Allen Harris of Dearborn, Michigan, was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind in 1981. In 1985 he became Secretary, and in 1988 he was elected Treasurer. He says,
"I take some satisfaction in many of the things I have accomplished in my life, but nothing has given me more pleasure and reward than my work in the Federation."
Harris may well take satisfaction in his accomplishments. Blind since birth in 1945, he completed high school at the Michigan School for the Blind in Lansing. He says of this period,
"The two most valuable things I learned in high school were wrestling and typing. Although I could have used some other things, these two skills have served me well ever since."
Allen Harris was a championship wrestler throughout high school and college. He was also a champion debater at Wayne State University and graduated magna cum laude in 1967.
Harris then began looking for a teaching position and enrolled in graduate school. At that time high school teachers were much in demand. He sent out 167 applications and went to 96 interviews without receiving a single job offer. After a year of futile search Harris was depressed, and his friends were outraged. One friend went to a meeting of the school board of the Dearborn Public School System. She spoke openly about the blind applicant for a teaching position who was so well qualified, yet was being ignored by scores of school districts.
The tactic worked. Officials of the school district said that they were unaware of Harris's candidacy although he had submitted an application. He was called for an interview and hired to teach social studies. In addition to a full-time teaching schedule, he coached high school wrestling, as well as swimming and wrestling for boys from age five to fourteen. He has coached at least six high school wrestling teams that have won league championships and one high school state championship team. His age group swimming teams have won five state conference championships, and his age group wrestling teams have won six. Harris also worked for several years in the administration of the age group program, and the Dearborn teams continued to excel.
In 1982 Allen Harris became a social studies teacher at Edsel Ford High School in Dearborn. He became head of the social studies department in 1984. Because of limited time, he gave up the head coaching job and now works only with ninth graders, who have not lost since he has been their coach. In 1985 Harris was selected by the National Council of Social Studies as one of two outstanding teachers of social studies in the state of Michigan.
Harris says that he was aware of some Federation materials at the time he was looking for his first teaching position and that he found them helpful, but his real knowledge of and involvement in the Federation began in 1969 when an organizing team came to his door to pay a visit. They told him there was to be a state convention of the Federation that weekend in Lansing and that he should go. He did, and he was elected secretary of the N.F.B. of Michigan. He served as president of the Detroit chapter of the N.F.B. from 1970 to 1975 and has been the president of the N.F.B. of Michigan since 1976.
During the years of Allen Harris's presidency, services to the blind in Michigan have been consolidated into a single and separate commission for the blind, a major victory indeed. In 1983 Harris was appointed by the governor to the board of the Michigan Commission for the Blind, and he was reappointed in 1985 and 1988. He serves as Vice Chairman of the Board.
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