The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

city

Dr. Catrise L. Austin

Dentist and entrepreneur Catrise L. Austin was born on May 2, 1970, in Flint, Michigan. She discovered her passion for dentistry at age 15 while visiting the orthodontist for braces. Austin was voted prettiest smile in 1988 at Flint Central High School, where she received her diploma that same year. Austin went on to receive her B.A. degree in psychology from the University of Michigan in 1991 and her Doctorate in dental surgery from the University of Maryland in 1996. Moving to New York in 1996, she completed her advanced dental training at Brooklyn’s Lutheran Medical Center.

Working as a dental hygienist motivated Austin to start her own practice which she did in 1998, becoming the Chief Operating Officer of VIP Smiles, a successful New York cosmetic and sports dental practice. The practice boasts an impressive and loyal following, including such entertainment luminaries as Isaac Hayes, Toni Braxton and Missy Elliot. In addition, The Discovery Health Channel, The Queen Latifah Show, and The Ricki Lake Show have used her services.

Austin has broken gender and racial boundaries and established herself in a field traditionally dominated by men. She is one of the most well-known and highly regarded dentists in the entertainment industry. The Network Journal named her one of the 25 Most Influential Black Women in Business in 1999. She holds professional memberships in the American Dental Association, New York County Dental Society, American Association of Women Dentists, American Academy of Cosmetic Dentists, and the Academy of Sports Dentistry. She also holds social memberships in the National Association of Black Female Executives in Music & Entertainment, the Black Sports Agents Association and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

Austin resides in New York City.

Accession Number

A2006.001

Sex

Female

Interview Date

1/6/2006

Last Name

Austin

Maker Category
Middle Name

L.

Schools

Flint Central High School

University of Michigan

Dort Elementary School

Flint Southwestern Academy

University of Maryland School of Dentistry

First Name

Catrise

Birth City, State, Country

Flint

HM ID

AUS02

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Michigan

Favorite Vacation Destination

Cancun, Mexico

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

5/2/1970

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Collard Greens

Short Description

Dentist and entrepreneur Dr. Catrise L. Austin (1970 - ) was the COO of VIP Smiles, a cosmetic and sports dental practice whose clientele included Missy Elliot, Earl Graves and Toni Braxton.

Employment

VIP Smiles

Favorite Color

Pink

Timing Pairs
0,0:1512,22:2940,39:4032,54:4368,59:5292,80:8484,136:9240,153:9576,158:20864,360:25148,509:25652,516:26492,527:26912,533:27668,542:33125,565:34315,584:35505,600:35930,606:38565,653:42815,734:47890,786:49106,800:49486,809:50018,817:50702,827:51462,840:56090,879:56783,887:58070,905:59060,917:59555,925:63911,986:64604,996:74568,1174:79962,1247:92584,1393:96470,1422:96845,1433:97370,1442:98045,1452:98420,1459:99020,1469:102695,1519:112110,1618:115470,1668:115750,1673:116380,1684:118690,1721:119040,1727:119390,1732:119950,1741:120510,1751:120790,1756:123170,1798:123590,1809:124010,1817:124640,1827:126950,1872:127230,1877:127790,1888:138312,2022:138648,2027:140076,2096:141000,2110:141588,2118:142344,2130:144696,2164:147240,2174$0,0:3770,86:7475,156:11245,261:11700,269:12155,277:14690,335:21710,370:22310,379:26510,516:27635,534:33335,646:35360,679:35660,684:36035,690:44564,770:47452,810:47908,817:53152,970:53456,975:58852,1079:59460,1088:61588,1134:61892,1139:68296,1202:68686,1208:69778,1230:70090,1235:71572,1264:71884,1269:75542,1290:76466,1304:77054,1312:83270,1401:84362,1427:84698,1432:86798,1492:87722,1513:89318,1541:103710,1734:106482,1787:106986,1796:107322,1801:107658,1806:108246,1824:121688,1998:122073,2009:122689,2020:128079,2122:129234,2146:144449,2358:144741,2386:145252,2395:146274,2415:147150,2429:152552,2513:160751,2546:165063,2606:165833,2617:166449,2626:169452,2675:169760,2680:170068,2685:171608,2710:174611,2793:178076,2882:185100,2952:187270,3002:190770,3083:195460,3167:195880,3175:198050,3220:198960,3241:203160,3250
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Dr. Catrise L. Austin's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes her mother's side of the family, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes her mother's side of the family, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes her father and her maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes her neighborhood in Flint, Michigan

