With ‘Arts as Prevention’ as a springboard, Andre Harris has become an entrepreneur and teacher in the East Side
Part three of a four-part series: The Gift of Inspiration
While growing up on the East Side of Wilmington, I saw many of my peers turn to drugs and the ‘corner life,’” says Andre Harris, founder and apostle of Breakthrough Reformation of Churches and Cliq Corporation. The experience caused him to worry that his generation would eventually be “wiped out” and that he too would become a “statistic.”
Then, in 1989, he became a student in artist Eunice LaFate’s “Arts as Prevention” program, and he began his journey from student to entrepreneur to teacher.
Harris became friends with Eunice’s son, Jermaine, and he soon began calling her “mom” because of her strong influence throughout his childhood. Jermaine and Harris came from two different home environments—Harris, a single-parent household, and Jermaine, a dual-parent household—so when Harris went over to the LaFate household he didn’t quite understand one of its tenets.
“Mrs. LaFate had one rule in her house: ‘You must learn something new before you can do something fun,’” says Harris. “It didn’t make sense at the time, because it was summertime and kids go out to play, but this was the expectation at her house.”
Eunice LaFate’s unique teaching philosophy—something creative before something fun—and “Arts as Prevention” program helped Harris to discover his passion to teach.
Harris also credits his Aunt Shirley Cornelius for his love of giving back to the community.
“My aunt was always involved in political campaigns when I was young,” says Harris. “I remember when she volunteered for Stephanie Bolden’s campaign when she ran for the Wilmington City Council Third District seat back in the ‘90s.”
Both women taught Harris an invaluable lesson in caring for one’s community and the power of education and mentorship.
Harris became an entrepreneur at the age of 16 when he established his first business, Cliq Records Entertainment, a company focused on homegrown musical talent.
“Delaware had so many undiscovered music talents that never could reach the mainstream music industry,” he says. “When artists finally did make it, they would claim Los Angeles or Atlanta or Philly as their home, rather than Delaware.”
Since its founding in 1995, Cliq Corporation has grown to become an umbrella company for four of Harris’ businesses—Simply Divine Events by Dre, a full-service wedding and event planning business; Cliq Music Management; Harris Media, a print and web services company that creates banners, business cards, websites and more; and Cliq Mentor Foundation, a business recently co-founded with Jermaine LaFate.
Cliq Mentor Foundation is a reinvented venture that will focus on mentoring for elementary and middle school-aged youth in Wilmington. Harris and Jermaine hope to collaborate with like-minded businesses like LaFate Gallery to provide resources like the “Arts as Prevention” model to youth in need of peer and community support and positive role models.
“Many young people from my community come from families that don’t have positive male role models,” says Harris. “Jermaine and I were fortunate in that we both came from structured households in the community.”
Even though Harris came from a single-parent household, he had his grandfather, Thomas Harris, who was his mentor and hero and taught Harris to “always teach the people after you.” As Thomas saw it, “(youth) still have time to learn and grow so it’s important to steer them in the right direction to make sure they become part of society.”
Inspired by his grandfather’s sage advice, Harris, who recently turned 39, helped younger generations to find their purpose. “Youth
(on the East Side) need someone to bring them through the very difficult things they’re going through,” he says.
In many households, Harris says, kids aren’t worried about learning to ride a bike. Instead, they’re concerned with finding a consistent revenue source because their single parent is unable to work.
“Many younger people don’t have a safe outlet to keep them off the street life,” he says.
To put food on the table, he says, “Some kids have to sell water every day”—a common practice in poverty-stricken neighborhoods that are bounded by well-trafficked streets where cars sit at red lights.
Harris has made it his personal mission to educate and empower youth, and to give them the tools and the chance to lead. He does this by using his experience with the “Arts as Prevention” program to tap into the creative minds of his students.
From Student To Teacher
Harris, who attended church throughout his childhood, began his path to ministry after a difficult period while attending Johnson & Wales University, North Miami campus. While there, he struggled after the deaths of a few of his loved ones.
“I was in a bad headspace and wasn’t able to deal with it all at the same time,” he says. “I didn’t have anyone to turn to except my peers, who took the ‘party it off’ approach.”
Harris joined the New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, where he met the late Rev. Dr. Mack King Carter. This pastor-member mentorship began Harris’ journey from student to teacher.
After graduating from Johnson & Wales with a degree in entrepreneurial leadership and business administration, Harris returned to Delaware and his home church, Mount Zion, the Mother, AUMP. In 2002, he preached his initial sermon and began his ministry experience. In 2010, he started his own church, Changing Partners International, on Wilmington’s East Side, and a year later founded Breakthrough Reformation of Churches, a conference of churches throughout the United States and abroad. Harris is also in talks to acquire a building in Wilmington to open what will be the Mother Church of the conference.
A New Opportunity
Harris believes the COVID-19 pandemic has given all of us a new opportunity for growth. “2020 is the year to love your neighbor as yourself,” he says. He believes it’s a test in how to communicate thoroughly and effectively, especially as we all navigate personal and professional relationships while wearing masks.
“Wherever you are, whether it’s at home or vacation, you have the power to change a life,” says Harris. “You may not know or understand how you changed it, but a simple greeting like ‘hello’ could’ve made all the difference in that person’s life.”
Using his gift for the written and spoken word, Harris is in the process of writing a self-help book that encourages people, especially youth, to find their greater selves.
He advises youth and teens to seek out mentors, even if they’re younger, and to “not be afraid to develop their passion early.”
“Youth are scared to reach their potential because of what their peers will say or think,” he says. “As an educator and apostle, I encourage youth to dig deeper into themselves to find their inner voice.”
Correction: Breakthrough Churches is based in Wilmington not New Castle, an error that appeared in the Gift of Inspiration articles in the July and August issues.
Next month: How one Wilmington man discovered the power of communication through the “Arts as Prevention” program while working closely with his mother, Eunice LaFate.