gender inequality and racial inequality are two big factors in why people like Erin Roberts had to put in the extra work. People being doubted because of these things may seem like it is harmful, but in ways it pushes them to work harder to prove their knowledge and capabilities. Defeated attitudes only prove the ones who oppose right

  • Mimi Carroll

    This story is a testament to the power of people helping people. I reminds me of how much bigger the world is than the one inside my head. I realize that though I’m an important part, without getting into the community and helping to solve or at the least alleviate some of it’s problems I’m sometimes quick to complain about, I am a part of the problem. With all the hard work I’m putting into my academic studies for my undergrad degree in pre med, without investing time and energy into my community now, I would be neglecting an essential part of being a well rounded human being. A reality check for me. Thank you for that.

  • Thiago Randazzo

    Everybody will have different stories, however the ones about hard work, discipline followed by success are the ones that people look towards, and also draw inspiration from. I can really say as a foreign exchange student that, that are always some difficulties in the road, and this story relates to ethic and personal sacrifice so that an individual can succeeded in life. In my case I have to deal with factors as living within a different culture, being away from family and friends that are all the way back in Brazil, thrive to find ways to keep good grades and still manage to have time to work to pay for school.

    I believe no everyone will share the same life paths, some can be easier,while others will can be tougher than I can possibly imagine, but the idea that there are people around the world that will struggle to be successful and even though odds are not great they still thrive; that idea is the one that can very strong is the reason why the gentleman in the article has his story being told for many people to see.

  • Raz Tzameret

    Mr. Harris reminded me of the time I spent volunteering in the Dominican Republic. He mentioned to put in the work even before getting paid.

    I travelled to the Dominican Republic as a volunteer with Howard Community College’s delegation to teach English to the children of Monte Cristi. At that time, if someone were to ask me if I thought my experiences volunteering would directly relate to my aspirations to be in the film industry, I would have said no.

    Maria Rosa was one of the 5th graders I had the pleasure to sit with and teach. Maria is one of those kids, that despite, and maybe because, of being smaller than the rest of the class, is fighting for her place socially, yet not in the class room. She felt big among friends and knew how to respond to them but when asked a question regarding school’s material she stood still, as if she was too afraid to be wrong.

    I noticed her potential because every time a kid went up to the board and stood in front of the class voluntarily, she was already, from her isolated seat, saying the answer with a whisper. I had only a week and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to make her to speak English fluently, but I could make her feel comfortable enough to show her knowledge. With “High Five” incentives and a level of encouragement and enthusiasm I didn’t know I was capable of, something happened, and in our fifth day with the kids, Maria Rosa raised her hand and walked to the board. I now understand how the road is long, and these opportunities, some may think are a waste of time, are actually more beneficial than any paycheck. Maria Rosa found her voice, I found myself leading her to it. A thing I did not know I could do.

  • BEO

    “Ambition alone does not give people opportunity” – I think this truth is as relevant now as ever with us millenials. When I look around at my peers I see so much passion, and so many people that genuinely want to make the world a better place. I wish we also had more of this work ethic Harris has to carry our passion into reality.

    When I was pursuing my undergrad degree I had a pretty naive view of what it takes to have a career that makes our world a better place. I never realized that fundraising, data-entry, event planning, balancing budgets, and answering emails for much of my 40+ hour work week was the hard work that leads to social change. Now that I’ve had that exposure to the “real world” I wish I could share with as many young people the sage advice that change doesn’t come through wishing it to be so, but through working hard and working well as one part of a movement toward the greater good.

  • Smafi

    I really admire Rahsaan’s story. It’s brings to the table motivation, and aspiration to students. Especially in this part of my life as a college student where I’m trying to figure out my life and which direction to go to. I love the interest in what he’s doing with raising more social attention towards philanthropy and being and helping others be involved in this specific category as well. He;s committed in social work change and has made a positive impact within that organization and has influenced many others as well. i loved that his main focus is giving back to the community but he has been inspired to do this based on his personal growth how he was raised as well as where he comes from and his ethnicity. i can relate to this as a polynesian girl being raised in Hawaii has helped me become more involved in serving others of differences diversity and I’m also involved in the multicultre at UVU and it’s something I’m passionate about. I just love his story and how he has created a great work etch for himself and for others.

  • KIMBERLY ZEE

    This is a story that was definitely very inspirational. Not many people have the work ethic and dedication as you do and I really admire that. I will remember this going forward and I really think this has changed the way I view things.

