Jameesha Harris is known as someone who doesn’t shy from challenges.
A 35-year-old mother of three and daughter of a Vietnam War veteran, she became the first in her family to hold elected office when she won a seat on the New Bern alderman in 2017.
The youngest African American female ever elected alderman in New Bern, she speaks her mind and has done so while running for office and every day since her first day on the Board of Aldermen.
In September 2018, when Hurricane Florence swept through New Bern, Harris ignored evacuation orders and braved hurricane-force winds and rising floodwaters to evacuate individuals and families. Barely resting, she then helped organize recovery efforts.
Mother, business owner, community activist and city alderman, Harris still finds time for education, working toward her master’s degree in Public Service Leadership from Thomas Edison State University.
2020 has presented its own challenges—COVID-19 pandemic, economic collapse, and racial strife.
In June, Harris led Black Lives Matter rallies in New Bern, her voice hoarse from keeping crowds on-point and peaceful.
Harris was about to face perhaps the biggest challenge of her life. In July, just eight days after her 35th birthday, Harris was diagnosed with breast cancer.
A cancer diagnosis is bad enough for an individual, but the emotional and financial impact has on a family can’t be understated. She, her husband Aaron Harris, and their three children, Aaron Jr. (“AJ”), 16, Tyler, 12, and Olivia, 5, have endured tests, three surgeries, and months of anxiety, pain and healing.
A GoFundMe page was set up for her to help with her medical expenses, and on Saturday, a benefit breakfast was held for her at Hwy 55 Burgers Shakes & Fries in James City. Between the two efforts, more than $3,300 has been raised toward a goal of $8,000.
“Cancer is a terrible illness for anyone to go through,” Wendy Coombs, franchise owner of the restaurant. “I myself lost my dad to five different types of cancer and my mom is a breast cancer survivor. Being a restaurant owner, I am blessed to meet some amazing people and our guests become family.”
Harris thought something was amiss and had an appointment with a doctor in late June. A mammogram and ultrasound produced disappointing results.
On June 25, facing breast cancer, Harris sent a heartfelt message to her friends via Facebook.
“I have children to live for, a husband to live for and people to fight for!
If you have to hash tag my name, you better fight for justice period. There is nothing going on now or ever that would make me want to take my life.”
On July 7, she updated her friends:
The ladies that work in Radiology at CarolinaEast Health System within the Diagnostic Center are amazing.
“The machine started to act up and I started to lose it after being in the same position for what seemed like eternity! I started to freak out and couldn’t breathe. They rubbed my back and talked me through.
“MRI biopsies are no joke! I am in pain, and my body freaking hurts!
With all that said, I’m claiming healing and negative results! This will be the longest next few days of my life not knowing. Now I just want my hubby home so I can cuddle!”
The biopsies produced more disappointing results, which were followed by two surgeries to remove the cancerous tissues. It led her to unknown territory.
“I had a few surgeries to remove the cancer,” she later wrote. “My next steps were going to be taking a medication for five years and getting radiation. Because of how young I am, I didn’t want to go down that road. I decided to have them removed and implants put in.”
Surgery was scheduled for Oct. 2—more than a month later.
Aug. 28 was a hard day for her. Black Panther Star Chadwick Boseman, died at the age of 43 from colon cancer. It was bad enough to lose a hero and role model, much less from for someone going through cancer herself.
“I still can’t stop crying over the fact that this man pushed through all of his pain and suffering to give us some of the greatest films of our time. Cancer is evil.”
On Sept. 23, she wrote, “Eight days away” (her approaching double mastectomy). “The devil is busy trying to test my strength and my faith. I’m starting to see who really rocks with me and who doesn’t. When I’m back to, it ain’t gonna be no smiling in my face and stabbing me in the back. I have given way too much of myself to be treated that way. I appreciate all the love and support.
The Oct. 2 surgery was difficult.
“My surgery was October 2nd and I am still in the hospital having a few complications,” she wrote on Oct. 5. “Right now, I’m going to get a blood transfusion, in hopes that my levels return to normal; if not, I will have to go back into the OR.”
Then the wait to see whether the surgery was successful.
Two days later, she wrote, “This has been the longest five days of my life. I honestly believed I was not going to wake up this morning. BUT GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!”
On Oct. 5, while still in the hospital following her surgery, she said, “The reason I am discussing all of this with you, is because most of you know I have a passion for my community.
“We have a board meeting tomorrow and this will be the first meeting I will be missing since I was sworn into office.
I know I shouldn’t care, but I don’t want anyone to think that I’m dropping the ball on fighting for the needs and resources for our communities.
I want to thank everyone that has reached out and sent prayers. I’m in good spirits and I know God has his hands over me. Also, make sure you are registered to vote! Make sure you vote!!!!”
Finally, on Oct. 7, the news was good. Doctors found cancer in her left breast that was removed, but no cancer in her right breast and no cancer in the two lymph nodes they removed.
She grabbed her doctor’s hand, squeezed it tight, and said, “Thank you, God!”
Jameesha Semaj Harris, at 35 years old, declared herself a cancer survivor.
“October 2nd, will forever be a special day to me,” she wrote on her Facebook wall. “Today I get to beat breast cancer! Not only will I be a survivor, I will also be an advocate for young women like myself. It’s never too early to get a mammogram. We rock #Pink in October.”
Her Facebook update was filled with jubilant.
“Don’t EVER count me out! I will always bet on me,” she wrote.
On Oct. 8, Harris went home.
“It has been a long seven days. I finally got home last night, and I have been relaxing and resting. I just want to give God all the glory because I genuinely thought with all my complications that I wouldn’t make it out of the hospital.
“I would like to thank ALL of the Doctors, nurses, and techs assigned to me! You guys are amazing.
“I have a long journey to recovery, but I want to thank everyone that has sent prayers, virtual hugs, words of encouragement, meals for the family, and much more.
“I can report that after this surgery, I no longer have cancer inside my body, and I do not have to take any medications, nor do I have to have radiation/chemo treatments!
“October 7th will always be the day I became a Breast Cancer Survivor!”
Harris did not take this journey alone. In addition to her family and medical providers, she had friends along the way.
“I want to thank everyone that has been helping me through all of this,” she wrote on Facebook, “but I want to thank these beautiful Queens Talina Lynn personally & Devona Williams Lewis for all the pep talks, jokes, cries, prayers, and encouragement since day one! I love you all!”
More about Jameesha Harris
Harris was born and raised in Albany, N.Y., and moved with her family to New Bern in 2010. She has an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and Management from at East Carolina University. She is working toward a Master’s Degree in Public Service Leadership from Thomas Edison State University.
Harris has worked as a Child Support Counselor at Maximus Craven County Child Support Services. She has served as Assistant Treasurer for the NAACP and Training Coordinator for Sisters Work.
She was elected to the New Bern Board of Aldermen in 2017.
Important issues to her as alderman include ensuring low-income neighborhoods have access to city parks, creating better after-school programming, and making sure the city budget is allocated justly.