Conversation with Dr. Larry Harris
Author of It All Starts at Home: 15 Ways to Put Family First
GGBC: Dr. Harris, It All Starts at Home: 15 Ways to Put Family First is a valuable and empowering resource. What inspired you to write it?
Dr. Harris: The task of writing this book was motivated by the realization of how important family is. I was amazed how my parents had successfully raised nine children to be productive citizens our great country. How did they do that? It was a story waiting to be told. Far too often too much attention is given to what goes wrong in families. Isn’t it past time to focus on what goes right, particularly within the African American family?
GGBC: What are some of the examples of how your family propelled you despite seemingly immovable obstacles?
Dr. Harris: One of the things I loved most about my Dad was the way he taught us to handle heartache and disappointment. When things didn’t go the way we wanted, Dad would say “don’t fight what you can’t change. Just go on with your life. Just drive on!” For example, in 1988, I faced a major disappointment: I develop a brain tumor. Because of its location, I didn’t know if I would survive, become incapacitated, be blind or die. Only days earlier, my wife and I had had the foundation laid for our dream home. I was ready to stop the building and back out of everything. I expected my father to support that. After all he was the logical businessman. “Drive on; don’t stop,” Dad said. And, I did just that.
GGBC: Can you describe your point of view on how people can begin to put their families first?
Dr. Harris: Proverbs 29:15 says “the rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.”(NIV) As parents we must be willing to accept this challenge. However, often we delegate or leave the task of training and raising our children to society. We expect the schools to teach our children about sex and morals. We allow television and movies to teach our boys and girls about love and relationships—one night stands. We expect the church to tell our precious ones about faith and trust in a higher being. Nothing could be further from the truth. As parents it is our job. We must accept the challenge of rearing our kids. We must get back to teaching the old fashion basics—the 3 R’s; Respect, Responsibility and Religion. This training must start early and it all starts at home.
GGBC: What are some simple tips for how single parents can begin to put their family first when demands of work – life balance can sometimes be wearisome?
Dr. Harris: The demands of single parenthood are enormous. Elicit the help of extended family, friends, church members, and support groups. Make sure you spend quality time with your children. Being a good financial provider is not enough. Providing love and emotional support goes a lot further than any stretched dollar.
GGBC: What was the turning point in your life? How did being raised in a family with love, morals and values impact you and the decisions you made?
Dr. Harris: My sister Deborah (PH D) says: “As a team our parents showed us the value of working together, helping one another and encouraging one another. They never compared us with each other but encouraged us to compete against the standard of excellence. They never expected anything but the best from us. They supported us but never condoned our wrongs. They shared the responsibilities but respected each other’s role and contribution. They maintained a balance that is imperative to successes in life, and that balance is best reflected in two of the foundational practices we all witnessed as children of Fred and Ruth Harris. Dad pushed education; Mom pushed appropriate behavior. Both are essential for success.” And, it all started at home.
GGBC: You write in It All Starts at Home that, “the love of God and the love of family are the ‘hydraulic’ jacks that we need to lift us up,” what do you mean by that statement?
Dr. Harris: In 1652, Pascal, a French physicist, developed the hydraulic lift principle. Pascal’s law is use in many devices to lift heavy objects with minimal effort. As parents we are at war. The whole world is against us trying to drag our children down into gutter of drugs, alcohol, sex and violence. Many have lost their jobs, homes and health. None the less we do have a hydraulic lift system—God and family. God and family sustain you during tough times.
GGBC: Recent comments by Bill Cosby on parental skills of African Americans caused some controversy but created a much needed dialogue among families and communities. How does the It All Starts at Home philosophy apply to African American families today?
Dr. Harris: Mr. Cosby says: “It is not what our children are doing to us. It is what we are not doing.” We have to stop making excuses for not training our children. Because you don’t live in a mansion on the hill, does not mean you can’t teach your children how respect their property or the property of others. Being a victim of racism, does not give you an excuse to teach your children how to hate. Not having a job does not give you permission to show your children how to ‘hang out’ around the house all day and not doing anything except complaining. Remember your children are a reflection of you. And it all starts at home.
GGBC: How has the trend in materialism adversely impacted families in today’s culture?
Dr. Harris: All too often in our world today the emphasis is on sports, popularity, physical appearance, ability and money. Everyone encourages, praises and supports the best three point shooter. A star quarterback is treated like a king. Television convinces our daughters that in order to be successful you have to look like a tall and thin model. On the other hand, don’t forget to give high fives to the basketball star who exhibits good sportsmanship even when he doesn’t score. Give credit to the football star who respects the coach’s decision to allow others to play. Praise the young lady who befriends an overweight classmate. As parents we must learn to compliment character more than talent. Over time, talent made fade or be lost, but the principles of honesty, caring, sharing, respect responsibility and love—character will last a life time. Invest in teaching your children good character.
GGBC: What are some ways parents can have close relationships with their children without losing ground as a parent?
Dr. Harris: Children need love. Many parents have failed to really love their children in the way they deserve and need to be loved. Show your children that you love them. I don’t mean giving them everything they want—cars, designer clothes. Love is not giving them every thing they want but trying to give them what they need. Hug them. If your child has a ball or recital, be there. Show up for the PTA meeting. Listen to your children. I wonder how many times we do not let our teens get a full sentence out before we interrupt. Just by listening to you children lets them know that you care.
GGBC: Please briefly describe a few of the 15 lessons that readers can expect to learn more about in It All Starts at Home?
- Honor your name. Protect your name because when it’s gone you are gone.
- Sharing and Caring creates a better you. It‘s not enough just to take of yourself. It counts more when you help somebody else.
- Don’t compromise to be recognized. You will be recognized because you don’t compromise. Stand up for what you believe. Every choice you make has consequence. Your reputation will follow you forever.
- Family impresses example. When you live what you teach, your family has no trouble following.
GGBC: What message do you want readers to glean from It All Starts at Home?
Dr. Harris: Many of the family values that made our nation great are under attack. They under attack on the Western front—Hollywood (negative portrayal of families.) They are under attack on the Northern front—anti family legislation. And, most important, our families are being attacked on the Home front—substandard parenting. We have our marching orders. As individuals and communities we must be willing to go to battle to recapture and secure our “Tour of Duty” of being effective parents. Our future is at stake and IT ALL STARTS AT HOME!
For more information about Dr. Larry Harris and It All Starts At Home visit: