A new diplomat is heading for Algiers

Maya Harris, 23, grew up in Long Reach village

April 15, 2003|By Fay Lande

Maya Catherine Harris was one of five African-Americans in a class of 95 at the George P. Schultz Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, Va. "And that's pretty representative, from what I've seen," she said about the proportion of minority diplomats in the U.S. Foreign Service.

The U.S. State Department is an equal opportunity employer. Secretary of State Colin Powell has actively promoted recruitment of minorities and women to its ranks, Harris said.

"One thing Secretary Powell is trying to show the rest of the world right now is that America has a diverse population," said the newly minted diplomat. "We're encouraging everybody who is a part of the American mosaic to be the face of America to the rest of the world - that's our slogan right now for recruiting - and we're hiring!"

Harris, who is 23, took the test to become a candidate for the U.S. Foreign Service shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.

"A lot of African-Americans were going to take the exam but did not show up. [And] it wasn't just minority students. ... People all over the world were questioning," she said.

But Harris is not one to be put off. She has successfully completed the rigorous Foreign Service training program, and she is to leave next week for her first tour of duty as third secretary vice consul in Algiers.

"After our parents' generation marched, after our parents have done so much for civil rights, after so many efforts have been made ... if not our generation, then who? If not now, then when?" she said.

Harris, who grew up in Long Reach, graduated from Waterloo Elementary, Mayfield Middle, Howard High School and Howard University. Her father, Dr. Ronald T. Harris, is an obstetrician and gynecologist. Her mother, Joyce A. Harris, is an elementary school teacher in Prince George's County. It's a little scary for her to think of leaving them behind.

"I've just never lived more than 40 minutes away from my parents," she said. Life will be quite different in Algeria, of course. For instance, she doesn't know how often she will be able to leave the compound to shop.

"I ordered more than 150 pounds of dog food because my dog is coming with me," Harris said. "She's the only friend I can take. My parents can't visit me. It's a very very high-security post."

But fears aside, Maya Harris and her parents are proud and thrilled that she will be representing her country.

"I'm a patriot. I feel that this is something that is worth doing," Harris said.

- An article in yesterday's Howard County edition of The Sun incorrectly stated the number of individuals who donated a telescope to Glenelg Country School. The nine children of the school's founders contributed to the purchase.

The Sun regrets the error.

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