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin remembers Dort Elementary School in Flint, Michigan

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin recalls attending Flint Academy High School

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes her activities at Flint Academy High School

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin remembers her social group as a teenager

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin remembers her favorite high school subjects

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin remembers her younger sister's birth

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin remembers her calling to dentistry

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes her interest in dentistry and her part-time job

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin remembers her family's move from Flushing to Flint

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes choosing the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin remembers attending the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin remembers attending the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes her best friend, Darlene Tolbert

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes her mother's support

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes her ambitions as a high school student

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes pledging Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin talks about her sister's pregnancy

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin remembers applying for dental school

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes her time at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes her time at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes Dr. Oscar Wright's support

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin recalls her dental residency at Brooklyn's Lutheran Medical Center

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes her decision to stay in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin recalls her early dental career in New York City, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin recalls her early dental career in New York City, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin remembers meeting Issac Hayes

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes her friendship with Isaac Hayes

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin recalls meeting Toni Braxton and Missy Elliott

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes her dental practice

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Dr. Catrise L. Austin describes her plans for the future

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

4$4

DATitle
Dr. Catrise L. Austin remembers her calling to dentistry
Dr. Catrise L. Austin recalls her early dental career in New York City, pt. 2
Transcript
At what point did you start to, or who introduced the idea that you would go to college to you? Who starts--talk to you about going to college and that high school wouldn't be the end for you?$$The, I, I would probably would say my aunt [Angela Austin (ph.)] and my [maternal] grandparents [Carlean Austin and Wilman Austin (ph.)] definitely encouraged me to continue on and my, and my mother [Michele Austin] (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) What did they say--what did people say to you?$$Well once my aunt became successful after having a college degree. At an early age, she was able to buy her first home and buy a car. So, you know, we were all looking her like wow she's, she's really making it and the college education has paid off. So I think seeing her achieve the things that she did, with her college education there was no question that I would go on and get my college education. But I discovered, also at fifteen, that was the age I discovered that I wanted to be a dentist. Because I--actually had a large space between my teeth and had a routine dental visit. And just expressed to the dentist, you know, they asked, is there anything about my smile that I didn't like. And told 'em that I didn't like the gap, and he was like, "You can get braces." So I begged my mother, you know, to get braces for me. And the whole dental experience of wearing braces at the age fifteen, opened my eyes that maybe that this was something that I wanted to explore as a career. Particularly when I got the braces off, I got so many compliments on my smile, my self-esteem just sky rocketed. I really, at that age, discovered how important a smile is and that people pay attention to your smile. And how it could have positive impact on your life. So at that point having discovered that this, this is something that I may want to do for a living I knew at that point that college was definitely was gonna be. 'Cause I had to go to college in order to become a dentist. So at that point, I was focused in high school [Flint Central High School, Flint, Michigan], I knew I had to take math and science courses. I really became focused on that, on that path.$I was already motivated and planning how I'm gonna start this practice and collecting business cards. So I said, well, I guess I'm just gonna have to find another office. And I'm, I'm already dec--I've already decided that I'm gonna to do this. I've already started telling people that I'm gonna have a practice opening soon. So I started to--I went to the S--small business association [U.S. Small Business Administration] and I said, well, I think I need a loan, I need to get some money, need to just plan my practice, start a business plan. So I had a counselor, I don't remember his name. But my counselor had met another black female dentist, Dr. Karen Gear, who's a root canal specialist. And he thought it would be a good idea that her and I meet. It so happened that she had affiliations with Harlem Hospital [Harlem Hospital Center, New York, New York]. She knew a lot of dentists in the area. We met, and she said, "I know plenty of dentists in the area that would rent space to you. As a matter of fact I have a dentist that's on 57th Street. He's African American male who's been there for thirty-five years. He's looking to rent space, you should give him a call." So it was great because I--it was the same street I wanted to be in the high profile area. And I would be with someone like me, so we met Dr. Thompson, Albert Thompson, and we decided that I would rent space from him. Now here's the good part, he knew that I didn't have any money saved. I didn't know how I was gonna really pull this starting a practice thing off.$$And you didn't get the loan?$$I did not get the loan at the time.$$At the time, okay, so you didn't have any money saved and he--continue.$$He said, "Listen, I know you're starting out, I'm gonna let you have the space at no charge. Just come here, work, work, work, you can use my instruments just get some of the basic things that you need to operate. You can rent my--you can have my space. And I'll see when you're starting make money, and when I see that you're starting to make money, then I'll charge you rent." So I worked in his office rent-free, until I built up enough clientele for me to afford to pay him rent. And I, that ex--that in, in itself I don't, I think it was priceless to have someone recognize the good in me and want to help me. And you don't find a lot of people that would be willing--that would be willing to give you something for nothing in return, so I definitely commend him. So I built my practice sharing the office with Dr. Thompson on 57th Street. And when it's--was time for me to open, I had been collecting business cards, I sent out a mass mailing. I'd signed on with some insurance plans. And my first patient was actually a friend of mine, a Kappa [Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity], from University of Michigan [Ann Arbor, Michigan]. Who said, "You know what, I know you from back when, and I know you're a good person I'm sure. I know you were always smart, I'm gonna give you a try." He worked for Pfizer [Pfizer Inc.], the pharmaceutical company, and he went back--I impressed him so much--that he went back and told all of his friends at Pfizer they have to support me. And he was very instrumental in helping to build the practice.