  • Mikayla Cortese

    While reading Rahsaan’s story, I recognized it immediately, for it seems almost exactly mirror my own values, struggles, and hopes for the future. As a woman studying engineering, I have received some surprisingly negative feedback from some of my male peers about my ability to be an adequate engineer. That combined with how much harder college has been than high school, I have struggled with thoughts about not being smart or intuitive enough to be an engineer. Nevertheless, I’ve managed to power through these thoughts and just try my hardest and best when it comes to learning and studying, and I hope to someday help my community with engineering as well as be an inspiration that hard work and dedication pays off, and that your dreams can become reality.

  • Ceaja W.

    I can relate to this story tremendously. I feel that as a person of color, it is always important to give back to the overall community, specifically the African American community. I identify with the “sense of community” Rahsaan developed, as I too feel that success can be easily achieved when working with others. I can say this now more than ever working with members of my cohort. Despite our ethnic differences, we each fully support one another as we work towards our common goal of graduating with our Masters degrees.

  • Kayla Cuestas

    Being a college student who is still unsure of what I want to do in life, this story is inspiring. Rahsaan graduated as a biology major but decided to go many different routes. This helps me because I am in the situation that I am unsure of where I want to go and what I want to do. I have already changed my major once and although I love it, I can see myself changing it again in the future because there are so many possibilities. This article shows me that no matter what you decide to do, you can be happy doing it and help a lot of people.

  • David Zhao

    I can definitely relate to this story. This man put in a ton of work to reach where he is. He shows that all you need to do to succeed is to put in the work to do so. Since around freshman year of high school, I got really into lifting weights. I wanted to be buff like Terry Crews. So I began to work out. Three years pass by yet nothing has changed. My body composition is exactly the same, I did not even grow taller. Turns out, my lackadaisical routine, and dieting was ineffective. At the beginning of my senior year, I began to put in the effort. I started to follow a weight lifting program and hitting the gym consistently. Not only that, I began to keep track of what I ate. I made sure to measure out the weight of all my food, to know exactly how many calories I am eating per day. After a year of following this strict routine, my muscle mass increased greatly and it showed me that once you put enough effort, you will succeed.

  • jgrand27

    I can definitely empathize with this man before going into college I did an unpaid summer internship with the Seminole County Legal Aid Society and found a lot of meaning in doing so. Community Service is definitely a necessity to get an understanding of hard work. To put your all into something for which you aren’t getting paid just out o the goodness of your heart is extremely fulfilling. I can also empathize with this man from an ethnicity perspective. Regardless of how much the world has changed, it is still difficult to succeed in this world as an African American male. Is it possible? Yes. But is the road more arduous and hard to travel by? Yes. In this way, this man is a representative for the work ethic people should have. Regardless of your major this man is a role model for doing with you love and doing it well regardless of the difficulties.

  • Savannah Mclean

    I may not be in the same major but this man has great work ethic. Coming from the same ethnicity, Things are not easy for us and so working twice as hard is something I need to do if I want to break myself out of the stereotype some people have set for us. It’s very inspirational reading this article and seeing how he pushed himself to reach where he is today. I’m trying my hardest in my field so that I could have a story to tell like this.

  • Jillian Guerrini

    I love this story. I relate to it largely from a standpoint of transitioning career goals as a reaction to NPO engagement. I started community college as a management major, but was inspired through volunteer work with CIGSYA, the Cape and Islands Gay and Straight Youth Alliance. Through due diligence and much humility, I learned about executive functioning skills, bookkeeping, administration, facilitation, grants writing, mentorship, youth development, and advising young people.

    After that, I knew that my long-term goals were geared toward nonprofit work. I thrived within the context of mentorship and advising, and am now beginning graduate school to become a clinical therapist. I can relate to the notion of “putting in the work”; its been a long journey to get this far. I’ve volunteered with many organizations, and had to go into some positions fairly naive as to the tasks, climate, and where I fit. The drive to make a difference has helped me to stick with it, and learn the skills to work toward creating change.

    Finally, I like that “not being the king of the castle forever” is mentioned. I had an amazing mentor who told me at one point that, “We are doing our jobs well when there is no longer a need for our jobs”.

  • Roberto Ceja

    I really did like this story a lot. I used to believe that I was destined for greatness and that it would just come and everything will come into place at the right time. Now I know that you can’t just wait to be fed in life and if you are hungry you have to go hunt. I am currently going into my senior year at the University of Arizona and I am a Psychology major looking to try and help those that have been labeled as different. I was never taught to chase money but to leave a positive impact, and I plan on doing that by helping those others are unwilling to,

  • Lenin Pinto

    As a current college student seeking to help out veterans once i graduate, this story has resonated with me in a tremendous way. I find it most noble and powerful how you devote yourself towards helping others. The fact that the organization you are involved in helps those who are committed to social change work hits very close to home since that is almost exactly what i am interested in being involved in.

    I want to help those who have fought for our country, and although the main goal doesn’t necessarily match yours, the explicit points and guidelines you show are extremely beneficial to the cause i am willing to fight for. The fact that you discuss the idea of putting in the work just serves as motivation to me, and hopefully many others, to go out there and do what they love just like you have been doing. The idea you discuss of looking onward to the future, to the next week and thinking beyond yourself is so important to me because all i currently have are plans, i’m just a college student with big dreams, but i know that with enough determination they are definitely attainable. Thank you for publishing this and discussing your ideas, because they’ve impacted me. Best wishes to you and your organization.

  • Oliver Flores

    This story is truly one inspirational story, if i say so myself. Time, dedication, commitment are key components that separates those who are willing to work hard to accomplish a certain goal versus those who simply won’t do it. But what exactly is “hard work”? It’s obvious that there is no exact definition to what this term means but in terms of Harris’s story, I believe that he portrayed “hard work” through his own personal experience and I myself can relate to his situation. As a Sophomore attending the University of San Diego, I find myself immersed with the wide diversity across campus and it’s thrilling that people from across the world come here (or to another university) to earn a degree of their liking.

    I’m currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in General Mathematics but before I chose my major, I was thinking about what led me to pick this major instead of going into Marketing, Psychology, etc. As a general question, are we choosing a major that will get us a job, a stable income, and eventually prepare us for the life we look forward to? Or are we simply choosing a major because of certain talents that only a few people can master? In relation to school work, yes it is tough but “hard work” isn’t only defined by doing all your homework and performing exceptionally well on examinations; it’s also about giving back to the community. As a Mexican-American and first generation college student, I am actually proud of what I have accomplished so far and the most important decision I’ve ever made was going to college, not because I had to, because I wanted to. Now that I have read Harris’s inspirational story, I hope that one day I could influence my high school sister and everyone around my community about what “hard work” really means and that they get self-motivated to go to college.

  • Marissa Ann Morken

    This story is absolutely amazing. With my major and plan, I want to give back to the tribe I am from, because the reservation is a rough place to grow up. Nobody has ambition to do anything or go anywhere, and finishing high school is a complete miracle.

    I plan to use my education and experience to try to have a good influence on the younger community, and show them that there are other options and getting off of the reservation, even if only for a little while, is good for you.

    Wanting to attend college came to me because I wanted something more. I looked at everyone around me and they seemed to be doing the same thing all of the time. I didn’t want to live my life with a job I hated and always seeing drugs and alcohol take over people’s lives. I wanted to get out and experience the world in a new light, no matter how frightening the experience.

    I decided to move to Arizona and pursue a major in Criminal Justice and a minor in American Indian Studies, and plan to give back to my community and the young people in the same way you have.

  • Cailin

    Giving back to the community is one of the best things our society can do. Giving back to the community is important because community has given so much to help make people who they are. As I am not as near as incredible as this man, I find myself giving back as well. I grew up in a close-knit community where everyone is always there to help out in a time of need. One of my favorite things my hometown does is hosts an annual Veterans Day Luncheon every year. We serve approximately 100 veterans and their guests. We have a presentation and serve them lunch. It feels great to give back to these men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country. It is our tern to serve them and treat them with all of the respect they deserve.

    I have also organized a Circle of Concern Adopt- A-Family project to give back to the community. Adopt-A-Family is a chance to buy holiday presents for families in need. Family members make a wish list of presents they would like. We collected various gifts and were able to give two families a better holiday season.

    Weather it be staying up late making posters for the football team, constructing holiday cards for nursing homes, or making meals at the Ronald McDonald house, it is always a pleasure giving back to the community that has raised me to be who I am today.

  • Kaley

    This is an amazing story! Your work ethic and dedication to whatever you choose to do shows. Your courage and the fact that you are willing to go above and beyond is amazing! Thank you for this! You have shown and proved that just because we attend college and study a specific subject, we can go in other directions. Amazing piece!

  • Jonathan Bobo

    I’m more than impressed with this article because it shows you have a good work ethic, awareness, and ambition. I agree that it is very important to not only get a degree and go to work but honing your skills and improving in your process of life. I remember when I got the call from Comcast and I was ready because you never know when you’ll get an opportunity, never! That’s why it is important to stay in school or improve some how or some way to get better. It’s too easy to act complacent, or stay stuck in your comfort zone. I also respect the fact that your helping the young black community because as a young black male, were seen differently in society. So, to help definitely agree that we should be helping our youth get better as soon as they get put on for it they can be ready for real world challenges. Good stuff Rahsaan!

  • STACY

    This is an amazing story. I really do commend this fellow for all his hard work and keeping faith. With faith anything is possible.

  • Gaby Navarro

    During my sophomore year of high school I was given
    the opportunity to attend a secondary school called the Career of Technology
    Center (CTC). CTC provides countless of programs that correlate with jobs in
    the real world such as, cosmetology, criminal justice and Academy of Health
    Professions. Students completing a CTC program receive intensive career
    specific skill training that may include on the job experience, mentoring from
    individuals in the field, industry certifications and licensures, apprenticeship
    training, and up to 20 or more articulated, or transcript college credits. Each
    program is different and includes specific benefits that you receive once you complete
    the program. I had the opportunity to be a part of the Academy of Health
    Professions which uses project
    and problem-based learning, clinical experiences, and classroom and lab
    instruction to teach students about the field of healthcare. I learned so much
    by attending this program, and was opened to many more opportunities within the
    program.

    At the end of my first year in the program
    students had to choose two different paths in healthcare either the nursing
    route or the medical assisting. I chose the medical assisting route because it
    dealt with clinical based skills rather than patient care. As I started my
    second year I knew I chose the right path. I was invested in learning all of
    the abilities that are conducted in a medical care setting. As I finished my
    second year in the program my peers, and I were told that starting of next year
    we would be allowed to take a state exam in order to become certified in
    Medical Assisting. I was so happy, but scared that I would lose all of this
    information I gained within these two years.

    In order for the material I learn
    not be lost I took advantage of the internship portion of what you can do after
    the program period time. So the start of my senior year I interned at a neurology
    office near my house. I started applying what I learned at CTC in the office. I
    wasn’t getting paid but that wasn’t my concern. Being able to express my
    knowledge to the real world, and having new experiences was enough for me. Near the middle of my senior year we had the
    chance to take a state exam to get certified in Medical Assisting. You had to
    pay in order to take it, and even though I always hated asking my parents for
    money I applied for job in order to pay for it myself. I took the exam, and
    passed happily. The joy that certification brought me made not only myself
    happy but my parents. This certification allowed my employer from the neurology
    office to offer me a job as a medical assistant, which they were never hesitant
    of doing because of the work ethic I showed during my internship.

    I was 17, and one of the only ones
    in the office that had a certification in medical assisting. I was proud but
    also grateful for how everything turned out. Rahsaan Harris
    came along way with determination and hop for something greater. I believe that
    I have as well but still have much more to learn and to gain. But knowing that I
    accomplished this much at such an early age I know I could do so much more. I
    appreciate Harris’s experience so much that I’m going to take what he says to
    heart, and PUT IN THE WORK.

  • shaquise prince-jones

    I can relate to your story because I also have been “putting in work” since I began college. I am a Music Major but before coming to college I had very little professional music experience, I had never taken a private lesson or done an audition. But I took the initiative to find my own audition piece in a foreign language and I taught it to myself and went to my audition and got accepted into the school of music. sometimes success isnt all about how much experience you have its about how much work you’re willing to put in to follow your dreams.

  • Rukhma

    I can relate to your story because I myself am a biology major. I come from a family which gives importance to education, for my parents (especially my dad) education is everything. He does not even want me to work, he just wants me to focus on my studies and do well in college, which I like because I get to give all my attention to my studies. I am planning on going to med-school and become a gynecologist. I am inspired by this article to work even harder and give the best I’ve got! 🙂

  • Isabella Ashley

    I find that I relate to your story, I’m sure everyone will. Many people strive to succeed and come across many obstacles that really hold them back. For example, money or other things. This story inspires me to work hard as you did, and maybe things will look up in the future.

  • Drew Holland

    It is amazing how easily I can relate to your story, as I too, have had multiple opportunities to serve my community while pursuing my educational goals. I endeavor to become an attorney to help people help themselves. During my middle-school years I participated in numerous mission trips to Guatemala and Jamaica- assisting the indigent populations in those countries. Servitude, or simply, the giving of oneself for another has lasting rewards that I have personally witnessed. I may not be a philanthropist, as yet, but the personal gratification I’ve felt while feeding the poor, or while dispersing clothing to the underprivileged has been priceless. When communities have been in need I’ve seen volunteers from all walks of life mobilize their resources to meet those needs. It’s a refreshing reminder that diversity can actually bring people together to use our differences to meet a common goal.

    So now I enter into a transition where my days of doing missions’ work are dwindling as I prepare to attend the University of Arizona this fall. I will be enrolled as a full-time student pursuing a Pre-business major in the Eller College of Business. Leaving family and friends, relocating from the south to the southwest, getting accustomed to the “west coast” culture…diversity once again. But I look forward to these changes- to completing a Baccalaureate of Business Administration degree in 4 years, then continuing on for three additional years for a combined JD/MBA, obtaining my Masters of Business Administration and Juris Doctorate degrees. My ultimate goal is to work for an international law firm where I can use my Spanish speaking skills to represent an American business abroad.

