The decision by Linn County Supervisors to name the future child and youth development services and public health center for Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris ensures the couple remain “a healing presence in our community.”
The tribute is deserved because of the couple’s many accomplishments within and beyond our community.
Lileah, a classical pianist, poet, singer and painter, grew up north of Waterloo as the daughter of the city’s first black physician, Lee Furgerson. She served on the local NAACP board of directors and the Cedar Rapids Human Rights Commission and, above all else, never stopped learning and expanding her abilities.
Percy was the first black physician in Cedar Rapids, as well as the first black member of the Iowa Board of Regents. He was the Linn County medical examiner for nearly four decades, led the local NAACP and served on the Black Culture Advisory Board at Coe College.
To be perfectly honest, their full accomplishments are too varied and lengthy to fit in this space.
The family was the first to move into their southeast-side Cedar Rapids neighborhood, after congregants of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church voted to sell a parcel of land for the Harris home.
That decision was merely one of many civil rights steppingstones Percy and Lileah traversed with grace and dignity. By doing so they taught this community to pay less attention to skin pigments and focus more on people.
The new county building is anchored in our collective desire and need for public health and education. It will be a place to come together, to play and plan. And be open to all.
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It’s difficult to imagine any other facility that could so closely match the life work of Percy and Lileah Harris.
And yet what makes this particular tribute most fitting is that it also honors the couple’s ever-expanding living legacy, by including the names of their 12 children on the facility’s 12 conference rooms.
It’s an embodiment of our collective hope for the future — a belief that with proper guidance and patience this community and county will move forward because of and despite our differences.
We also consider the tribute concrete proof that the Harris family hasn’t yet finished elevating and bettering this community. Thank goodness.
Here’s hoping this begins a trend of honoring and encouraging this community’s exceptional families.
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