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Sophia Bracy Harris was born into a world with a stark dividing line separating black from white, the haves and have nots, and those deemed better than or less than. A world where separate never meant equal, and in that era, African Americans were relegated to inferior schools and facilities, and granted few opportunities for advancement. The lines were both visible and invisible, and any challenge to erase that line could be fatal, as they were maintained by custom and law and enforced by violence.
Finding My Own Way: A Journey to Wholeness Against the Odds is the story of a courageous woman who defied the lines drawn by others to achieve national prominence as a child advocate and human rights leader.
From her early life growing up on a cotton farm in Wetumpka, Alabama, she learned that life could be hard and uncertain. Poverty, segregation, and chronic illness fostered in her a sense that she was somehow inferior to others. Yet her mother believed in the potential of her children. Though uneducated, she instilled in Sophia and her siblings the importance of a getting a good education to achieve a better life.
Sophia and her sister Debra were among the first wave of black students to integrate all-white schools across the Blackbelt—a bold and dangerous act that eventually resulted in the arrest and unjustified expulsion of her sister from high school, intervention by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and later, the fire-bombing of her family’s home by whites in retaliation. Yet, she persisted and went on to earn a college scholarship to Auburn University with the support of the AFCS.
For Sophia, those early experiences sparked the flame for justice and resistance. Sophia would go on to dedicate the next 43 years of her life to help families just like hers by co-founding and serving as executive director of the Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama (FOCAL), a statewide child advocacy group. Her work on behalf of African American and poor families brought her to the halls of power in state government, led her to organize 300 black childcare providers to demand justice for women and children, garnered her a seat on the boards of leading national organizations, and present her knowledge on the world stage at the World Conference of Women in Nairobi, Kenya.
Yet despite earning countless prestigious awards, achieving key legislative victories and working alongside some of the nation’s leading figures in women’s equality and social justice movements, she still waged the very private, painful battle to answer the persistent question, “Am I good enough?” For like so many, Sophia had internalized negative messages about what it means to be a woman, a person of color, and to grow up poor, through the lenses of entitlement and male privilege.
Sophia had to confront her own sense of herself and declare her independence from systems – and sometimes well-meaning people – whose help sometimes felt like coercion and control. Her growth as a leader and the process of healing past wounds gave birth to the adoption of new tools and knowledge that she used to help thousands of marginalized people realize the value of their communities and why their children were worth fighting for.
Narrated with grace, humor and authenticity, Finding My Own Way is a compelling journey of a life punctuated by challenges and triumphs and, most importantly, the discovery that by birth we are all created equal and more worthy than we ever imagined.
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