BY ANGELA MATUA
BACKGROUND: Angelica Harris, 58, was born and raised in Queens and now lives in Glendale. She was chosen to be the Queens poet laureate in 2010 and wrote a poem titled “Queens My Hometown.” Harris enjoys living in Queens because “we are a close-knit community of many cultures, backgrounds and creeds. We live together, work and play together and in times of need we stand proud and tall together.”
OCCUPATION: Harris is a medieval historian and author of several books and short stories including the trilogy “The Quest for Excalibur,” which chronicles the story of Arianna Lawrence and her journey as she travels back in time to Camelot to return Excalibur to King Arthur. Harris was also commissioned by the Titanic Museum in Florida to write a book about her uncles who worked on the Titanic.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Harris is the founder of the Excalibur Reading Program, a nonprofit organization started in 2005 to help children and adults with special needs reach academic and personal goals. Teachers in the community conduct workshops and tutor students in reading, history, math, science and also offer SAT, ACT and GED prep classes. The program also offers art classes and mentoring programs to children who have experienced issues of domestic violence, sexual assault, and those who have been incarcerated.
GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: “Part of my greatest achievement is overcoming some very serious issues I went through in my youth. I’m a survivor of domestic and sexual abuse in my youth and if I didn’t have the faith and if I didn’t have some influential people in my life, especially in high school, I don’t know where I would’ve been today.”
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “One of my biggest challenges in the last couple of years was making sure that my center stayed open. We went into a major financial deficit. We did some fundraising. It was making sure that our bills were paid and keeping the center open and running. Through the challenge, this year we’ve started getting recognized through the schools in the surrounding area. I ask how the parents hear about us and I hear that the parent coordinator at so-and-so school told us how well you worked with the community.”
INSPIRATION: “There are two through my high school. I graduated from William Cullen Bryant and two of my high school teachers … knew I was going through some challenges. Lila Klauseman was my greatest inspiration for the arts and she brought out the artist in me. So was Mr. Chahallis, who was my history teacher who gave me the love of history. But my biggest inspiration is Jesus. Through everything I’ve been through in my life, if I didn’t have him and I didn’t have him to either follow or fall back on … you know he’s there and he’s my first and foremost [inspiration].”
- Star of Queens: Nan Khin May, CUNY service corps volunteer, New American Welcome Center at the Flushing YMCA
- Star of Queens: Mitch Karpp, program director, Youth and Camp Services at the Queens Central Y
- Star of Queens: Marlene Smith-Sotillo, president and CEO, Sickle Cell Awareness Foundation International