Personality: Dr. Monroe E. Harris Jr.

Spotlight on Virginia Higher Education Fund’s ‘Jazz Inside Out’ honorary chairman

6/23/2022, 6 p.m.
When it comes to charitable, arts or education-related events that take place in Richmond, it’s not uncommon to see Dr. ...

When it comes to charitable, arts or education-related events that take place in Richmond, it’s not uncommon to see Dr. Monroe E. Harris Jr.’s name listed as a donor, participant or leader.

As a doctor with the Virginia Facial and Oral Surgery practice, Dr. Harris also chairs the boards of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia. He’s happy to fill both roles due to the VMFA and BHM’s importance to the city and state, and to ensure that a person of color is leading them.

For the past several months, Dr. Harris has further extended his leadership reach to help college students secure financial assistance. On July 2, he will preside as honorary chairman of the Virginia Higher Education Fund’s 11th annual Jazz Inside Out Sponsor’s Reception and Gala. The event, which includes live music performances, will be at the VMFA’s Best Café and Terrace.

Dr. Harris believes his involvement in these groups, along with his other connections throughout Richmond, can be a boon for VHEF.

“My whole thing is just to try to get the word out among my friends,” Dr. Harris says, “and make sure that they come and that they contribute and participate.”

Dr. Harris’ relationship with VHEF is rooted in the organization’s 2010 beginnings when the Virginia Facial and Oral Surgery was a launch sponsor for the first Jazz Inside Out event.

His support for the organization has continued because he sees its work in Richmond as vital and necessary.

“VHEF is meaningful to me because it provides needed educational assistance for our young people,” Dr. Harris says. “Education is an important key to success. It is life-changing.”

Education was also a key component of Dr. Harris’ journey to Richmond. During a four-year residency at the University of Chicago Medical Center, his connections within the medical system in Chicago and Richmond led to him being offered a job in Richmond.

Dr. Harris found in the city a positive comparison to his native Louisville, Ky., and ultimately decided to “downsize” his living situation from the more metropolitan Chicago in July 1988. And, although he has his criticisms of Richmond, he hasn’t regretted his choice.

“I think Richmond is a great place to live,” says Dr. Harris, who praises the city’s educational institutions, expanding demographics and the city’s “cultural amenities.”

“Obviously we need to correct the poverty situation that we have here, so that everybody in the city can participate in all the wonderful things that we have to provide here.”

“But I think overall, Richmond is a good place to live.”

As honorary chair for Jazz Inside Out, Dr. Harris is relying on his presence in the Richmond community to help raise awareness and funding for the event. His connections to the city are one of the reason’s why Rose Giles, VHEF’s executive director, selected him as this year’s honorary chair, he says.

Once his chairmanship ends, Dr. Harris says he will remain a steadfast backer of the group’s work, ready to step up and offer assistance whenever necessary.

“I think that I will continue to be a supporter and offer assistance as needed,” Dr. Harris says. “If I can do anything to be supportive of (Ms. Giles), or the program itself, I’m more than happy to do that.”

Meet a leader and supporter of Richmond nonprofits and organizations, Dr. Monroe E. Harris Jr.:

Volunteer position: Honorary chair, 11th Annual Jazz Inside Out Reception and Gala.

Occupation: Oral and facial surgeon.

Date and place of birth: Nov. 23 in Louisville, Ky.

Where I live now: We live in the West End of Richmond.

Education: Doctor of Dental Medicine.

Family: Wife, Dr. Jill Bussey Harris; son, Monroe III; daughter, Madison; grandson, Georgie.

Virginia Higher Education Fund is: An impactful, locally grown 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.

Mission: To increase higher education for and provide financial support to students who are considered underserved. VHEF provides scholarships, book awards, dorm kits and mentoring activities for high potential youths who are in low opportunity settings.

When, where and why founded: VHEF was founded in 2010 in Henrico County.

Founder: Rose Giles.

How long I’ve been involved with Virginia Higher Education Fund: Virginia Oral & Facial Surgery was a launch sponsor for the first VHEF signature fundraiser, Jazz Inside Out, in 2010. I have been supportive since then.

Why this organization is meaningful to me: VHEF is meaningful to me because it provides needed educational assistance for our young people. Education is an important key to success. It is life-changing.

Upcoming event: The 11th Annual Jazz Inside Out will be held Saturday, July 2.

Featured artists: National Jazz recording artist and dentist, Phillip “Doc” Martin will perform, along with local artists Kia Bennett and Ayinde Williams.

Location: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Cost: $75 per person.

Why this is a hot ticket to grab: It’s a hot ticket for those seeking a fun, no-grill Fourth of July weekend! The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has an excellent chef who will do all the grilling. It’s two big parties, one in the atrium and one on the VMFA’s beautiful terrace. Smooth jazz and beautiful people at a world-renowned venue. What more can you ask for?

How event will benefit scholarship recipients: 23 students from low-income, single mom households in eight counties will receive scholarships, book awards and dorm kits. Also, a new partnership with the Ross Corporation will provide Ross gift cards and luggage. Additionally, the students will be mentored by Tyreil Mayo of the Deloitte Corp. Mr. Mayo is a former VHEF scholar.

A perfect day for me is: Spending time at our beach house with our family and friends.

What I am learning about myself during the pandemic: I’ve learned to slow down, be more aware and thankful for my blessings.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: Kayaking on the Chesapeake Bay with Jill, followed by sipping Princess Champagne or Blanton’s Bourbon.

A quote that inspires me: “If my mind can conceive it, if my heart can believe it, then I can achieve it.” — Muhammad Ali

My friends describe me as: Smart, loyal, cool.

At the top of my “to-do” list is: To visit Goree island in Dakar, Senegal. I think it’s important that we embrace our history and our ancestors, and since that was one of the largest ports of export of people of African descent into this country, ultimately, a lot of us are from there. So it’s reclaiming part of my roots.

Best late-night snack: Popcorn and Junior Mints while watching a good action movie.

The best thing my parents ever taught me: With hard work, I could be anything that I wanted to be.

The person who influenced me the most: My Dad, Monroe E. Harris, Sr. My dad was a cum laude college graduate, a World War II naval veteran, a beautiful singer, and a good Kappa Alpha Psi man. After my mom passed when I was 5 years old, my dad raised me. I am the man that I am because of him. I love him so much.

Book that influenced me the most: “Before the Mayflower” by Lerone Bennett, Jr.

What I’m reading now: “The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln” by Stephen L. Carter, and “Talking to Strangers” by Malcolm Gladwell.

Next goal: I’m always striving to be a better human being.