    I do understand that with great achievements are always fraught with tremendous sacrifice and obstacles. The biggest challenge I have had to face so far has been subtle hints of discrimination and prejudice. When most people hear that I want to be an attorney they are astonished. At first I thought the skepticism was because this career path is an arduous undertaking for anyone. But then I realized that in my community one does not typically see young African- American men endeavoring to become attorneys. So, for inspiration I identify with your story, Mr. Harris, because you “put in the work,” and have shown me that, I too, can accomplish my goals if I diligently persevere!

  • Cierra Kamohoalii

    This story gave me chills reading it. It’s amazing how you can find something on the internet that you can automatically relate to. I am about to pursue my career in Information Tech. and I am not afraid to put in all work and more necessary to get my degree. This is the only option for me in life. I’ve been through many obstacles and struggles just as anyone else, so getting my degree in this particular field is my only way.

  • JessicaW3

    Everyone should have a job they love and are passionate about. I am always happy to see people find their perfect career path and see how it has changed their life. Family is also very important to me and I can see this guy being very easy to relate to. This article has really inspired me and helped me to be definite in my career path choice. In college, people change their major all the time and that frightened me. I wanted a secure absolute decision and I think I have found it. I am a Biological Sciences major planning to continue on to Veterinarian School to become a Marine Wildlife Veterinarian. The ocean has always been important to me and I am glad to have found something that I love and am passionate about. A career should be something you love and I am now motivated to continue on this journey to that career.

  • Chin Liu

    Not joining this “discussion”.

  • Nick Chung

    I find that within your story, there are a few important
    lessons to be learned, but the one that stood out to me the most is what I take
    from this line: “I think it’s a mistake hiding your head in your one
    organization and thinking that doing a good job there is the be-all and end-all
    and is going to get you to the finish line.”
    What I took from that is that doing just enough is not going to help you
    grow. To often we get caugh in the
    day-to-day minutiae of our jobs and we’re just trying to collect our paycheck
    at the end of the bi-weekly period.

    We do ourselves a diservice when we adopt this manner of
    thinking. In your experience where pay
    was not guaranteed and you instead put your mission to lead a philanthropic
    organiztion at the top of you priority list, it pushed you more to succeed and
    build a more successful organization: “The
    more that you get out of our own needs and comfort zones and work on being open
    and available to others and to yourself, the more opportunities you’ll find.” This rings loud and clear to me that we have to
    push past our self-imposed limits in order to grow as individuals in what ever
    mission it is that we wish to accomplish.

    In the rapidly changing corporate environments of today, it
    is vital to one’s professional growth to continue to search out opportunities
    as one’s position is not always secure.

  • Sidharth Patel

    First off, I really respect the
    efforts in which you constantly fought for to become successful. Your grit and resilience
    is unbelievable. In the future, I think you truly deserve to have a guaranteed
    paycheck without worrying.

    I love this article because of the
    quote “Put in The Work.” At 22 years old, I have manage to earn my bachelor’s
    degree in Biological Sciences, get accepted to several Pharmacy Graduate
    schools, and save over $50K in my savings for my future. It takes a lot of
    motivation to do this at a very young age, especially when all of my friends
    are constantly wanting to go out and when only one out of several friends is
    seeking a Bachelor’s degree. I am not talking highly of myself but I believe that
    the only person that knows how hard you truly work is yourself, so simply “Put in The
    Work.” I hope to one day inspire people like you and give back to my community
    as a future pharmacist, a lifelong goal.

  • Anjie Willbright

    I completely agree that giving back to the community is important. While I don’t come from a legacy of community service, I feel that being involved in my community is my way of paying it forward for all of the opportunities my family has provided for me. For the past three years, I’ve volunteered at an annual carnival for Downs Syndrome (Karsyn’s Karnival). There, I’ve had such wonderful experiences which have fostered my love for giving back. This past year, I’ve engaged in a number of volunteer opportunities through Circle K International (a volunteer organization for college students) and through my Ultimate Frisbee team’s community service events. This upcoming semester, I will be a mentor for my university’s STEM Residential Learning Community as well as a community center assistant. This way, I will be able to interact with other residents in my dorm and really take part in making the community an ideal place to live in. I feel that volunteering and helping other people has really given me essential skills for success in the future, and it has given me a way to reach out and form connections. I also relate to your dedication and ambition, and I hope to be as successful. I want to do work that I am proud of, and I want to make something of the education I receive.

