Changing of the Guard: Sarah Harris takes the helm as the BBA's Interim President & CEO
PHOTOGRAPHY BY XAVIER HARRIS
The Black Business Association (BBA) is a well-respected institution in Southern California. It was created in Los Angeles in 1970 to foster an environment conducive to African American and minority small business owners. By dedicating the organization to the advocacy, promotion, and development of African American-owned businesses with the hopes of creating an economic base to allow the African American community true self-sufficiency.
For more than forty-six of its fifty-two years, the BBA was led by its celebrated president and CEO, Earl “Skip” Cooper II. Though by the summer of 2021, the writing was on the wall. After giving the organization a lifetime of service, Cooper would be letting it be known that he was planning to retire. The person picked to take the helm and guide the BBA through this time of transition and into the future is Suite Life SoCal's very own creator and publisher-in-chief, Sarah R. Harris --- a woman who has worked alongside Cooper on many projects and events over the past twenty-plus years. On January 1, 2022, Harris was appointed by the board as Interim President and CEO of the Black Business Association, the first woman to hold the post.
Born in Riverside, CA, Harris attended Riverside Polytechnic High School, where she was active in student government. After graduating in 1985, she continued her education at Scripps College in Claremont, CA.
Harris is a self-described “late bloomer” when it comes to a career. She admitted, “I've had detours in my life,” though detours are usually a path around the mess. As a self-taught graphic designer, Harris added, “I found my way when I joined my older sister's event planning service, Personal Service Plus.” Harris began genuinely engaging with her community during these times through company events. It was also at this time that her creativity shone. In her own words: “The magic came when I began to design the event collaterals like flyers, invitations, signage, etc., for company events.” Her graphic design background had paid off and would continue to serve her well into the future.
By the year 2000, Harris had begun a publication called SAVE THE DATE, a community events calendar that would serve as the master calendar of all the “who's who” events taking place in the greater Los Angeles area. It would evolve into an actual magazine by 2005. SAVE THE DATE made Harris a small business owner, which began her productive twenty-year working relationship with the BBA and Cooper.
Fast-forward to today, and Harris is taking control of the oldest ethnic and active business support organization in California committed to the well-being of the African American small business community. When asked how it felt to follow a “literal living legend” by Suite Life SoCal's managing editor, Angela Jackson, Harris said, “It's awe-inspiring in terms of knowing the [man's] journey, his legacy, his commitment and measuring up to that commitment. It could be intimidating if I really think about it. The good thing is I've had more than twenty years to get to know him and work alongside him and just witness and experience on a day-to-day basis.”
When asked about her specific goals, she stated: “Making things more clear cut…. updating the bylaws to represent this modern generation, including references to gender….we're looking to move into a space where we're doing things a little differently, and we're able to meet people where they're at in this day and age, with the tools and resources we need today.”
Commenting further on her responsibilities, Harris added: “To reset and fortify the foundation….and making it so that when the permanent president is in place, they have all the tools to make a board that is sustainable and can move forward.”
When pressed if she had any interest in the permanent position, she replied: “In the beginning, I wasn't 100% there because it was a new idea. Though I believe I can make a difference with setting a next level path for the BBA, do I want to go further? What really helped me to say yes was the acceptance by the board as well as the reception by many people in the community for me in terms of people telling me they were supportive, and that they were there for the BBA. That was very encouraging and meant a lot.”
In 2022 the BBA and its Interim President have no shortage of responsibilities, and the need for the organization in the small business community is all the more significant. While they move forward with confidence in leadership and an eye on the future, they will be looking back to honor the past with proper recognition and a celebration of the accomplishments of the BBA under Cooper's leadership.
On February 25th, as a part of Harris' talk series, SuiteTalk, an interview between Harris and Cooper will stream on the BBA's and Suite Life SoCal's Facebook and YouTube pages with a larger celebration planned for the summer. Harris will be continuing her limited series every Friday in February.