Darwin N. Davis, Sr.

Darwin Nathaniel Davis, retired senior vice president of AXA Financial (formerly Equitable Life Insurance), was born on April 10, 1932, in Flint, Michigan; his maternal grandfather managed General Motors Executive Garage, and his father, Abner Davis, became the first black postal clerk in Flint. After attending Clark Elementary School, Whittier Junior High School, and Flint Central High School, Davis played football at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (formerly Arkansas A&M University) where he earned his B.A. degree in business administration in 1954.

Snubbed by General Motors because of his race, Davis served in the United States Army from 1955 to 1957, tracking missiles at White Sands, New Mexico. Returning to college, Davis earned his M.Ed. degree from Wayne State University in Detroit, and then worked as a mathematics teacher at Duffield Elementary School and Jones Elementary School. One of the black salesmen Equitable Life Insurance hired in the wake of 1964’s Detroit race riot, Davis became a district manager by his third year. Between 1971 and 1974, Davis earned every type of managerial award Equitable offered. Promoted to vice president of manpower development in 1974, Davis served as the company’s first African American regional president in 1975. In 1989, Davis was promoted to senior vice president of Equitable Life Assurance Society and recognized by Black Enterprise magazine as one of the 25 most important African American executives. A mentor to many young African American executives, Davis retired as senior vice president of AXA Financial in 1998.

Davis served on the African American advisory board of Pepsi-Cola and the boards of the Albert Oliver Program, the Jackie Robinson Foundation, the Executive Leadership Foundation, the National Minority Golf Foundation, and the Jesse Owens Foundation. Davis also served as vice president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. Davis, a recipient of many awards and honorary degrees, had four grown children and lived with his wife, Velmarie, in Stamford, Connecticut.

