Behind the Shield: From the Streets to College

DaMisha Harris, “Misha” to her friends, is a self-proclaimed overachiever.  Once you meet her, you realize that is an understatement.

Harris was born and raised in Atlanta.  When she was 14 years old, her mom, brother and sister moved to Nashville to help her sister-in-law with a new baby.  But, things did not work out and the Harris family found themselves homeless.

That’s when her mom found the Salvation Army Supportive Housing located on Dickerson Pike and Harris found her dedication to education.

“My life started here (Salvation Army) and this is where it all began for me,” Harris said. “This is where I found my dedication to education and my passion to want a better life for me and my family and a way out of homelessness.”

April Calvin, Social Service Director, helped the family with their move in addition to lending an ear.

“Ms. April gave us an outlet to express our frustration rather than holding it in and feeling like we were by ourselves,” Harris said. “It made my family closer and more grateful. Without each other and without this experience, we wouldn’t be who we are today.”

Who she is today is a freshman at Belmont University on a full scholarship majoring in exercise science and pre-med with a double minor in sports medicine and Spanish.  Following graduation, she would like to attend Vanderbilt or Emory Medical School and then travel the world.

“I love kids and I want to be able to save them,” Harris said. “I always dreamed of finding a cure for cancer, but I don’t like research, so that led me to wanting to become a pediatrician or oncologist.”

Her drive for education started in the eighth grade when her teacher, Mrs. Jackson, told the class “Education is the key to anything in life; all you have to do is go get it.” While her classmates didn’t know Harris was homeless, Mrs. Jackson knew there was more to Misha’s story.

“She (Jackson) always wanted us to value our education,” Harris said. “That stuck with me. If I didn’t want to be homeless, I needed to take advantage of all my opportunities, so I did everything I could – from meeting people to making connections – I always used my opportunities to the best of my abilities. I am so happy that she (Jackson) paid enough attention to me to know something was going on. I had plenty of bad days, but she kept telling me ‘You got this, stay dedicated and Do You.’”

Harris continues to help and give to others referring people to seek help from the Salvation Army.

“The Salvation Army is different because it is like a family – all of the staff makes you feel welcome,” Harris added. “And, if they don’t have the resources here, they will find it for you.”

Harris’ brother and sister also participated in the Salvation Army’s Red Shield Kids Club. “It was so important to my brother and sister to have somewhere to go after school,” Harris said. “Instead of being on the street or doing drugs, they had a safe place to go after school where they could play, get homework down and talk with people.”

She now shares her story in hopes that it will help raise money to help others.

“I hope that people will see that their contributions can help someone like me who has the dedication and fire to get out of a situation and end the generational curse of being homeless,” Harris said. “I don’t know what my life would be like if I didn’t have somewhere to go or had someone to talk to. I could have been that kid on the street that didn’t graduate high school or who was pregnant by the time I was 17. But, here, I was given the opportunity to focus on education and help my mom and family.”

“The Salvation Army will always be a part of my future because without them I wouldn’t be ‘Misha the Amazing Overachiever’. They shaped my faith and told me to stop looking at things below, but look above. God always has your best interest at heart.  Do the best you can with what you have and that’s what I did,” she said.

Yes she did, and she’s done it well. And, knowing DeMisha Harris, she’s not done yet.

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