Young Alum Gives the Gift of Life

Kinesha Harris with John Miller IV

Young Alum Gives the Gift of Life

Those who meet young alum Kinesha Harris, ‘17 notice her friendly smile and warm personality. But once you get to know her, you realize her kindness and generosity go much deeper.

Back in 2015, while still a student, Harris signed up to be a bone marrow donor through DKMS. She had learned of the opportunity through a friend, Park Scholar Adrienne Williams, ‘17, during the Park Scholars’ annual project to raise awareness about bone marrow donation. Already a frequent blood donor after learning her blood carries a special protein, Harris knew the importance of providing help for people when you have the unique ability to do so.

With this altruistic mindset, Harris completed the paperwork and provided a cheek swab for her entry into the bone marrow registry, an international database that tracks donors by demographics such as country, age, ethnicity and health conditions.

While some donor entries may never generate a match, Harris received a call just two years later that her marrow was needed to help save a life.

In April 2018, after periodic checks at six months, a week and a few days prior to make sure her donation would still pass all the necessary tests, Harris prepared to travel with her mom to Washington, D.C. to undergo the procedure.

Only when asked does Harris reveal the actual details, making light of what for most people would seem like an ordeal: No caffeine or alcohol for two days, five shots in the arm and side to stimulate cell growth, being connected to a machine for four hours, and a large needle inserted into her hip to extract the marrow.

Harris is quick to say, “I would do it again. The prospect of being able to help someone, to provide a service — it’s the embodiment of the African Ubuntu proverb: I am because you are.

Speaking with Kinesha Harris brings to mind another African saying, from the Swahili, “Love is shown by deeds and not words.”

Giving Back Every Day

After graduating from NC State with a major in Science, Technology and Society with a concentration in race and psychology, Harris accepted a position at the North Carolina School of Science and Math, a rigorous and highly selective STEM-focused residential high school located in Durham, North Carolina, of which she is also an alumna.

Each year, the school aims to enroll students from all 100 North Carolina counties into its student body of about 680, creating a wide range of student needs and backgrounds. Harris serves as a community coordinator, providing both formal and informal support to students. Her work draws on her NC State experiences, not just academically, but as a peer and youth mentor and student leader, such as serving as president of the African American Cultural Center’s AYA Ambassadors.

“In my job, I interact with students. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, having gone there as a student from the age of 15, away from home for the first time. The friends you make there last a lifetime, even though we all went on to different places. To be able to go back and share those experiences, I can empathize with students and help them navigate the space after having been through it.”

Elizabeth Snively writes for the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity.