Described as a warrior for children by Equal Voice News, Sophia Bracy Harris has given more than 40 years of distinguished service to the fight to improve the accessibility of childcare for children of color, and further leadership and economic development in marginalized communities by equipping and organizing them to advocate for themselves.
Her experiences growing up in a rural Alabama community under the firm grip of Jim Crow, and later challenging that system and other external systems of inequality during her early years, led her to help co-found the Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama (FOCAL) in 1972. Harris went on to serve as executive director of FOCAL for 43 years before retiring in 2015.
Under her leadership, FOCAL impacted the lives of thousands of vulnerable children by creating a network of more than 300 childcare providers in Alabama. Harris steered FOCAL to achieve several key legislative wins including a successful grassroots campaign to protect critical funding which resulted in 28,000 families being retained on the Alabama Child Care Subsidy Program; and creating strategic alliances with other child care advocates that resulted in legislation that provided more than $71 million for childcare services. In addition, FOCAL introduced the groundbreaking More is Caught Than Taught (MCTT) curricula which was implemented by childcare and other professionals in Alabama, Mississippi, England and Australia. MCTT explored how the messages of racial inferiority and hopelessness that children receive from authority figures —either overtly or subtly— are internalized, crippling their self-worth and future academic success.
Harris’ passion for equipping others to transform their lives has been recognized with numerous prestigious awards. She is the recipient of the Rockefeller Public Service Award (1977), Mother Jones “Heroes For Hard Times” (1987), Gleitsman Foundation’s “People Who Make a Difference” Award (1990), John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “Genius Award” (1991), the Children’s Defense Fund’s Outstanding Advocate for Children Award (1995) and the State of Alabama’s 2008 First Class Friend for Alabama’s Children Award. She was also named a 2016 Taconic Foundation Fellow with the Center for Community Change in Washington, D.C.
She and her work have been featured in numerous publications and on national platforms including National Public Radio’s StoryCorps, Auburn University Magazine’s “125 Years of Women”, Huffington Post and Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Equal Voice News.
Harris’ knowledge and expertise in the field of childcare and women’s empowerment has helped advance the mission of organizations that share her interests. She has served on the boards of Voices for Alabama’s Children, Leadership Montgomery, as vice chair of the Joint Governor’s Legislative Task Force on Child Day Care, Southern Regional Council, Ms. Foundation for Women, New World Foundation, Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative, the Women’s Technical Assistance Project and Calvert Group.
An Elmore County, Alabama native, she received a Bachelor of Science in Family and Child Development from Auburn University and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Dartmouth College.
Harris currently lives in Montgomery, Alabama and has two children and two grandchildren.
Sophia Bracy Harris and her work has been profiled in numerous publications including Huff Post and Equal Voice News. Below are links to those articles:
1. Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation Oral Histories-Southern Voices: https://www.mrbf.org/people/sophia-bracy-harris
2. MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program Profile: https://www.macfound.org/fellows/433/
3. Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy’s Rutherfurd Living History Southern Rural Poverty Collection: http://livinghistory.sanford.duke.edu/interviews/sofia-bracy-harris/
4. “A Warrior for Children: FOCAL’s Sophia Bracy Harris Retires” by Gary Gately. January 21, 2016. Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Equal Voice News: https://www.caseygrants.org/evn/a-warrior-for-children-focals-sophia-bracy-harris-retires/
5. “Selma: Experienced as a Child, Remembered as an Adult” by Sophia Bracy Harris. HuffPost, March 6, 2016. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/selma-experienced-as-a-child-remembered-as-an-adult_b_6820084
6. “125 Years of Women: Sophia Bracy Harris by Derek Herscovici. Auburn University Magazine., August 29, 2017. http://www.alumni.auburn.edu/sophia-bracy-harris-72/