Leaping over hurdles is what Russell Harris has always done. As a youth, he battled through homelessness and instability before finding his way to Wartburg College. He became a leader on the Wartburg track and field team and a three-time All-American in hurdles, and ever since he has followed his passion to learn and to lead others in reaching beyond their own obstacles.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in fitness management at Wartburg, he earned his master’s degree in organizational management and leadership at Ashford University while working in admissions at the institution. He returned to Wartburg as coordinator for diversity recruitment in the Admissions Office and completed a certificate program in business and general management at Stanford University in 2013.

His experience helping high school students discover their passions and find a path to college led him to the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy in Detroit, where he eventually became the principal. At the academy, Harris guided leadership-focused education that engaged and inspired more than 400 high school youth to the ultimate goal of earning a college degree. Under Harris’ leadership, 99 percent of the academy’s class of 2016 graduated and gained acceptance to post-secondary opportunities. At the academy, he served children from a background similar to his own, understanding their struggles but holding them to high standards of learning and leadership while helping them tap into the inner strength and resources needed to succeed in college.

His thirst for learning has continued with enrichment studies at the Harvard Principals’ Center. In 2017, Harris became vice chair of the board of the Black Male Educators Alliance in Michigan. The group gathers educators, mentors, community leaders, and other professionals to improve educational experiences for urban children.

This past summer, Harris joined The Future Project, a nonprofit aimed at unlocking the potential and purpose of students across the country. As chief dream director for The Future Project, he’s broadened his passion to help young people overcome obstacles and learn to fly.

In recognition of his leadership and service to others, Harris in 2017 was awarded the Vanguard Award, which honors individuals who influence the growth, prosperity, and quality of life in Metro Detroit. He also was named among the Michigan Chronicle’s 40 Under 40, which honors young professionals in southeastern Michigan.