By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
LaTara Harris, the former director of external and legislative affairs for AT&T in the Mid-Atlantic region, has returned to the nonprofit sector. Harris, who previously worked for the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education (MBRT), became the CEO and president of Crittenton Services of Greater Washington (Crittenton) on Oct. 16.
The organization supports teenage girls in developing essential life skills, preparing them for postsecondary education and careers while ensuring they believe in their ability to succeed.
“At Crittenton, we ensure that every teen girl, regardless of her race or ethnicity, has the support, knowledge and skills that they need to thrive,” said Harris. “During the pandemic, we were serving about 600 girls, and now, we’ve doubled that number. The beauty of all of it is that we discuss the whole girl.”
Harris previously chaired Crittenton’s board of directors for several years. She said the organization addresses the psychological, emotional and physical well-being of the young women.
Year-over-year, the teens enrolled in Crittenton’s programming have had a 100 percent high school graduation rate, despite the fact that many of them attend schools with lower graduation rates, according to Harris.
“I’m most excited to finally get in front of the girls. I know I’m the CEO. I have to run the operation and get the funding stabilized and growing for us to be able to have the kind of impact we want,” said Harris. “I’m excited to bring a voice to this work.”
Harris grew up moving around a lot, as her father was in the military. Although her parents finished high school, they never went to college. It was up to Harris to choose higher education for herself.
Initially, Harris studied accounting at Bowie State University. Although she excelled in her classes, she didn’t feel satisfied by the area of study. Harris decided to switch to communications and quickly discovered that she had an affinity for community service.
While volunteering for the Donnie Simpson Morning Show, Harris realized for the first time that her career could be something that would bring her joy.
“It was the first time that I literally saw people come to work who were genuinely happy. I thought part of work was going and being miserable,” said Harris. “But, they were happy, and I wanted that. I found it through volunteering.”
When she was introduced to the MBRT, the organization needed help recruiting speakers to talk to students about life after high school and the opportunities available to them. Eventually, Harris’ volunteerism turned into a full-time job in 2002.
“When we first started the Speakers Bureau, we had hoped to recruit 30, but we ended up with 80,” said June Streckfus, former executive director for MBRT. “By the time LaTara got involved, we had 3,000 speakers statewide.”
Harris was also instrumental in creating MBRT’s Maryland Scholars program, which ensures students have completed the requisite coursework to attend college and be career-ready.
“She’s really good at rallying people’s collective sense of responsibility. She can figure out how to create spaces for others to thrive, and I think that’s really important in these times,” said Streckfus. “I know in her heart she wants to impact the next generation, and we need more people who want to do that.”
After more than 10 years at MBRT, Harris joined AT&T to lead external and legislative affairs in Washington D.C.
“I didn’t know what a lobbyist was, but lobbying is something that people do everyday. It’s all about relationship-building and understanding the push and pull and how to work on complex issues,” said Harris. “AT&T came to me at a time when my soul was ready to move forward.”
As a lobbyist, Harris worked directly with state and local elected officials to advocate for policies that would benefit the work of AT&T and the broader telecommunications industry. In her external affairs role, she identified charitable organizations to fund and support.
Harris also created scholarships for historically, Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania and Lincoln University.
“I was able to work with charities in the community on meaningful programs that were really helping and moving the communities forward. That’s one job that I took really seriously,” said Harris. “I wasn’t the type of person that was going to give money just for the sake of giving money. They needed to make sure that they were having an impact on the communities that we are living and working in.”
After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, AT&T appointed Harris to be a member of the company’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Taskforce. She was responsible for engaging employees from her department to participate in the task force’s programming, which included unconscious bias training, book clubs, listening sessions and access to mental health specialists.
“I believed I had to lend my voice to this work because so many young people are going to come behind me, and I don’t want them to come into the kind of structure that I came into,” said Harris. “That’s not to say that the company was bad at all, but I think we all found blind spots in corporations and businesses in general.”
Megan Sayles is a Report for America corps member.