Skip Section Navigation


Published on January 21, 2015

Jacksonville native shares inspiring story of success, giving

By Mary Baer and Jodi Mohrmann, News4JAX

She's a leader, a doer, a winner, pure talent and the kind of person you want to learn from. Carla Harris is a local girl who's gone on to do great things. She dreamed big when she graduated from Bishop Kenny and she is certainly living it.

Harris graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard and then with honors, an MBA from Harvard Business School. She went on to a successful career on Wall Street and has a glorious voice. She is an accomplished gospel singer who performs at Carnegie Hall.

"I love love love love singing," Harris said.

Harris found her voice in Jacksonville as a young girl in middle school. It blossomed in high school before it turned into a passion that pays.

"I am so proud of this," she said as the Bishop Kenny grad visited her alma mater as she looked at the sign that reads Carla Harris Performing Arts Center.

"I'll never forget when I opened the letter from Father Huley, saying we are gonna build a performing arts center and we would love if you would give us the honor of naming it after you. I started crying and I'm not a mushy person," shared Harris. "But I could not believe it."

Harris reminisced with us standing on the grounds of her high school.

"I sang right there in that cafeteria at least three talent shows here," Harris recalled. "The one talent show where I really placed I was singing Donna Summer, Last Dance. That was my junior talent show."

And for Harris' senior talent show, she sang Cheryl Lynn's "Got to be Real." But her talent is not only in her voice. She has a mind for money management, and that took her to Wall Street and a big heart that makes her a big giver. In 1990, when she was a third year associate on Wall Street, she started the Carla Harris Scholarship at Bishop Kenny.

"It was important I do that because I wanted to make sure I could help somebody else that was academically able to get in, but financially unable to go," said Harris.

In 1999, when her first album came out, that's when she decided she would give all the proceeds for scholarships, but not only to Bishop Kenny, but also to St. Charles Borromeo, a Catholic church in Harlem, for a science/math program. She later added A Better Chance Inc. as one of the recipients of proceeds from her concerts and CD sales.

"It's the only organization that has a national footprint to get talented kids of color from really tough situations and put them in some of the best boarding schools in those areas around the country," Harris explained. "Every time I sell a record, every time I do a Carnegie Hall concert, 100 percent of the proceeds go to these organizations."

Plus, some of the proceeds from her books go as well. She says her books have strategies and pearls of wisdom for readers of all ages.

"The young people today have a bigger challenge than we had growing up. There's so many things coming at them, and it's coming so fast, and they have influences we didn't have," said Harris.

She says with social media, young people today have way too many voices directed at them, distracting them, keeping them from hearing their own voice. But she says "The Mary Awards," for local senior girls, sponsored by St. Vincent's HealthCare, will celebrate their active involvement in our community and their own faith. Harris will be the star feature at the awards ceremony in April.

"For us to take this part of who they are and say, 'We like this! We're gonna celebrate this! Yeah, keep going!' I think, you know, it's a great thing," she said.

Watch the interview.