Davis passed away on Sunday, April 16, 2006 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Accession Number

A2005.050

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/16/2005

Last Name

Davis

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Nathaniel

Occupation
Schools

University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

Flint Central High School

New Mexico State University

First Name

Darwin

Birth City, State, Country

Flint

HM ID

DAV16

Favorite Season

Spring, Summer

Sponsor

Lincoln Financial Group Foundation

State

Michigan

Favorite Vacation Destination

Jamaica, North Carolina, South Carolina, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Favorite Quote

Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Connecticut

Birth Date

4/10/1932

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Stamford

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Greens

Death Date

4/16/2006

Short Description

Insurance executive Darwin N. Davis, Sr. (1932 - 2006 ) was one of the black salesmen Equitable Life Insurance hired in the wake of the 1964 Detroit race riot. Davis quickly rose from his entry level position to become the company’s first African American regional president.

Employment

Equitable Life Assurance Society of America

Detroit Public Schools

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
0,0:4120,53:8878,96:9234,101:13684,158:14396,167:18820,267:19380,276:25080,296:25640,304:31240,392:32760,432:33080,437:36220,442:40376,461:40796,467:46280,521:50005,557:56150,598:58530,632:58955,638:61675,681:72980,829:79185,901:95401,1283:96473,1304:100024,1399:100292,1404:100694,1412:107250,1519:108290,1537:114090,1650:123975,1792:126006,1803:126294,1808:126798,1816:132580,1864:142192,2004:147685,2098:164488,2287:164776,2300:168088,2363:168376,2368:183699,2510:185239,2584:194665,2742:196765,2808:197215,2815:198115,2839:206530,2919:210983,3012:211640,3023:213392,3057:213830,3065:214122,3070:214414,3075:214925,3082:216166,3109:225664,3257:229024,3297:234810,3324:235170,3330:235530,3336:245780,3412:253792,3460:254088,3465:255568,3480:256530,3489:256826,3494:257492,3550:258232,3561:258824,3573:260156,3606:260748,3618:261192,3625:261932,3633:262968,3671:272580,3783$0,0:15595,123:19345,145:19629,150:20268,171:20623,177:28958,281:29920,304:35886,390:44154,609:60922,786:61987,814:65120,837:65408,842:67136,872:68072,896:68504,903:69800,952:70448,962:82488,1118:88248,1213:94604,1284:105382,1482:105762,1488:108042,1527:108878,1539:110018,1561:110930,1580:111234,1585:117314,1705:121659,1715:122074,1721:123817,1748:126730,1784:128022,1815:139790,2005:140245,2012:143988,2087:144762,2099:145536,2109:146052,2116:146826,2127:150968,2174:153186,2186:155022,2216:161510,2273:162770,2286:163130,2291:165370,2304:169284,2336:175625,2412:182094,2549:182508,2556:185585,2590:186265,2599:190510,2661:191150,2672:193985,2708:194269,2713:194766,2721:196825,2767:218746,3002:223399,3027:223731,3032:227120,3088
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Darwin N. Davis, Sr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Darwin N. Davis describes his maternal family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes his maternal family's life in Ayrshire, Indiana

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Darwin N. Davis recounts his maternal family's move from Ayrshire, Indiana to Flint, Michigan

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Darwin N. Davis talks about his mother's job at the Murray's Superior Products Company in Chicago, Illinois and his parents meeting

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes his paternal family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. talks about his paternal family's reunion at a Louisiana sugar refining plantation

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. recalls how his father became the first black postal clerk in Flint, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. recalls his father's kind-hearted, generous nature

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Darwin N. Davis, describes his childhood neighborhood and schools he attended in Flint, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. remembers learning about slavery at Whittier Junior High School in Flint, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. recounts growing up with Dr. Herbert Odom

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes his experience at Flint Central High School in Flint, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. recalls his initial plan to work at the Flint, Michigan automobile factories after high school

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. reflects on playing football at Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Darwin N. Davis describes his studies and influential teachers at Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes college classmates, including HistoryMakers Malcolm Hemphill, Jr. and Jeff Donaldson