  • Jeffrey W

    Being an Asian American, I can relate to you and your values of a strong work ethic and hard work. I am currently a second year engineering student at Pennsylvania State University and I agree that hard work is what distinguishes people who are passionate about a subject from others who just kind of want it. I completely agree that once a person pushes himself out of his or her own comfort zone, he or she can create the perfect opportunity, so it is important to be ready at any time. Best regards as you continue to succeed in your field.

  • Chris Perez

    I agree with the article, hard work does pay off! I believe that you have to work hard to get where you want to go. That goes for every career.

    I currently work in a hospital and I work very hard giving the best customer service that I can with every patient and in every encounter. I try to caring, passionate, personable, and thoughtful with everyone. I always try to find a way to make a difference in another person’s life.

  • Samantha T

    This is really inspiring to me and I can relate to his determination and dedication. It’s refreshing to see people like Rahsaan who put in everything it takes to reach their goals. In high school I had to overcome a serious illness that seemed to really set me back, but also showed me how strong I was. Because of this illness i was out of school for months and even had to re-teach myself to walk. It made me feel embarrassed at school that people would look down on me and think that I am weak because of it. I may have been physically weak, but inside I was stronger than ever. It took a lot of dedication and determination to keep up with my school work and get the grades I desired. Now as a college student I have set goals for myself and know what I want in my future. I will continue to keep this same determination to reach my goals, despite whatever challenges are to come.

  • Angie Allen

    Very powerful. It’s very encouraging to see young black men be successful and give back to the community in informing what it really takes to be successful. I have two boys mysef that will soon grow to be young men and I try to teach them the importance of education and hardwork to get them ready for the real world. I let them know all the time nothing is going to be handed to them.

  • Kevin Cockerham

    I can definitely relate to the topic of my ethnicity hurting and helping me. I am also a black male. My mother is a paralegal and my father is a retired NYPD officer. They tell me whatever you want in life to go get it. I do face a lot of challenges as far as appearance, one as just being a black male, and another as my hairstyle (locs) which would deter some. Like I said growing up my parents always told me to work hard for everything and that nothing is going to be handed to me. The fact that he has his masters degree motivates me to work even harder and to show people not to judge one just off of one look because you never know how educated they actually are and how much of a contribution they can be to what ever company or organization they want to work for.

  • Kevon Cockerham

    This is such an inspirational story. Working for a non profit organization allows him respect people who work with less. I enjoyed reading about your work habits and dedication to the people in your life. I think that it is important to get your education and to work as hard as you can. I value having a dream about what you can, want, and will achieve in your life. I am a senior in high school and want to major in criminal justice. I am highly interested in putting in hard work and am looking forward to how rewarding my hard work can be.

  • Kiwane

    This is a very inspirational story! I am currently an African American student working towards my degree in Electrical Engineering at Penn State University. And I can really see ways I can implement your drive to work hard and be there for your family in my own life. I think that is a great cause and should be commended.

  • Reyna

    Reading this has given me much to think about. I know That hard work and dedication is key, and you’ve shown me that this is true. I want to become a neurosurgeon and I know that if I truly want to be successful, I have to put in the extra work outside of class and on my own time. you’re very inspiring and I will remember this because I too want to make the lives of others better than they can ever be.

  • ODASIS

    No one is just going to bring you the perfect opportunity… you have to be ready at any moment to be put into the game.”
    Rahsaan’s words resonate with me in a deeply familiar yet distant way, as if his words were reverberating back through time from an older more mature version of myself to the man I am now. When I was younger I used to think that life would present me with the opportunities I deserved. I was smart, respectful, did the right thing most of the times. Yet I was unhappy. The gap between who I wanted to be, a doctor, and who I was, a mediocre high school student in a failing school system, was large enough to fall into and never come back. And in my hometown, a town struggling with crime and low educational achievement, where the margin for error was razor thin for young black men like myself, one wrong step could send you tumbling into hopelessness. At 17 I was a high school dropout and had never been farther from my dream. For months I floated in limbo, not in school, not on the path towards medicine, fighting an internal war for my identity, for my dream, and the courage to still believe in it. It was there that rock bottom served as my solid foundation to spring back into the game. It was there that I learned a setback was just a set up for a comeback. What did I have to lose? With the help of my family and close friends I found myself in the public library for longer hours than I had ever been in school, I practiced sports harder than I ever had before, I didn’t take the time I had left for granted, I believed.
    Rashaan said “..that moment can come at any time. So you’ve got to always be ready for it”. My moment came a few months after I had dropped out. I was ready. A college recruiting coach had heard of me and he ended up illuminating a path to college acceptance. Months later, after receiving my GED online, and an acceptance to Rutgers I was charging down the path to my dream which would eventfully lead me to where I stand now as I write this, a fourth year medical student at Harvard. They say when a door to your dreams cracks open you don’t hesitate, you run through it. I’ve been running ever since. Rashaan’s story is an excellent reminder if the agency we all have to create the life we dream of and is one that serves as an inspiration for us all.

