Her uncles and mother joined the protests and pushed for change that would eventually let her be the first of her generation to go to integrated schools.
Harper is a physical scientist at the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. She works at the Pacific Northwest site office where she reviews proposed projects from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.
But despite the South’s ongoing struggles with integration, her parents focused on making sure she had a safe home and instilled the importance of education, and made her home a place where the entire neighborhood could stop by.
She went on to attend college at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, where she learned that her life experiences could be used to encourage others.
“People used to ask early on, when I was in my 20s, ‘How did you move all the way across the country from your family?’” she said. “Moving wasn’t really hard, because my family had already given me a sense of who I was. ... That’s always been my guiding post.”
Harper is not quiet about her love for teaching. She took some classes in college and between graduating and starting work for the federal government, she taught.
That passion propelled her community engagement efforts soon after moving to the Tri-Cities.
Her outreach includes work as a STEM community coordinator, with United Way, Tri-Cities Young Leaders Society, Junior Achievement and as president of the local chapter of the National Association of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers.
Much of it is passing on her lessons and others sharing what they’ve learned that have helped them succeed.
When she began all of the sixth graders talked of going to college, but it was questionable how many would make it. Some came from homes where their parents didn’t go to college.
This year, those girls are now high school seniors and she is busy writing recommendation letters for colleges and scholarships.
When she got the word that she would receive the Martin Luther King Jr. Spirit Award, she was speechless.
“His life’s work was about seeing people’s humanity,” she said.
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