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. recalls challenging a racist bus driver while traveling in the South

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. talks about Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Flint, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. talks about enlisting in the U.S. Army after being denied a job opportunity at General Motors in Flint, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. talks about teaching in Detroit, Michigan public schools during the late 1950s and early 1960s

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes how he met and married his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. explains how he began working for Equitable Life Assurance Society of America in 1966

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes his professional ascent at Equitable Life Assurance Society of America, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes his professional ascent at Equitable Life Assurance Society of America, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. reflects upon his career at Equitable Life Assurance Society of America

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. remembers responding to a racist coworker at Equitable Life Assurance Society of America

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes the racism he encountered while a manager for the Equitable Life Assurance Society of America

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. talks about the promotion of black professionals in corporate America

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. talks about African American women at Equitable Life Assurance Society of America

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. names foundations and organizations with which he is involved

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. reflects upon his life

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. talks about his father

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. talks about his mother's pride in his accomplishments

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

3$8

DATitle
Darwin N. Davis, Sr. remembers learning about slavery at Whittier Junior High School in Flint, Michigan
Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes his professional ascent at Equitable Life Assurance Society of America, pt. 1
Transcript
What were your favorite subjects in school?$$I liked history. I liked math. I had, I had some good experiences. To tell you one, remember when we studying American history and this is in junior high school [Whittier Junior High School, Flint, Michigan]. Studying American history and we were talking about slavery. Which was, was you know was taught in a way very, you were made to feel very uncomfortable if you were black in this room with 92/94 percent white kids. You were made to feel very bad about, inferior almost about it and we were talking about Nate [sic. Nat] Turner's Rebellion where he rebelled and killed some white people and got some, led some slaves to do that. And the teacher was talking about what a maniac he was and how ridiculous he was and all she just went on and on and on. And then she asked people in the room what do they think about that. Oh I wasn't about to volunteer any thoughts about that. She said then, "Well [HistoryMaker] Darwin [N. Davis, Sr.] what do you think about that?" And I said, "Well I think that more slaves would have been like him, they would of been better and better off." I mean, I couldn't understand how they let people do that, do all those things to them. And she was appalled. She was upset and angry. She kicked me out of the school. Kicked me out of the room and sent to the principal's office and I was not allowed to come back to school unless my parents [Marrietta Todd Davis and Abner Davis] came. Well I went home and told my father about this and he said, "Well what happened? What did you do?" And I told him what happened and he said, "That's all you did, you didn't mouth off or anything did you?" And I said, "No dad, I didn't I just, she asked me a question and I answered her." So he went to the school the next morning with me and the principal said that you know he started. He said, "Wait before we do this, let's get the teacher here too because I want to hear what everybody says about this." Teacher came and my father said, "Now what happened?" And she said, "Well you know he just upset the class, he started real trouble, he was very ill-mannered." And so, "Well what did he do?" And so, he asked her and she said, "Well, he can tell ya" so I said exactly what happened and he said, "So is that what happened?" She said, "Yes." He say, "Now the way I hear this, you asked him a question, he answered you, very manneredly, and you didn't like the answer so you kicked him out." And she said, "Well that kind of thinking is just not acceptable." "No but you did ask him a question and he did answer you and he was not ugly about it and I don't understand why you kicked him out." And I, I, he told the principal, he said, "And I think something should be done about this. She kicked him out of school because he answered the question and she didn't like the answer." Well I was so proud of my father man because, I was already made to feel very bad. This whole thing about slavery in junior high school was just denigrating. I mean you are made to feel less than a person. The way that this teacher taught it she was just really bad. And I always remember that about my father. How proud I was he stood up for me. Because I hadn't done anything wrong and I knew I hadn't done anything wrong. Well, you know, that, nobody bothered me in that school again. But I had a wonderful schooling. Schools were good. They were tough and I had a good life in junior high and high school [Flint Central High School, Flint, Michigan] and elementary school. We walked of course. There were no busing. We walked through snow up to your knees. You walked to school, nobody bothered you. You know, it was very different in those days. The '40s [1940s] and '50s [1950s].$I went into the insurance business in Detroit, Michigan in 1966, '65 [1965], '66 [1966], '66 [1966] and as a salesman. In October 1st and I did real well even with those three months, I really did well. And I loved it, I was fascinated with this business. That first of all you could do a lot to help people and make money at the same time. And I'd been, this whole thing about helping people had been handed down to me through my father [Abner Davis], as I told you about. And I always wanted to do something to help people. I like, that's why I liked teaching school I could help people. I would see kids. In math teaching--math you could see the change. In reading it takes years to see the change but in math, sometimes you can see it in two weeks. And I was very in love with the insurance business because I grew to know that because of me, I could pass a school with--there'd be thirty kids in that school, I knew were going to get an education because their parents had talked to me. I was going to be the one who provided the information and the financial prowess that they would be able to get an education, go to school, and I was very proud of this. I was proud of what I did and proud of what the result would be. I clearly understood the insurance business from the very beginning. That people looked at the insurance business says well you know you pay some money and when you die somebody get some money. I looked at all the living benefits and I, my whole presentation would be about the living benefits of insurance and how you could take care of your family. You could pay a mortgage off early by buying a policy and taking the cash values and dividends and pay off the house ten years early. And I was just was fascinated by that. And I was very successful at it from the very beginning. And I then became a district manager. And Al Carlton [Jr.] and I, he was the district manager and I was the assistant district manager. We built the number one district in the United States in the Equitable [Life Assurance Society of America; AXA Financial] system. Al became an agency manager in Chicago [Illinois] and I took over the Detroit office. We grew that office into the top three of the whole United States. And it was a powerful financially, rich organization that did very, very well. As a result of that, the Equitable, I won two President's Trophies in two years, which most people don't do.$$So what did you do (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) President's Trophies the highest honor you can win as a branch manager. It's a test of you as a business person. They test you in eight areas. But the whole idea is production growth through manpower development with expense control. In other words, you had to grow the business but it had to be--grow it financially profitable. And with expense control. And I did that and at that time I guess I became agency manager in four and a half years and I don't think anybody ever done that much quicker than that. And then I became vice president, they moved me to New York [New York] in 1974.

