Posted at 11:29 AM
Created on May 14, 2014
In March, the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) celebrated its 45th anniversary. And as the Agency begins planning for the next 45 years, it will do so missing a key team player.
Venice Pamela Harris was 17-years old when she started working with the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1972. She was still in high school when she applied and was accepted into the Junior Technician Program, a federal program managed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that was geared for high school students who didn’t plan on going to college. Little did she know that entering that program would lead to a memorable and rewarding 42-year federal service career.
“In high school, my curriculum was geared towards business. I had a lot of shorthand, typing classes,” she said. “What’s funny is that DEA also had a program where they recruited young high school ladies for entry-level secretarial positions. I also applied for their program, was accepted and offered a GS-3 position. It was a tough decision to make, but I decided to go with the Department of Commerce’s GS-1 position working with the Office of the Secretary (OS), Office of Personnel.”
Harris thanks Mrs. Ruffin, her high school business teacher, for helping her make that decision—the one she said was “the right decision.”
While working at Commerce, she decided to go back to school and enrolled at Howard University, where she received a 4-year full scholarship from Gulf Oil Company and eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration. During her time at Howard, she enrolled in the Junior Fellowship Program, another federal program managed by OPM, where college students were allowed to work during their holidays. Under this program, Harris continued working with Commerce and had already achieved a GS-5 level.
“When I graduated from Howard University and still working with Commerce, I took on my first professional position as a budget analyst in the OS Budget Office,” she said. They eventually moved me to a specialized area focused on the working capital fund and I’m proud to say that I created the “Working Capital Fund Handbook,” which I understand is still being used today.”
Harris worked with Commerce’s OS for 11 years before stepping out to work for the U.S. Marine Corps for a little over four years. But, she returned to Commerce again and began her MBDA legacy working with the Agency’s budget office as the finance team lead.
She said her responsibilities with MBDA grew with time to not only include budget, but also procurement, training and building management activities. And there was still one more responsibility she inherited—even if it was by chance.
“I happened to work and plan a conference for one of the former MBDA National Directors,” she said. “That conference turned out well and from that point on I continued doing conferences and eventually became involved in the coordination and planning of the Agency’s signature event, the Minority Enterprise Development (MED) Week Conference.”
It’s that kind of tenacity and caring for her mission that so many are drawn to her. For instance, there have been hundreds of interns she’s worked with and so many she said called her “MBDA’s Mom,” because she went out of her way to ensure they received what they asked for and when they left MBDA, they left with a strong understanding of the commitment the Agency has in supporting the minority-owned business community.
“Venice is a great person,” said Roxanna Allen, an accountant with the International Trade Administration, who worked with Venice for five years in the OS budget office. “She truly cares about her work and the people who work with her. You can always count on her.”
Harris said the MBDA mission has been the driving force that’s kept her motivated in her job. She’s actually contemplated retiring twice before, but knew in her heart that the timing wasn’t right and that there was still work for her to do.
“I love that we have minority-owned businesses that are successful,” she said. “I’m a true believer that we should all help each other gain more success. I know that I’m helping to make that happen by working at MBDA.”
Her “can-do” attitude is infectious.
“Venice never says no. She will go out of her way to help her co-workers get what they need to meet the requirement,” said Pam Cox, an MBDA co-worker of Harris’s for over 25 years. “We see that if she’s willing to give a little more—we can also give a little more. She will truly be missed.”
Harris said one of her favorite quotes is "You want me to do something... tell me I can't do it," by Maya Angelou, the well-known author and poet. She said she loves that quote because she loves the challenge of beating the “you can’t do it” syndrome.
“Don’t let anyone say you can’t do something,” she said. “For 42 years I found a way to overcome “can’t” and went from a GS-1 to GS-14. I didn’t do it sitting down waiting for the work to come to me or waiting for someone to tell me to help someone or take a training class. I rolled up my sleeves, and copied, typed, and packed boxes—I did anything needed to get the job done.”
In the meantime, the Herbert C. Hoover Building’s 5th floor, 8th corridor hallway buzzes with energy as MBDA employees storm from meeting to meeting finding clever ways to highlight the Agency’s 45th anniversary. Among that buzz, Harris still contributes.
But as the end of April nears—perhaps the first part of May, she knows her contributions cease and she’ll slowly walk out from her office into that familiar 5th floor, 8th corridor hallway wearing her headphones and smiling towards the elevator leading her to retirement and the upcoming 7-day Caribbean cruise.
“I will always keep an eye on MBDA,” she said. This has been my family and I look forward to seeing them continue doing great things in the future.”