  • Isabel Johnson

    I relate a lot to Rahsaan Harris and I love his enthusiasm for his job. I intend to join the Peace Corps after I graduate from college and the fact that he worked in environmental education means a lot to me. As an Environmental Sciences major currently, most of the internships and work I’ve done has been in educating the public. He talks about giving back to the public, especially the most vulnerable sections of society.

    The idea of doing things as a group and not always getting ahead alone speaks to me. Personal achievement is a wonderful thing, but oftentimes ambition can be a hinder to relations with other people. I like building things together with people, and the community is where I get the most satisfaction out of my work.

    Social change work is what I am committed to doing in my future. I’ve already started. He mentioned that he volunteered at an afterschool program as a teacher. I did something similar at my local church by volunteering as a teacher for the confirmation classes offered for high school students. It was pretty involved since this program was two years with the same group of kids. I worked with them on an intensely personal level, as well as working behind the scenes to plan their retreats and activities. But like Mr. Harris also said, as much as I loved that job, it’s not about staying forever. I moved on when I went to college and I intend to find new programs to contribute my skills too.

    Thank you Mr. Harris for the inspirational story!

  • Emily Mishalanie

    Your fervor for excellence, perseverance and growth is deeply inspiring. Taking risks and going after what you want has helped lay the groundwork for a profoundly meaningful profession for me (and you) and I appreciate your story more than you could possibly know! Wishing you nothing but the best in all you do!

  • Vasche Benjamin

    This story is inspiring to me. I respect your work ethic and your dedication to your
    family ties and values. I also come from a family that stresses the importance
    of education and hard work. Often times I get weary and want to quit but your
    journey has motivated me to persevere. Your story shows that education is the
    key to success, hard work does pay off, and that you should never give up on
    your goals. We need more leaders like you for our community, who aspire to help
    others. It is great to see African-Americans make a huge difference in a community.

  • Donovan Brice

    I respect your work ethic immensely. I also come from a family that stresses the importance of education and hard work. I value team work and hope to pursue a career I am patient about. your craft is a great one at that.

  • Mariana Gonzalez Ramos

    This is such an inspiration. I admire the fact that you worked really hard to get to where you are. I want to attend Medical School after college because I don’t want to settle for less when I know I can do better. It is great to see another example of how hard work always pays off. No matter the obstacles that get in the way, it is important to learn how to overcome them.

  • Kidus Mengistu

    WOW what a motivational story!!! As an African American biology major who wants to help make a difference in this world me and to Mr. Hassan have a lot in common. When I’m done with my studies like Mr.Hassan I am also going to travel and help the people in need. I also want to lead a program and manage a company that is completely into helping other. But after reading this I realized that dreams do come true if you really dedicate your self and as Mr. Hassan said it “put in work”.

  • Breonka S

    Putting emphasison education is key , not only should we look for our own personal success but also uplifting others because we cannot forget the struggles we all have endured .

  • Cayla

    This is such a relatable story! I, too am a biology major. I also think it’s great how involved he is within his community and in the work force. I too come from a family that expects academic excellence and values education and hard work. Reading about his story really does motivate anyone wanting to become as successful as he is. Such a great, touching, and motivating story!!!

  • Zachary Young

    I think that it is great to see someone that is dedicated to
    making a social change for the better and help others. It’s even better to see
    that this man comes from a family who through different social outlets, help
    and give back to society. I believe many societies could benefit from having even
    just a few people willing to do what is going to be best for their community
    and not just best for themselves. To accomplish this, a society would need more
    opportunities for people like this to be able to help.

    I believe work ethics are important from running a company
    to working at a fast food restaurant. The work you put in may not immediately
    earn you more pay but in a way it is an investment. If a person displays the qualities
    of a hard worker, they will probably be noticed come time to promote or
    replace. Also learning new skills is never a bad thing, even if you don’t get
    paid for learning a certain skill, it can be beneficial for seeking future
    employment.

  • Makan Sayas

    I can relate to this story because I started with a Biology major as well at Montgomery College. I later changed my major to Psychology at UMBC in order to later pursue an MBA in marketing. Like Rahsaan Harris I have had experiences as well as college courses that have influenced my decision to pursue a business degree. Marketing is what I see and analyze all the time and thats how I know it is for me. Harris’s story is very inspiring for me to not give up on my goals.