E. Lynn Harris

Best-selling author E. Lynn Harris was born Everette Lynn Harris on June 20, 1955 in Flint, Michigan. Harris grew up and attended elementary and high schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. He attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and graduated with honors with a degree in journalism. While in college, Harris became his school’s first African American male cheerleader and editor of the school’s yearbook.

After earning his degree, Harris started his career as a computer sales executive. He spent the next thirteen years selling computers for IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and AT&T in Dallas, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. In 1991, Harris quit his computer sales career and decided to write his first novel, Invisible Life. He initially failed to find a publisher for it, so he used $25,000 of his own money to publish and distribute it. He sold his book mostly at Black-owned bookstores, beauty salons, and book clubs. The popularity of this book caused Anchor Books to publish and “officially” launch Invisible Life to the country. His second novel, Just As I Am, made Harris the first male writer to have a number-one hardcover book on the Blackboard list. Harris has written five novels that have appeared on the New York Times Bestseller list, and six of them have sold more than one million copies. Three of his novels have been optioned by Hollywood production companies to be made into films.

Harris’ novels weave tales with candid portrayals of pain and passion about middle class professional African Americans in today’s society. His works broke down taboos about Black sexuality and the lifestyles of gay and bisexual men. He created realistic portrayals of individuals struggling to define their sexual identities.

