TV5'S DANITA HARRIS
By Terri Nighswonger
Channel 5's Danita Harris is fond of using the phrase, "God's plan is bigger than man's." It's not just a nice saying for her. She knows firsthand just how awesome the plans of God for her life can be.
Harris, who is originally from Pennsylvania, came to Cleveland in November of 1997 following a layoff from the BET network in Washington, D.C. and six months of unemployment. Her parents had moved here, but Harris said she never really wanted to come.
"I didn't want to come to Cleveland in 1997," Harris said. "I always tell people, sometimes the place that you think is the worst thing can turn out to be the best thing for you. Cleveland has definitely been that for me."
It wasn't long before Harris was back on the air doing the Morning Exchange for Channel 5.
In November of 1999, Harris received a job offer with an ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C.. She was to anchor weekends and do entertainment during the evenings. She left her position at Channel 5 to pursue her career.
"I didn't have to wake up early in the mornings anymore," Harris joked. "I went to the University of Maryland in College Park, so really the Maryland and DC area are like my second home. A lot of my really good friends live there so it was really attractive for me to go back."
After about three or four months in DC, Harris said she could tell that the station was not a good fit for her. She was struggling to be herself, dealing with confrontations with her boss and beginning to complain about the work-all rare things for her.
"I still worked hard and just tried to do my best," Harris said. "I remember saying, 'Lord, you must have brought me here for a reason because it can't be this job.' I'm the type of person who loves my job. I think I'm blessed to make a living at something that I just really love to do."
Meanwhile, her weekend job and a busy travel schedule were keeping her from being active in her church. Harris said she loves to sing and write songs and be involved in her church's worship and praise team.
"Everything just seemed to be a challenge. Nothing was smooth. It got to the point where I was complaining to my friends about my job," Harris said. "I would come to visit my parents, when I could, here in Cleveland and every time I would land I could just feel the weight coming off. In my heart of hearts, you know those secret desires that we have, I said I would love to go back to Cleveland."
But God was preparing the way, and Harris, for that heartfelt desire to come to pass. A desire, Harris said, she never even spoke out loud.
How would Harris go back to a station she had just left? It seemed impossible that all the elements could fall into place for her return. One factor was in Harris' favor, however. She hadn't signed her contract with the new station. She got the contract from the station about five months after she arrived. When they gave it to her she put it in her nightstand drawer because the Lord said, "don't sign it." Her superiors never asked about the contract.
"I kept complaining to my friends until finally in my prayer time the Lord just said 'stop complaining.' I said ok, I'm going to make the best of this," Harris said. "I had so many days when I'd just go into the ladies room and sit in the stall and ask, 'Lord why?'"
Finally, in July of 2000, when Harris had stopped complaining and was making the best of her situation, the phone rang at her desk with a call from Cleveland. It was the news director at Channel 5. She asked Harris, "are you happy there?"
"I was honest with her and said, 'no I'm not.'" Harris said, "Then she asked, 'how would you like to come back to Cleveland?' I was like, oh wow! I couldn't believe it. I wondered how it was going to happen and the whole time God was just saying, 'if you'd just stop complaining, I have this under control.'"
On the inside Harris was jumping up and down but on the outside she was still trying to play it "really, really cool," she said. She had wanted to move into mornings at the DC station, so she went to the news director just to see what he would say. He told Harris she would never be an anchor at that station.
"I always ask God for signs because I don't want to move in my flesh," Harris said. "I knew inside of me that I really wanted to leave but if it was God's will for me to stay then maybe there was something that I couldn't see. It may be uncomfortable now but down the road it's for a bigger purpose. I didn't want to jump on it right away."
While Harris' agent talked with Channel 5, Harris prayed and waited for her confirmation from the Lord. It came from someone she barely knew and hadn't seen in three years. The head of BET, when Harris was employed there, was a man by the name of Jeff Lee. He was someone that she might see in the hallway and say hi to, but she didn't have a friendship with the man.
"I hadn't seen him or talked to him in three years," Harris said. "About three days later, I got a phone call from him. He said, 'Hi Danita. I just want you to know that I've been watching you and you're doing a really good job here, but Channel 7 will never be able to appreciate your talents and if you ever get a job offer to go somewhere else you need to take it.' It blew me away. I hadn't spoken with this man in three years. He didn't know anything about it."
It was now clear to Harris what she needed to do.
"I don't think you can get any plainer or clearer than that. At that point I really knew this was of God," Harris said. "At the same time I was wondering why Channel 5 would call me at this time. It hadn't even been a year and they'd think I was under contract somewhere else."
She found out later that the general manager just had a feeling that something had not gone right for Harris. He had asked the news producer to give her a call and find out if she was available.
Returning to Channel 5 was like coming home again for Harris.
"I really feel this is a family type atmosphere. I love coming here to work with everyone on the morning team. It's just that kind of atmosphere. I don't have the tension, the confused atmosphere that I had in Washington. I just feel like I can be what God wants me to be, which is positive and energetic. Every day I hope that I show that not just to viewers but to people here," Harris said.
Although she learned a lot, both professionally and personally, in Washington, D.C., Harris is glad to be back in Cleveland and Cleveland is glad to have her back.
"It is just wonderful for me to be back in Cleveland. It's the best thing and I'm glad God told me just to hush and wait and let go. When I stopped complaining I was able to deal better on the job and not let everything upset me and stress me out. I took it in stride and just knew that God's working this out. I don't know when, I don't know where, I don't know how, but he always seems to answer the things that I don't even utter. I never prayed to come back to Cleveland. It was just in my heart. I think that's the amazing thing in our walk with the Lord. He knows, down to the tiniest things, what will make us happy," Harris said.
Cleveland welcomed Harris back with open arms. She said the phone calls, e-mails and well wishes from the people here were like "one big hug from the city."
"That makes all the difference in the world," Harris said. "When I'm waking up at 2:30 in the morning and I think, 'can I do it today?' I think about that. My thing is, I just want to wake you up with a smile."
A particular e-mail from a viewer, told Harris that beyond the smile, there is something that viewers can see that makes her different. The woman told Harris, "I know you're a Christian. I can look at you on television and I know. I know you know God. I know you know Jesus."
"That makes me feel good. Something I'm saying, something I'm doing...something's coming out," Harris said. "I see my job as a ministry. I think we underestimate the effect we can have on people by just being kind and positive. I think a smile just does so much. If anyone asks me, 'how did you get this job', I say, 'God put me here because Danita still would have been a producer behind the scenes.' I had too much fear. Too many layers and layers of stuff. I was too afraid to step out and do this."
Harris' favorite scripture is 1 John 4:18, "Perfect love casts out all fear."
"If there's one thing I stand on it's the love of God," Harris said. "It wasn't the love from my mother and father or my friends or my family members that got me through the hard times, it really was the love of God."