An Author with a Vision and a Mission
Bettinita Harris' award-winning journalism career has spanned more than 20 years at some of the nation's most prestigious newspapers, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, The Tampa Tribune and The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal.
The hallmark of her work as a reporter and editor has been the rare ability to capture the souls of her subjects and share this intimate insight with the world.
She is now focusing her passion for truth-telling on the world of children's literature. The mission of her multimedia company Colored Girl Wisdom, LLC., (www.coloredgirlwisdom.com) is to create an ongoing series of children's books that provide life lessons to guide African-American girls to develop a strong self-image.
The first book in the Sisters for Life, Best Friends Forever series, “Aria's Crown,” was published in October 2018.
Bettinita, who lives in West Chester, Pa., is bringing her inspirational message of encouragement and empowerment to elementary-age students at schools throughout the Philadelphia, Pa., region. She has partnered with the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children (www.WePAC.org) to read her books to students at Philadelphia elementary schools where the organization has renovated and re-opened school libraries.
Each school visit includes hands-on activities for students to reinforce lessons of self-esteem and affirmation.
The seeds for the Sisters for Life, Best Friends Forever series were sown in Bettinita's journalism career through stories that gave voice to heart-rending tales of suffering and struggle.
She was a pioneer in bringing to light the unseen ramifications of the AIDS crisis in the United States, becoming the nation's first journalist to tell the story of the three young Ray brothers in Florida.
After being diagnosed with HIV through blood transfusions to treat their hemophilia, the boys and their family endured horrific treatment. They were expelled from public school due to hysteria over their condition and ostracized by the community.
Bettinita documented the family's struggle every step of the way in The Tampa Tribune, including their victory in federal court that returned the boys to public school and the arson of their home a week later.
The family's story became front-page news across the country, and their resulting activism in educating the public and dispelling myths about AIDS is considered a seminal event in the history of the disease and its repercussions in America.
Bettinita's work as an editor includes guiding reporters on numerous stories that upended the status quo, exposed institutional wrongdoing or spotlighted the forgotten among us.
Seeds of a mission
An investigation uncovered 80 convicted felons working in the public school system of Memphis, Tenn., leading the administration to remove the employees and change its hiring practices.
Devastating flooding in Grand Forks, N.D., resulted in Bettinita leading a team of reporters and photographers to produce special reports that vividly portrayed the damage to a small, tight-knit community and spawned an outpouring of donations from readers of the Star Tribune.
A race riot in Shreveport, La., was the impetus for an award-winning series of stories examining the roots of conflict in the community and prompting a series of public forums involving nationally renowned experts in race relations.
The Philadelphia Inquirer brought to light a change in U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy that led to the eviction of some Alzheimer's disease patients from VA hospitals.
Bettinita's knack for finding stories that resonate led The Philadelphia Inquirer to choose her as the architect for the newspaper's most ambitious undertaking in decades, the introduction of a daily publication devoted to its prized target market of Chester County, Pa., one of the nation's most affluent counties.
She orchestrated the project to tremendous success, generating 10 percent daily circulation growth at a time when newspapers across the country were losing readers in droves. The initiative attracted national publicity from the media.
Bettinita's experience with publishing includes serving as lead editor for “I Am A Man,” a pictorial history chronicling Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s involvement in the Memphis sanitation workers strike that precipitated his 1968 assassination.
She worked with numerous leaders of the civil rights movement to collect their remembrances of the event and preserve a watershed moment of U.S. history.
Another career highlight was her profile of Linda Brown Smith, a key figure in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that declared segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional.
Bettinita also works as a substitute teacher for young students in various school districts in Chester County, Pa., and Delaware County, Pa.
She is married and has two adult children and three granddaughters.
Civil rights roots
Stories that told of heart-rending suffering and struggle, upended the status-quo and exposed institutional wrongdoing have been the hallmarks of a 20-year newspaper career.