the life of many Los Angeles families.
A prominent community activist in Los Angeles, Alice Harris has dedicated her life to mentoring youth and providing assistance to people who are disadvantaged or underserved. She is the executive director of Parents of Watts, a social services organization that she started out of her home in the mid-1960s as a way to alleviate tensions in her culturally diverse neighborhood after the 1965 riots.
The nonprofit organization, which was incorporated in 1983, encourages children to stay in school and avoid drugs. Operating on a shoestring budget out of eight homes on Lou Dillon Avenue, the organization’s programs provide emergency food and shelter for the homeless, prepare teenagers for college and the job market, and offer drug counseling, health seminars and parenting classes.
Affectionately known as Sweet Alice for her generosity and empathy, Harris collects toys and clothing that she distributes to children each Christmas. She is a highly regarded neighborhood advocate who works closely with elected officials and often serves as a liaison between parents and their children's schools. She is well-known for speaking her mind in pursuing equal services and opportunities for her fellow residents and for also countering any resistance she gets from uncooperative parents, school administrators or city officials with her trademark question: "Do you want to be part of the building crew or the wrecking crew?"
All of her children and many of the children she has mentored through her organization’s programs have gone on to attend college. Her granddaughter Renaissance Forster just completed her first year at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Harris herself took college courses in sociology and child development when she could and was awarded a bachelor’s degree from California State University Dominguez Hills.
For her inspiring leadership in the field of community activism, her legacy of improving the lives of countless individuals and her devotion to helping young people achieve their dreams, the University of Southern California proudly honored Sweet Alice Harris with the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa in 2008.
Harris is the recipient of many honors, including the prestigious Minerva Award, which was create in 2004 by California first lady Maria Shriver to honor remarkable women. In 2002, Harris was named the state lieutenant governor’s Woman of the Year by Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. Moreover, Harris was named President George H. Bush #702 Points of Lights out of one thousand phenomenal citizens working to aid their communities through volunteer work.
Born in Alabama in 1934, Harris studied cosmetology and later operated her own beauty shop in Detroit before moving to L.A. in the late 1950’s. As a teenager she experienced poverty, homelessness and single motherhood. In talking about her dedication to helping others, she is quoted in Essence magazine as saying, "I do what I do because I was given a second chance."