As the nation honors Black History Month, the City of Cedar Falls would like to recognize the impact local leaders of color have in our community every day.
A community's greatest strength is its future leaders and David Harris takes that message to heart. As the Athletic Director at the University of Northern Iowa, he has witnessed the intelligence, tenacity, and fearlessness of student-athletes and how it has set them up for a successful future both in and out of the sports arena.
Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the son of a high school football and track coach, some of Harris's most treasured childhood memories have taken place on the field.
"Growing up with my father, going to games, being in the locker room, and watching from the sidelines is when my love of athletics started," Harris said. "Back then I didn't know what type of career I wanted, but I knew my experience as a kid ignited a fire for athletics. Particularly, seeing what it can do to transform young men and women into mature people that can accomplish great things in our society."
After earning a football scholarship to the University of Mississippi in 1989, Harris went on to receive his MBA in 1995 and began working at the Registrar and Admissions Office at Ole Miss. Following a four-year stint at the University of Wisconsin in 2002, Harris served for 10 years at Iowa State University as the Senior Associate Athletic Director. In 2016, Harris was named the Athletic Director at the University of Northern Iowa.
His path was not without obstacles.
"I'm fortunate that I have had a number of people that have helped me which, in turn, has allowed me to open doors for others," Harris said. "I don't think you get this opportunity without people on your side."
"Being a person of color in an industry that doesn't have a lot of people of color is the biggest barrier as you climb the ladder. You want the opportunity to show that you can do the job at a high level, but you need people that will have the confidence and allow you the chance to do a great job."
Harris is hopeful his own journey and commitment can continue to help pave the way for the next generation.
"We are in a better place than when I started but we still aren't where we need to be for people of color and for women. In collegiate athletics, it continues to be a struggle. Every day the work you do opens the door for people that look like you. If you don't have success, the opportunities may go away for others as well. That is a challenge, but it is part of the profession and we look forward to rising to it."
As he has guided students to achieve their dreams on the field, Harris considers it even more important to give them the tools and knowledge they need for their life away from the locker room.
"I believe the best advice for young people is to be prepared. Do not go into a new setting or situation without the understanding of what you want to get out of it. Know how it benefits you and your life and do everything you can to maximize your opportunities. Invest in yourself. You must have a plan for yourself; otherwise, people will make a plan for you."
Learn more about University of Northern Iowa athletics at https://unipanthers.com/.