Presence and progress propel New Orleans wife, mother, entrepreneur and philanthropist Ariel Wilson-Harris toward her goals
Earlier this year, Ariel Wilson-Harris experienced a life-defining moment. A wife, mother, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Wilson-Harris is seemingly always on the go. It isn’t unusual for she and her husband, photographer and writer L. Kasimu Harris, to attend multiple events followed by cocktails and dinner with friends, colleagues or potential collaborators (often all one in the same) any given night of the week, all after putting in a full day at work and with their children (Grayson, her husband’s 6-year-old from a prior relationship that she lovingly refers to as her bonus son and Liori, their 1-year-old daughter). Wilson-Harris has a demanding job as the communications director for the Metropolitan Human Services District in New Orleans. The MHSD provides mental illness, addiction and disability services to the indigent and uninsured to residents of Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes. She also runs Wilson Ave., a creative strategy, events and marketing company, and is the founder and director of the non-profit The Orchid Society, a mentoring program for young black girls. Amid the whirl of activity, Wilson-Harris had an epiphany that hasn’t changed what she is doing, but rather, how she’s doing it.
“Months ago, I came home from work, breastfed my then 3-month-old daughter in one hand and opened up my laptop with the other,” says Wilson-Harris. “After a few minutes of writing an email, I looked down at my baby and she was just staring at me. Almost like ‘Mommy, be with me.’ That was a defining moment in my life. I knew that things had changed and for the better.”
“After a few minutes of writing an email, I looked down at my baby and she was just staring at me. Almost like ‘Mommy, be with me.’ That was a defining moment in my life. I knew that things had changed and for the better.”
Wilson-Harris says she realized in a flash that the emails could wait, but what couldn’t wait, was Liori.
“My child had not seen me most of the day and the moment I got with her, I was already in work mode again,” says Wilson-Harris. “So, work/life balance is extremely important to me in order to not only preserve myself, my family, but to also present my best self when delivering services to clients.”
While it’s not her instinct to delegate, Wilson-Harris says she has had to start getting better at it. Being detail oriented and precise about the way things are done now translates not to her doing it all, but rather, her ability to communicate a clear vision and set her team up for success.
“I believe this has a lot to do with trust and building a team that you are confident in and that has proven knowledge and is self-motivated to assist you in enhancing your services to a high standard,” says Wilson-Harris. “Growing pains are inevitable. But there is light at the end of the tunnel — I can see it!”
Wilson-Harris describes her life outside of her career as “momentous” and enjoys taking in New Orleans’ rich live music, museums and parks with her family or cooking at home with her husband, who likes whipping up craft cocktails.
“We live for those moments together,” says Wilson-Harris. “Also, we love bringing friends together for dinner and drinks at our home.”
Showcasing on a national level the groundbreaking work MHSD is doing with the Office of Behavioral Health and sharing “innovative ways in which we help folks with mental illness, addiction and disabilities”; making Wilson Ave. a top vendor in New Orleans; and taking The Orchid Society to Africa on a mission exposure trip in 2020 to commemorate the group’s 10-year anniversary are her focus for the coming year. On a personal level, she’s working to free up more travel time for family visits with Grayson.
“He lives in North Carolina during the school year and spends summers and holidays in New Orleans,” says Wilson-Harris. “So, my hope is to make more travel time between those seasons to see him more and establish a strong bond between he and his little sister.”
Progress is an important theme in Wilson-Harris’ personal, professional and philanthropic endeavors. In every arena, her vision and purpose are clear and while there is a little overlap in each area, progress is the overriding theme.
“The more you progress in your personal life, the more you will see positive progression in your career,” says Wilson-Harris. “I never want to stop learning. I have mentors who help me along the way including Deborah Elam, Beverly McKenna and Dr. Rochelle Head-Dunham. These women, all trailblazers in their own right have gone through challenges and opportunities in different industries as black women and I’m fortunate to have access to their ear when I need guidance along the way in my career.”
The more you progress in your personal life, the more you will see positive progression in your career
- Don’t look to the side — look up! We sometimes feel like we should be where another woman is, if not further. Run your own race. Your path is destined already for you.
- Don’t be afraid to put others on! It’s time to share the opportunity to build wealth. If you’re confident in your work and your business, lift the other woman up who is just starting out and needs that break that you just passed up.
- If being a champion were easy, everyone would be one. Embrace your struggles as opportunities for growth. And then make time for growing. You can’t go anywhere unless you water your own seeds.
- Take care of yourself. Hit the confirmation button for that international trip. Take that long walk by yourself. Reflect on your accomplishments or achievements. This life is short and if you don’t take those moments in, it will pass you by and you will forget how far you have come to the present. Take that time to say to yourself ‘You Go Girl!’