Harris won numerous awards, prizes, and accolades during his writing career. In 1996, his novel, Just As I Am, was named Blackboard’s Novel of the Year. In 1997, If This World Were Mine was nominated for a NAACP Image Award and won the James Baldwin Award for Literary Excellence. In 1999, the University of Arkansas honored Harris for outstanding professional achievement, and in 2000, he was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

Harris set up his own foundation, called the E. Lynn Harris Better Days Literary Foundation, whose mission is to provide new writers with guidance and assistance in getting their work published so that society is exposed to and enriched by the works of these new authors. In 2003, Harris was invited to be a visiting professor in the English Department at his alma mater, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

Harris passed away on July 23, 2009 at the age of 54.

Accession Number

A2004.207

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/15/2004

Last Name

Harris

Maker Category
Middle Name

Lynn

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Bush Elementary School

Booker Junior High School

Westside Junior High School

Hall High School

University of Arkansas

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Everette

Birth City, State, Country

Flint

HM ID

HAR12

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Michigan

Favorite Vacation Destination

Fisher Island, Florida

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Georgia

Birth Date

6/20/1955

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Atlanta

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fried Chicken

Death Date

7/23/2009

Short Description

Fiction writer E. Lynn Harris (1955 - 2009 ) is a best-selling author whose novels explore middle-class Black America and break down taboos like homosexuality and bisexuality. Harris set up his own foundation called the E. Lynn Harris Better Days Literary Foundation, whose mission is to provide new writers with guidance and assistance in getting their work published.

Employment

IBM

Hewlett Packard Co.

Wang Computers

AT&T

Delete

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:609,13:8352,199:13990,252:14476,259:16420,290:16744,295:19660,345:20146,352:21766,440:26905,471:27655,484:27955,489:38616,571:38988,576:39732,588:40104,593:40569,599:43232,617:44464,635:44904,641:46319,651:47896,677:48560,687:49971,713:50303,718:50884,727:51797,741:52295,749:52627,754:53457,773:53789,778:57777,803:59235,831:59559,836:60207,847:60936,859:62556,887:63771,908:64095,913:70246,947:70902,957:71722,971:72460,983:75588,996:76620,1009:79300,1035:80630,1058:81820,1088:82450,1100:82940,1109:83640,1122:86569,1136:86901,1141:87814,1161:90138,1203:91134,1216:91715,1225:92628,1240:93043,1246:96750,1271:97596,1285:98912,1307:99382,1313:99946,1320:100322,1325:101751,1350:105470,1388:105950,1395:106270,1403:106830,1413:113230,1523:113550,1528:118358,1569:119956,1597:122494,1639:122964,1647:125220,1703:125690,1709:130361,1736:131440,1756:132187,1766:132519,1771:134511,1807:137549,1828:140597,1862:144340,1971$0,0:6490,124:6896,133:7592,148:7824,153:9100,183:9506,189:9796,195:11536,211:12220,221:12524,226:15425,315:20332,345:20972,358:21228,363:25172,395:25730,403:26474,414:28799,463:34060,524:35790,532:38550,583:39378,594:40114,604:41770,628:45086,642:45742,654:46480,665:47956,692:48284,698:54262,791:55384,813:55978,825:56308,831:57826,868:58354,879:59146,905:59740,916:60532,933:60862,939:64290,977:64710,985:65130,995:66250,1014:69430,1041:72630,1085
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of E. Lynn Harris interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - E. Lynn Harris's favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - E. Lynn Harris describes his mother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - E. Lynn Harris describes his biological father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - E. Lynn Harris recalls his childhood environs

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - E. Lynn Harris describes his family life

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - E. Lynn Harris recalls the sights, smells and sounds of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - E. Lynn Harris recalls his early involvement in the church

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - E. Lynn Harris remembers his stepfather

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - E. Lynn Harris describes his childhood interests

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - E. Lynn Harris remembers Little Rock Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - E. Lynn Harris remembers his elementary school teachers

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - E. Lynn Harris recounts his youth in Little Rock, Arkansas

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - E. Lynn Harris recounts his difficult home life

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - E. Lynn Harris describes his relationships with two father figures

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - E. Lynn Harris recalls summers in Flint, Michigan during his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - E. Lynn Harris describes his experiences in the South during the 1950s-1960s

