16 Feb Black History Month Highlight: First Lady Betty Harris
Left to right: Father Elder Harris, a community member, and First Lady Beth Harris.
Can you tell us what you do at Mt. Olive church?
My name is Betty Harris I am a member of Mt. Olive church and the pastor’s wife.
What role has your church played in civil rights work in Jacksonville and/or in ensuring equitable access to food?
This church has played a tremendous role in the civil rights movement. This church is 140 years old and for it to stand that long, it would have to have some civil rights. Things don’t just just happen. We’ve organized trainings and voter suppression forums. Part of our and Elder Lee Harris’s efforts have worked with churches and the Nation of Islam to assist over 15,000 people in registering to vote.
(The problem is) We look at people and judge people by the color of their skin, their economic status, and where and how they live. I feel like god gave me this commandment to go and feed our sheep. We have not stopped giving out food even during COVID-19. We are probably one of the few churches that still have people walk up. We serve 30 to 60 people in this neighborhood. The only store in this neighborhood is Family Dollar. When you go there, you find food that is not only high in price but is also high in sodium.
They started selling food at Family Dollars because they knew they could get food stamps from the people in the neighborhood. How ironic is that? And because we know the only place they have to get food is there. We make it our business to get out here every other Thursday and serve them and treat them with dignity.
Do you have a food distribution success story?
Yes, a lady came through and couldn’t speak English. She had two little boys that would translate English into Arabic for her, they told us her information.
And one day, she came through and was so excited “Guess what, I got a job! Would you be able to save me some food? I’ll be off at six.”
So I said, “Of course, I’ll save you some food and wait on ya.”
At 6:15 p.m., I didn’t see her, so I started to walk around the neighborhood because I knew what kind of car she drove. It was cold that night when I was looking for her, and she finally came to the church and was so excited that I waited for her and tried to find her. I saved her own bag as well as the food that was leftover for the day, and that just blessed my heart. The other day actually, she came through saying she had something for me, and it was a beautiful little cloth bag from her country. She didn’t need to give a gift, this is my ministry, but it was a thoughtful gesture.
I always say don’t judge people until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. You don’t know what it is like to be them, don’t judge anyone by what they look like or what they are wearing.
Just love them if you can find it in your heart to do so.