Alumni Spotlight - Shay Harris

By Jamie Kornegay
GSD Reporter

"When you're young, you want to be some of everything," says Grenada High School graduate Shay Harris (Class of 1988), who dreamed of being a singer and teacher among other things. "Thankfully, my mom told me I could do all those things. Whatever I wanted."

Her mother, Shirley Harris, owns Shirley's Place, one of the oldest black- owned businesses in Grenada, and her father is James Harris. She credits them with making the sacrifices which allowed her to pursue a variety of after-school activities — from cheerleading to beauty pageants to singing with Visions choir — in place of working a part-time job.

"For me, extracurricular activities were just as important as work because it taught me to be part of team," Harris says. "These activities teach young people how to be accountable to others and to put others ahead of yourself. There's something to be said for making other people shine."

Harris remains grateful for two teachers who saw promise in her writing.

English teacher Mary Ann Mahan always commended her journal entries. "I was just expressing myself, but she convinced me to take it seriously," Harris says.

Edna Washington — now Edna Williams, an inclusion teacher at Grenada Elementary — was a student teacher when she met Shay in middle school. Even then, said Williams, she was exceptional and driven.

Harris recalls one Mrs. Williams' most memorable and useful pieces of advice: "You can't soar with the eagles if you land with the turkeys."

"She was telling me to watch the company I keep," Harris says.

Harris took the advice and focused her sights on television news.

During the 1980s, it was rare to see an African-American woman news anchor until Claudia Barr began at WHBQ-TV in Memphis. Shay was inspired and saw the possibility of a career in broadcasting.

She studied broadcast journalism at the University of Mississippi and received several offers after graduation. Harris took the best offer with the Delta station WABG in Greenville, and she moved along a determined career path, working at stations in Texas, Florida, and Ohio.

"Throughout my career, I always felt that Christ was pulling me to places with strong church communities, and I continued to be very active and passionate about the ministry wherever I lived," Harris says.

She developed her vocal talent and recorded a single, "Dear Jesus," that was picked up in 30 major markets. "God will guide you, but you have to watch and follow," she says. "Parents are important too. They must pay attention and help guide their kids in the way they're naturally wired."

Harris is currently a freelance anchor in Jackson and continues to perform music. She's also writing an inspirational book about the simplicity of salvation. "I'm open to whatever God has for me next," she says. "I want to make sure the rest of my life is the best of my life."

In times of doubt and difficulty, she turns to Psalm 91, a scripture on protection that reads like a song.

Another piece of advice that her mother used to say: "I can, you can, and together, we all can."

And naturally, Shay Harris has developed her own advice for current students at Grenada High School. "Stay focused," she says. "Discern what you need from what you want."

She adds, "And remember, there is so much virtue in patience. Anything worth having has to be worked for and earned."