Do you recognize the young doctor from the 1955 Ebony magazine cover on this page? She was being recognized for being the first black to graduate from medical school in Virginia. About 30 years later, Dr. Jean Harris would become the first woman mayor of Eden Prairie, the first black mayor of Eden Prairie.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Jean Harris as our Twin Cities, our state, and our nation convulse over the recent death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, once again bringing racial inequalities to the forefront of local and national discourse.
Jean Harris is deceased, but still bearing her name is an annual scholarship awarded by the Foundation, one that uses volunteer work in human rights and diversity as criteria. There is also the Eden Prairie Manifesto, an official statement she helped craft and one that binds us to uphold the rights of every individual to freedom, dignity, and security regardless of religious affiliation, race, ethnic heritage, gender, age, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, or economic status.
Another symbol of what Jean Harris stood for – also still appropriate at this time – is The Gathering Bridge at Purgatory Creek Park, dedicated in 2004 in honor of the former mayor. Its circular centerpiece has inscribed in it eight questions that encourage each of us to look inward and become a better person.
As a Foundation, we don’t pretend to know all the answers to racial and ethnic inequities in our societies – yes, even here in Eden Prairie – but the challenge to “become a better person” seems a good starting point for all of us. Here are the eight questions posed on The Gathering Bridge:
- What has life taught you?
- What will you contribute?
- What makes you laugh large?
- Do you give all people a chance?
- Are you aware of your uniqueness?
- Is there anyone you need to forgive?
- Are you willing to take the risk?
- Are you doing your very best?
I hope you will spend some time thinking about how you would answer these questions. Nearly 16 years after passing, Dr. Jean Harris still guides the way.