On Monday’s edition of The Catalyst Sessions, we spent an enjoyable 30 minutes with Alex Harris, the co-founder and CEO of ACT (the Arts Conservatory for Teens), one of Pinellas County’s most successful after-school programs.
Harris, who happens to be an exceptional vocalist, performed two songs while accompanying himself on guitar.
The first half of our conversation covered his early years as the lead singer of an all-family “boy band” in his native Georgia. The group, A7, combined soul, pop, jazz and Christian ministry, and successfully toured the world for several years.
“The idea was God and education equals success in our family,” he said. “And having some spirituality, a faith-based connected, is very meaningful in the environment in which you grow up.”
Harris has two Masters degrees and three BA’s. There were 20 degrees, all told, amongst the members of A7.
A rigorous college education, he acknowleged, might not be the answer for everybody. “I do believe, in our family, (that) really challenging the mind in an organized institution, where the knowledge was provided, was our way of doing it.
“And it has served us very well. And we are very humbled by the successes that we’ve accomplished academically, spiritually, socially and professionally.”
Talk then turned to ACT, which has turned around the lives of more than 2,500 area middle and high school students since its inception in 2012, following a three-year pilot program.
Experience in the arts, he explained, can be many things – a window into another world, a career, and in some cases a coping mechanism for life challenges. Harris, ACT co-founder Herbert Murphy and their faculty and staff do this “by creating a curriculum that will create a clear pathway for these students to pursue their own discoveries,” Harris said.
“Sometimes, there are discoveries, or people are inclined, especially in underserved or underprivileged communities, but they don’t have the path or the resources that would lead them to pursue their own discoveries.”
For more information on ACT and its programs, click here.
Tonight (Tuesday, April 14) on The Catalyst Sessions: Maestro Michael Francis of The Florida Orchestra. The program appears weeknights at 7 p.m. on the Catalyst Facebook page.