By Rachael Romig, Executive Director of Events & Special Programs
Each year Women2Women recognizes an exceptional leader as an ATHENA (and this can be a woman OR man!). By honoring exceptional leaders, the ATHENA Leadership Award® Program seeks to inspire others to achieve excellence in their professional and personal lives.
ATHENA Leadership Award® Recipients are individuals who:
- Have achieved the highest level of professional excellence;
- Contribute time and energy to improve the quality of life for others in the community, and;
- Actively assist others, particularly women, in realizing their full leadership potential.
Since the program’s inception in 1982, more than 7,000 exemplary leaders in over 500 communities have received the ATHENA Award throughout the world. In our community, the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance has recognized 34 deserving women, now 35 as Crystal Gilmore Harris joins this prestigious group as the 2020 ATHENA.
Harris has been the Administrative Assistant Social Services at the Reading School District for the past 13 years, the RHS Cheerleading Coach, a Girl Scout Troop leader, founder of mentoring programs, Program Director of the Lonnie Walker IV Foundation, and leader across many nonprofit organizations. Her awards and accolades continue to bring light to all that she is doing. She brings people together. She helps people. And, she does it all with a big, bright and beautiful smile.
We had a chance to sit down with her and chat about what is important to her, her commitments to the community, and what drives her. She is an AMAZING woman.
Would you wish to acknowledge a mentor or friend who helped you aspire to this point in your life’s journey, and why?
Trick question and it requires multiple answers.
First my Father Danny Gilmore Sr., whom I watched coach at the early age of five. The love and respect his players had for him was heartfelt. I watched him make sure they had the tools they needed to be successful not only on the field, but for life. Period. I still to this day have people ask “how is coach doing” or refer to him as someone who helped make them who they are today. He raised us with tough love, which taught me to work for everything I wanted in life. When I would get frustrated, or felt like this wasn’t my mission in life based on other people’s opinion, my father would remind me that I had a special gift, so I needed to get used to people trying to create a negative space around or about me. I can still hear him saying, “If they are talking about you, it’s because you are doing something right. They talked about Jesus, too.” It took me a while to understand, but seeing him as a pillar of our community, I wanted to be just like him. I only hope I can be half the woMAN he was in his good days.
Through his coaching, he introduced me to my mentor and first cheer coach, Joyce Duguay. I could do no wrong in her eyes, and she made me feel like a superhero at a very young age. She would always tell me, “Your smile and spirit can change anyone’s way of thinking.” She was by my side from age five until today. When I got the Reading Head Cheer Coach position, the moment was just as emotional to her as it was to me. She didn’t miss anything I did, from baby showers to award ceremonies, and standing beside me at my first camp.
Both suffer from dementia, but their words of encouragement whenever I get knocked down will never leave my spirit. I can hope I turned out to be the woman they expected me to be.
What words of wisdom would you offer to other women?
Never live life trying to measure up to anyone else. Life works out best when you wake up and be the best you that you can be. When women lift each other up, we all win.
What is the most valuable way women can support each other?
Inspiring each other verses judging. We are all unique in our own way, and each one of us bring something to the table to make the puzzle complete. As women, we all suffer with the challenge of having our voices heard, so we are stronger in numbers.
Is there an “aha” moment or experience that defines who you are?
2009 – I had brain and spine surgery.
2014 – I had a stroke.
2019 – I lost my soulmate Zane Major Sr.
EACH TIME I CAME BACK STRONGER…making me unafraid to always fight through all obstacles no matter what they are.
What is your favorite mantra, favorite saying or words that keep you grounded?
Always be the best you that you can be.
What three things do you recommend that contribute to your success?
3. My Village
How do you want to be perceived/remembered?
A woman who was loving, giving and who’s passion was to build bridges among different walks of life. Someone who would sacrifice it all if it would change the outcome for others. Someone one who truly walked the walk and never quit.
Why are you proud to work at Reading High School?
I am a 1987 graduate of RHS, and I believe we have some of the most amazing students in Berks County. They are resilient which makes them great leaders, for they know the challenges and meet them with the “I CAN” MENTALITY.
You help women AND men realize their full potential, no matter who they are, what they look like, or where they are from. Why are you passionate about helping others?
I believe that everyone needs someone to believe in them; someone who will help them see their full potential and the leader they are meant to be. The greatest accomplishment is building someone up and seeing them succeed. It only fuels you to continue your journey.
You have been involved with many of the peaceful protests for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement here in Reading. Tell us about your experiences…
I’ve been blessed by the teachings of my parents to love and not to hate, making me the best me that I can be. The BLM movement has given me the platform to speak at Zoom town hall meetings about community change, healing and unity, as well as police relations. I’ve been the moderator for a book club meeting discussing racism, where I could discuss my opinion. I’ve had the great opportunity to work with VoiceUp and TLC Fore of Reading mentoring our youth on race relations.
I believe if we can’t ask each other those hard questions, we will never move forward. My belief is racism is a taught behavior, and we know that given the right information from the right person, you can change your way of thinking. BLM doesn’t mean we don’t care about anyone else, we just want the same privileges and respect as everyone else.
What’s your mission?
My life mission is to build a bridge among all walks of life, creating a space that everyone is comfortable living in. I will continue to find a way to use my voice until enough people hear me and join my mission to change the world!