The old adage, “Birds of a feather flock together” will never sound more true until you spend a day with James Harris, Program Coordinator for the Usher’s New Look Foundation. Usher’s New Look, abbreviated UNL, is a 501(c)3 non-profit, youth organization, founded by entertainer and philanthropist, Usher Raymond, along with close friend and entrepreneur, Shawn Wilson. Behind the moguls of Mr. Raymond and Mr. Wilson, are leaders such as, James Harris, whom friends and family affectionately call “Dewey.” “Dewey” represents a young man, whose outspoken personality did not always work out for him, specifically during a period in high school when peer pressure shadowed his future. An adolescence of poor grades, petty crime and drugs, however, did not stop local organizations like the New Look Foundation, from reaching out to a young James. “Birds of a feather flock together” can now take on a different meaning, since the young man known to the streets of Kansas as “Dewey,” has turned old feathers into new wings to become James Harris, mentor at the Usher’s New Look Foundation.
“How do you join New Look?” Such a question is burning in our communities, and the answer which lights the fire comes from Mr. Harris. Although James is intent on the philosophy of teamwork, his personal testimony is a recruiting tool for New Look. The visibility of a 20-something, black male who travels the world to teach and train youth on philanthropy, is a rare sight in today’s society. Since James recently joined the Board of Directors for the Foundation, youth have been given the opportunity to get involved in local and global communities, from Atlanta, GA to Hong Kong, China. To remind youth of the importance of giving back, James never forgets how he started giving back.
A Kansas, City high school is a long way from New Look Headquarters in Atlanta, GA. Nonetheless, a search for community activities found James Harris on a flight to Atlanta from his hometown, which he calls, “KC.” James’ arrival in Atlanta did not come without the sacrifice of a life he thought he knew in Kansas. Regardless of the opportunities lying ahead, being told at 17 what you can and cannot do, and where you can and cannot go, is a mindset all too comforting for a black male who is not easily set up for the alternatives. Thankfully, James still belonged to a group of schoolteachers and community members who believed in him, in spite of the odds facing him. The support of mentors and family is what ultimately pushed James to not only examine his situation, but change for those looking up to and coming after him. James makes his story plain, “I would not be the leader I am today without the people and support around me.”
New Look has undoubtedly thrived because of the presence of James “Dewey” Harris, however, James recedes into the background for many incoming UNL youth. Expecting an auditorium of 200, 14-18 year old middle and high school students, can get tiring for James, which is why he “enjoys having a team.” New Look’s 5 chapters in the U.S., Atlanta, Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, and Milwaukee hold service trainings, titled “Powered By Service,” where James leads a module on New Look’s 4 pillars: talent, education, career, and service. New Look’s 4 pillars serve as starting points for the youth, relieving some of the work from James and his team of facilitators. Even the most educated, talented, career -advised, and service-oriented student, however, cannot sit through the 3-hour training without asking James to showcase some of his skills, which range from spoken word to telling jokes. Preferring to save projects of the New Look Team for last-minute moments does not go as planned, as James does not shy away from an opportunity to select youth for a spotlight on their skills, which may result in an opportunity to travel and train with James, the New Look Team, and its founders.
Becoming friends with a global superstar was not on James Harris’ to-do list when recruited to New Look in 2007. Upon his landing under the mentorship of Usher Raymond, James has spoken on some of the most pressing issues facing our youth at a 2008 hearing for the educational labor committee, former President, Bill Clinton’s Global initiative event, and several news media outlets throughout Atlanta, D.C., and Milwaukee. The press does not distract James from his primary responsibilities of being a mentor, similar to how Usher mentored him. James often credits Usher for his early mentorship, who he says, “Helped me become a better leader and man.” Not only has James become friends with people who can help him reach his goals, he has become that person who can help others in reaching their goals.
When you see the results of the New Look Foundation in the lives of youth, including a rocketing graduation rate, knowing James “Dewey” Harris for 8 years can sometimes take a backseat to a simple one-on-one encounter for 3 hours. James puts the accomplishments of the youth first, and continues to succeed himself in return. Mr. Harris no longer hides from old adages about his lifestyle, but he enables the gift of traveling and training as a way of building, developing, and maintaining meaningful, lifelong relationships.
James is currently working on a scholarship fund for eligible youth. Follow James Harris on Instagram (@deweydadon) and Facebook (James Harris) for more information. To keep up with New Look, visit http://ushersnewlook.org/!