BE Modern Man: Brian Harris
Educator, author, choreographer, minister; 37; Artistic Director, Sons of Freedom Dance Institute
For 12 years, I have been the artistic director of the Sons of Freedom Dance Institute. This organization is committed to nurturing character development, increasing social awareness, and building the spirituality of boys of color through classical and contemporary styles of dance and movement. I have been an educator for 15 years, serving as a first and third-grade teacher, vice-principal, and dance teacher in the DC Metropolitan area. I am currently receiving a doctorate in public theology and working on bridging the gap between spirituality and justice in urban education. I preach and facilitate workshops throughout the country focusing on awakening the spirituality of black boys, helping them to experience God through the lenses of love and discussing the importance of dance and movement as a response to the impact of trauma in the black church and community.
The impact my work has on black and brown boys is best described as life-changing. I have watched my boys develop a greater sense of purpose, become more confident, and begin to excel in school and in life. I have watched boys begin my program broken, but leave the program with joy, inner-peace, and the ability to know their place and purpose in the world. This year, I watched my first group of boys in Sons of Freedom, who have been with me for 10 years, graduate from high school. All eight will be attending college, four pursuing degrees in dance, visual arts, and theater.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN LIFE?
I am proud of the opportunities I have been afforded to make a difference in the lives of boys and the support I have gained over the years from doing this work. I am most proud of being able to see so many boys develop a greater sense of purpose and learn to live authentically, pushing themselves each day to become more creative.
HOW HAVE YOU TURNED STRUGGLE INTO SUCCESS?
Throughout my life, I have struggled with esteem issues. From not feeling good enough to looking to others to define who I was, it was a heavy weight to bear throughout the years. I used my own issues with esteem to develop opportunities for black and brown boys whose esteem and confidence needed to be built and in many cases repaired. I used my own personal struggle to create success for boys.
WHO WAS YOUR GREATEST MALE ROLE MODEL AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM HIM?
My greatest male role model was my father, Brian K. Harris Sr. As I was growing up, he never allowed me to settle for mediocrity, but always pushed me to become my better self. He taught me the essence of hard work, fortitude, tenacity, and courage. From him, I learned to be unapologetic in my creativity, sensitivity, and uniqueness. I learned to fly into freedom.
WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
The best advice I’ve ever been given was, “As you keep doing the work to save lives of black boys, God will continue to bless, protect, and provide you with all the resources needed to make things happen!”
HOW ARE YOU PAYING IT FORWARD TO SUPPORT OTHER BLACK MALES?
Sons of Freedom Dance Institute has been providing a platform for black and brown boys to express themselves, their thoughts about the world, and the issues in their communities through dance for 12 years. I also do several seminars and classes throughout Washington, DC Public Schools empowering middle and high school boys of color through culture and poetry. My book, Freedom’s Design: 20 days of Empowering Black Kings, is a three-volume compilation focusing on boys understanding their African heritage and history, the importance of self-love and their role as community activists, through 20 days of poetry, affirmations, reflection questions, and activities.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE MANHOOD?
Manhood is the ability to see an obstacle and develop a strategy to overcome it. It is the ability to use those obstacles and setbacks as stepping stones for success. Manhood is the ability to see the areas in your life which are broken and seek ways to heal and nurture those broken places in order to become an example of wholeness, wellness, and love for your community and those you encounter.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT BEING A BLACK MAN?
I love the creative power I and other black men have to change our communities and our world. Being a black man means you have a chance to be a symbol of strength and courage, while also projecting a sense of sensitivity and love.
BE Modern Man is an online and social media campaign designed to celebrate black men making valuable contributions in every profession, industry, community, and area of endeavor. Each year, we solicit nominations in order to select men of color for inclusion in the 100 Black Enterprise Modern Men of Distinction. Our goal is to recognize men who epitomize the BEMM credo “Extraordinary is our normal” in their day-to-day lives, presenting authentic examples of the typical black man rarely seen in mainstream media. The BE Modern Men of Distinction are celebrated annually at Black Men XCEL (www.blackenterprise.com/blackmenxcel/). Click this link to submit a nomination for BE Modern Man: https://www.blackenterprise.com/nominate/. Follow BE Modern Man on Twitter: @bemodernman and Instagram: @be_modernman.