It’s always a beautiful moment when speakers visit our clubhouses ready to connect with our young people. That was certainly the case when the Brooklyn-based author, illustrator, and filmmaker Vashti Harrison spent quality time—talent and teaching-spirit on full display—with members at our Gerry Clubhouse in East Harlem this past February.
Once Harrison was introduced, she got to work, immediately opening up about her background and love for her work in front of a captivated audience of excited, energetic boys. She read stories and showed images from her Little Leaders, Little Dreamers, and Little Legends book collection, which highlights some of the prominent as well as lesser-known Black leaders we should all know. Aided by a large projector screen, Harrison showcased pictures of herself growing up in Virginia, where, as a young girl, she loved nothing more than sketching. She even exhibited her spectacular skills in front of the live audience, creating a cool-caped-BCNY-superhero in less than a minute, to the audible awe of boys. It’s an impressive feat when anyone can capture the attention of dozens of sprightly and inquisitive 7, 8, and 9-year-old boys, and Harrison accomplished this feat effortlessly.
During a question-and-answer session where just about every boy’s hand was raised high and swinging, one member boldly asked Harrison if she would consider writing a story about BCNY—a testament to the fact that Harrison had earned the respect of our members.Another member was eager to share his illustrations with Harrison, and she was just as happy to oblige, looking through page-by-page of colorful stick figures, while he stood with pride in his eyes. Affirmation, we know, is everything!
Harrison was once a kid who brought her imagination to life on paper. That passion, combined with a supportive and nurturing community, has led to an impressive roster of work to date, including her illustrations for the Oscar-winning short film Hair Love. And she’s only just begun. You can read more about Vashti’s work here. As educators, teachers, mentors, and role models, we know there is power in hosting leaders who will resonate with members. We cannot be what we cannot see. There is tremendous value in encouraging young people to dream and to have a vision. We are grateful for dreamers like Harrison who inspire others, whether young or old, to do the same.