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - E. Lynn Harris describes his behavior in junior high school

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - E. Lynn Harris describes his stepfather's estrangement

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - E. Lynn Harris recounts his early sexual encounters

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - E. Lynn Harris recalls efforts to assimilate in high school

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - E. Lynn Harris remembers a racist teacher, part 1

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - E. Lynn Harris remembers a racist teacher, part 2

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - E. Lynn Harris describes his commitment to leaving Arkansas

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - E. Lynn Harris recounts his high school experience

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - E. Lynn Harris discusses his choice of colleges

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - E. Lynn Harris discusses his love of college football

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - E. Lynn Harris recounts his college years

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - E. Lynn Harris discusses his involvement with college cheerleading

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - E. Lynn Harris reviews his life after college

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - E. Lynn Harris recounts his experience in New York, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - E. Lynn Harris remembers an inspirational friend

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - E. Lynn Harris discusses the death of a friend

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - E. Lynn Harris describes his experiences living in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - E. Lynn Harris recalls a dark period in his life

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - E. Lynn Harris recalls the beginning of his writing career

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - E. Lynn Harris tells the story of his first published novel

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - E. Lynn Harris discusses his first novel, 'Invisible Life'

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - E. Lynn Harris considers his literary successes

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - E. Lynn Harris reflects on his identity as a gay man

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - E. Lynn Harris discusses his second novel, 'Just As I Am'

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$3

DAStory

7$10

DATitle
E. Lynn Harris discusses his involvement with college cheerleading
E. Lynn Harris remembers an inspirational friend
Transcript
Now you were also a cheerleader too, right?$$Mm-hmm, yeah.$$And so, you know, in college football you see the cheerleaders, you know, they do a lot of acrobatics and that sort of thing. Now is this where you--how did you--?$$It is something I, that I always wanted to do, but I equated it with being gay or feminine, so I didn't do it until my senior year [University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas]. And I did it at the coaching of several football players. And that was the only reason that I did it publicly. But privately it was the best time of my life, on some levels. On some other levels it was not because I was the first black and because the squad was not ready for blacks on the squad. And they were not always kind. Some of them were, but a lot of them were not. Interestingly enough, jumping ahead to my life today, I'm back at the University of Arkansas--I'm teaching there. And last year, to tell you how God is, the first day that I get on campus as a teacher, the cheerleading coach quit and one of the athletic directors who knew I had been a cheerleader asked me to come and help out the sponsor. And last year was one of the best years of my life because I served as cheerleading coach at Arkansas. And these kids whom were mostly 95 percent white were some of the best human beings I've ever met in my life, you know. It was like I got to relive my senior year of college. Because as cheerleading coach you go everywhere with them, you're down on the field with them, you know. And this year I'm back, and they have ten African Americans, you know, on the spirit squads there. And I'm like a, you know, a father for them, you know. And they come over my house every Sunday to eat, and it just taken what was a, a difficult time from my past and now it's such a, a wonderful, you know, part of my life.$$Okay, so you're down on the field in all, in the midst of all that excitement.$$(Simultaneously) Still, yeah, even this year.$Were you able to do any writing during this time [early 1980s, New York, New York]?$$No, was, no. Interestingly enough, my group of friends and my best friend, one of them was a guy named Randy Johnson who had graduated from Columbia J-School [Columbia University School of Journalism, New York, New York], and he wanted to be a novelist. And Randy was my best friend in the world. And Randy died in early, the late '80s [1980s]. And, interestingly enough, I don't think I ever would have been a writer had he not died, because that was the career he had chosen. And he used to always say because I always had a job and he always didn't have a job, because he wanted to be a writer, you know, starving artist, so to, so to speak. And when we'd go on vacations and stuff and, you know, everything we did, it would be my money because I, you know, was making good money as a salesman. And he used to always say when he sold his first novel that he was going to, you know, take me away on a vacation or pay me back. And, like I said, I never would have been a writer had he lived.