Getting to Know Sharon Harrington

by Jennie Buckner

A passion for education has shaped Sharon Harrington’s life, from her book-loving childhood to a successful career in development at Davidson College, UNC Charlotte, and Johnson C. Smith University. Now, after 12 years in higher education, Sharon is focused on childhood literacy. As Executive Director of Charlotte’s Reading Partners, she leads a non-profit that helps children become lifelong readers by providing individualized instruction with measurable results. Reading Partners envisions a future where all children will have the reading skills to reach their full potential.

Sharon Harrington

A new board member of Women’s Impact Fund, Sharon has served on the boards of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Charlotte Chapter; Lillian’s List of NC; the Community Advisory Board of Dress For Success, Charlotte; and Duke University School of Law’s Alumni Association. Sharon also volunteers as a reading partner herself, spending several hours each week with a second-grade boy. “He never fails to brighten my day,” she says.

What have you enjoyed most about being a member of WIF?  Getting to know such remarkable women. I’ve enjoyed working with members, learning from them, and growing alongside them as we served on various committees. I joined WIF in 2003 as a charter member, so I’ve had the time to learn quite a bit!  Through the comprehensive grants process I also discovered how some outstanding non-profits operate. Being able to apply some of their best practices to my own work life has been another great gift.

How would you describe our members?  WIF members are creative, transformational, caring, catalytic, efficient and wicked smart.

What people have had the biggest impact on your life?  My grandmother and my parents were significant influences. My grandmother, who had just a grade-school education, would ask me to read to her whenever we were together. And I did: Books, magazines, newspapers, and whatever she had around. She turned me into quite a reader. Intentionally, I believe. My parents, who did not attend college, emphasized the value of education. They sent me to an outstanding Catholic grade school that gave me a strong start. I went on to a public high school that prepared me well for college and I received a full scholarship to the University of Delaware – becoming a “Fighting Blue Hen.”  Next was Duke Law School, where I became a Blue Devil and met my future husband. None of those things would have happened without the encouragement and support of my parents.

If you could take a class on anything from anyone, what would it be?  I love history and have become especially interested in the life of James B. Duke, who created The Duke Endowment. I have worked at several institutions that are beneficiaries of this foundation. I would love to study America’s great philanthropists, in the broadest sense. The course would focus on how these ordinary people used their resources for the public good, exploring the intersection of public policy, advocacy and philanthropy. Actually, I would love to teach a course like that!

What would people be surprised to learn about you?  I didn’t grow up in the South. People assume I grew up in the Carolinas, but I spent most of my childhood in Delaware. When I arrived at Duke Law School, I talked with a fast cadence and was more impatient than your average Southerner. Over time, my Northern accent softened and so did some of my sharp Northern edges. At least I don’t use my car horn any more!

How have the various places you’ve lived shape you?  I was born in the one-stoplight town of Burgaw, North Carolina, but we moved to Delaware when I was three. We frequently visited family members in Virginia and North Carolina.  So I was part Southerner, part Northerner. After college my husband and I spent almost ten years in New Orleans. We still treasure New Orleans’ culture – the music and food and especially its people. We have family and friends there and visit often.

What books have you recently enjoyed?  Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Robert Durden’s Bold Entrepreneur: A Life of James B. Duke, and President Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.

I am inspired by biographies and autobiographies that show how even setbacks and tragedies can help fuel an individual’s drive for success.

Describe a perfect Saturday.  I love gardening, and I’d spend my perfect Saturday there. I enjoy the feel of grass under my feet, digging in the soil — and relishing every minute! Spending time alone allows me to reset, since I’m a bit of an introvert. I’d complete the evening having dinner with my husband. We’d listen to some jazz while he cooked us a great dinner of jambalaya.

If you could have one super power, what would it be?  I would be fluent in every language, which would enable me to readily travel and communicate with just about anyone. I don’t know whether this is a super power, but it would be a special quality. No limits on understanding. No barriers. And no rote courses required – yet achieving ultimate language fluency.

What place would you love to visit?  South Africa is definitely on our bucket list. My husband and I would love to have a month to really experience it. I think we will make that happen at some juncture. (I believe in the power of positive thinking.)

If you could have lunch with anyone, who would you chose and why?  It would be heavenly to lunch with a couple of brilliant women writers. I’d pick Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelou. Just imagine!