As The Wallace Foundation’s new vice president of communications, Robin V. Harris, Ph.D. (BA ’93) says her favorite part so far has been “removing barriers and watching people do their best work.”
Harris leads the communications team in refining the foundation’s messaging, with the goal of positive change for the youth in its focus areas of education leadership, youth development, and the arts.
“It’s really been about sharing knowledge, sharing experiences for storytelling and making sure that everyone’s experience is heard to make change,” says Harris, an English major and journalism minor while at Howard. “That’s something that started at Howard I’ve carried throughout all my experiences.”
Harris labels her role as a powerhouse communicator as someone with a “PhD in words,” highlighting her appreciation for how the right vocabulary can cut through today’s noise of inflammatory misinformation. She recognizes the pitfalls in the education sector’s messaging, as key terms and phrases such as equity, diversity, and social-emotional learning have become buzzword battlegrounds.
"What’s more important is that people understand what we mean behind the words,” Harris says. “What is our intent? What is our goal? What values do we share? Regardless of what we label it, how do we get to point where we’re all living to our potential that’s best for society, best for our nation, and best for the world?”
After eradicating that obstacle, Harris says, there’s an all-hands effort to craft and spread messaging throughout the education field reflective of The Wallace Foundation’s investment in ideas, knowledge, and insight.
“When you’re on the words side, data can feel like numbers, but it’s also stories,” Harris says on her storytelling strategy. “The idea is to harness the power of data and storytelling together, bringing the human element to the numbers is key.”
Though Harris has reached a new career peak, she says that the process of educational storytelling has evergreen components, such as relaying cultural, lived experiences from a “well-rounded” perspective rooted in integrity and compassion.
Harris has hit the ground running with both novel and traditional methods of messaging to bolster the organization’s equitable philanthropy.
“One thing I love about our foundation’s framework is not just to support those who have access to our resources, but also take that knowledge and spread it throughout our field,” Harris explains. “In this communications role, a big part of what we do is take what we’ve learned from our grantees and the work that they’ve done and communicate that to policymakers, practitioners, and influencers in the field.”
Her career molded by equity, education, and scholarship, Harris embarked on this journey with Howard as her shining example on the power of equitable educational opportunities.
“Having that positive idea that yes, I can be part of change, and I actually have an obligation to it, that really started at Howard,” Harris says.
“Howard really instilled this hope and potential, because you really did feel like you could do almost anything because of the people that came before you...and I never had to question what a Black woman could do,” Harris says. “It’s really with that confidence that I’ve been able to share, instill in others, help others to see that in themselves.”
Article ID: 1946