  • Genevieve Higgins

    Wow, what an inspiration! As a current freshman in college I find it astounding that he took his life in a completely different direction that he initially planned and made such an impact on the world! Growing up with a mother and father both in the field of education I was constantly surrounded by the importance of education and how it is key to success. As I previously mentioned I am now a freshman in college at the University of Arizona and majoring in Public-Health with a minor in Religious Studies. Initially I have planned to attend Medical School after receiving my undergraduate degree but after being exposed to so many influential people and stories I have been considering the Peace Corp and other forms of giving back. Through the story of Rahsaan I have come to see how hard work and dedication can be turned into the job of your dreams. Overall, what a fantastic and inspiring story that exemplifies the positivity he holds in his work!

  • Langston Spike Angelou

    Inspiring story I respect your journey and your dedication to pursue your dreams keep going.

  • Manny Zenquis

    Awesome story! Really exemplifies the plight certain people have to experience to reach success. Kudos Rahsaan! Great story Erin

  • Jaylen

    First, let me say this: wow. I find it highly relatable that keeping your principles and values as you progress through your career is important. I hope that one day I can be able to say with credibility that it was not luck that brought me success, but my own hard work. I find it important to love what you do; it makes the tasks you have to complete much easier to do! I also found it very interesting that in five years you see yourself looking for your “replacement” so to speak. When comes to owning something of your own, I’ve never thought about the process of finding someone to succeed after you. A very eye-opening story!

  • Court

    This is an incredible story about rising up to be the best we can be. I think that with the way society is changing, it’s become easier to ignore those differences which once separated cultures for generations. Just as women have been degraded all too often throughout history, so have African Americans. We’re all victims to someone’s prejudices. I struggled with finding people to believe in me and help me; even my school counselor told me that I would be lucky if I found a college to go to. But I turned my grades around and graduated high school with straight A grades. I’ve been persevering through college and dealing with outside issues. Every time I get through one battle another one seems to come quick on the horizon and ruin the view. But I’m determined to earn a degree in psychology.

  • Shiffon MissJackson IfYou’re

    This story is extremely inspiring to me. It just goes to show that you can never give up on your goals. You have to follow through. Sometimes in life you find yourself on different paths trying to earn an income and take care of family. We need more leaders like you for our community. People who aspire to help others.

  • Hafsa

    This is a story that many can relate to. I respect your work ethic and your dedication to your family ties and values. I also come from a family that stresses the importance of education and hard work. I value team work and hope to pursue a career I am patient about. I am Somali but was born in Canada and raised here in the States. I am currently a freshman in college and am majoring in neuroscience. My goal is to attend Medical School after I receive my undergraduate degree. After reading this article, I am motivated by your hard work and am happy about how rewarding it turned out to be. Best wishes.

  • Jorge

    Is a great movement and effort of becoming a person like your self, that with dedication and an open mind of ethnicities can transform society, and young fellows to become leaders in their local and close communities. Is great pleasure knowing that there are people who wants to become someone that really matters. I also believe that time, dedication, and effort can change the life of a leader or a community to become a better and successful organization that will create jobs and opportunities for the people who are seeking for these extra push as your self.

  • Adaora Okeke

    I am very touched by this story. It is great to see African- Americans make a huge difference in a
    community. It shows that hard work does pay off and education is the key to success.
    I am currently a senior in college and I am just now entering a nursing program.
    Even though I was rejected from most of the schools I applied to, I still did
    not give up on my goals. Reading this story has taught to me to always strive
    for the best and to never give up when you are faced with challenging
    obstacles. Going into nursing school, I hope that I am able to put in the same
    dedication you put into achieving your career goal.

  • Stephanie S

    Not only was I captivated by your story, but I also recognized a similar pattern in life lessons that your article offered. I am also firm believer in a strong work ethic. Growing up, nothing really ever came easy to me as well. I am a Cuban Female who comes from a family of educators. Education and hard-work were two things that were instilled from a young age and modeled for me. Both of my parents put themselves through school and currently have Masters degrees. I have witnessed first hand what true and passionate hard work can do and how it overrides talent any day. This is another reason why your story stood out to me and interested me. I believe that hard work and dedication are the characteristics that make for a successful future. All those traits that have made you successful are the traits that I sincerely believe make for a strong individual. One needs to have grit, passion, determination and drive and reading your article I was impressed how you express all those qualities.

  • Vanessa J

    Your story was very touching and I believe to succeed the way that you have done requires the handwork and determination, basically all the traits thats you have committed into being the Executive Director you are today. I have had related situations that I share with you through the handwork besides school in the side volunteer work that I have done also in the hospital. Although, we do not share the same career goals we all put in the work into where we want to be.

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