Curtiss Harris is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to historical issues related to Milwaukee, economic development, minority businesses, set asides and politics. He has watched and gotten deeply involved in many programs aimed at leveling the playing field for minority businesses. Now, he is poised to do even more—as the African American Chamber of Commerce’s new executive director.
The job description for executive director of the Chamber must have been written with Harris’ name on it—it’s such a good fit. He is passionate about economic opportunities for minorities and promoting black business development. Harris faces the tough task of restoring credibility to a group that lacks focus and structure and frankly hasn’t been able to accomplish the things necessary to grow.
An advocate for minority-owned businesses for more than 20 years, Harris has the experience, the reputation, contacts and networks necessary to help the chamber lead more effectively. According to Harris one of the major problems with economic development proposed in neighborhoods is that the residents in the neighborhood, or those who look like them, do not benefit from the jobs created to do most of the preparation for development. Harris aims to change that.
Prior to being named executive director of the African American Chamber of Commerce, Harris worked as a business consultant. Most notably he also served as Chief of Staff for Interim Mayor Marvin Pratt, Milwaukee’s first African American mayor.
According to the Center for Economic Development at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, there are 4,395 black-owned businesses in the city. Most of them are mom-and-pop companies with modest sales. Harris has spent most of his professional career working to change that.
Dr. Deborah McGriff is one-half of a dynamic education duo. Married to Dr. Howard Fuller, former superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, Dr. McGriff has achieved national recognition for her contributions to innovative learning. She was the first public school superintendent to join Edison Schools in 1993 where she held numerous positions including President of Edison Teachers College and Executive Vice President of Charter Schools. Prior to joining Edison Learning, Dr. McGriff served as the first female General Superintendent of the 200,000-student Detroit Public Schools. Crain’s Detroit Business named her Newsmaker of the Year for 1992. Before that, she was the first female Assistant Superintendent in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the first female Deputy Superintendent in Milwaukee. She was a teacher and administrator in the New York City Public Schools for more than a decade. Never known for supporting the status quo; Dr. McGriff is a staunch advocate of parental choice, quality teaching, and high-performing schools for all children.
A native of Portsmouth, VA, Dr. McGriff holds a bachelor’s degree in education with a minor in history from Norfolk State University, a master’s degree in education with a specialization in reading pedagogy from Queens College of the City University of New York, and a doctorate in Administration, Policy and Urban Education from Fordham University.
Dr. McGriff is a partner at NewSchools Venture Fund, where she leads the firm’s Academic Systems Initiative, and contributes to investment strategy and management assistance for a variety of its portfolio ventures, including charter management and school turnaround organizations. She serves on the board of directors of Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), DC Prep, Friendship Public Charter School, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and Leadership Public Schools.
Dr. McGriff is former President of the Education Industry Association, the leading professional association of education service providers. She currently serves on the board of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, where she also is an executive committee member, as well as founder and national board member of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. She also serves on the advisory boards of the National Council on Teacher Quality and of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, as well as the Technical Working Group for a national evaluation of the Federal Charter Schools Program being led by WestEd.
Dr. Howard L. Fuller
Dr. Howard L. Fuller is widely known as an activist turned educator. Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Fuller was an only child, raised by his mother and grandmother. When he was six years old, the family moved to Milwaukee where he attended St. Boniface Catholic School until he transferred to North Division High School after the seventh grade to play basketball with his friends.
He attended Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin on academic and basketball scholarships, returning to Milwaukee every summer to work and save money for the following school year. Fuller was the first black male graduate of Carroll College. He received a Whitney Young Scholarship from the Urban League to study at Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve) in Cleveland, OH, where he earned a master’s degree in social administration. As a condition of that scholarship he worked for the Urban League in Chicago for a year before moving to Durham, North Carolina to work for Operation Breakthrough.
For the next ten years Dr. fuller worked on issue-oriented community organization, became involved in the Black Power and African Liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and worked with students to found the Malcolm X Liberation University, as an independent black school that existed in Durham for three years. Dr. Fuller said that as he got older he got wiser and realized that he could not change the world, so he decided to focus on changing the lives of children. He did so through a number of employment opportunities including director of special services at Marquette University’s Office of Educational Opportunities, where he earned his PhD, in sociological foundations of education; secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Employment Relations, dean of the Milwaukee Area Technical College, director of the Milwaukee Department of Health and Human services, superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools.
Dr. Fuller later founded the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University, and currently serves as its director. He has developed programming to provide computer access and education to central city communities and conducted advocacy research to provide information about low-income educational opportunities. In 2000 Dr. Fuller also founded a nonprofit organization called the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), which now has chapters in 22 states across the country. A trailblazer and pioneer, educator and advocate, social worker and activist, Dr. Fuller’s legacy transcends the Milwaukee community, and the world is all the better for his efforts.