Remembering Steven Harrison

Memorial Service for Steven Harrison
“A Celebration of His Life”
Friday, September 15, 2006
2:00 pm
Interfaith Chapel
Reception to follow in the Welles-Brown Room, Rush Rhees Library

Please join us in remembering this outstanding young man and the many ways he touched our community.

Steven James Harrison
(February 28, 1978 - August 4, 2006)

On Friday, August 4th, the Rochester community lost an amazing man, Steven Harrison, to a tragic auto accident. Steven was a 2000 graduate of the College and a 2001 graduate of the Warner School’s English teacher education program. He was a Fifth Year in Teaching Scholar, and upon his graduation from Warner, he was recognized with the Eleanor Larson Award for Excellence in Teaching. He was a dedicated teacher at East High School and was currently taking leadership classes at the Warner School as he pursued a second master’s degree and certification as a school administrator.

The many stories that have emerged of Steven’s joyful presence and commitment to friends, family, students, and the teaching profession have warmed our hearts and provided comfort during this difficult time. Steven’s beautiful light, hope and commitment to social justice and education will continue to inspire us.


Tributes to Stephen


Two roads diverged in the woods; I took the one less traveled and that has made all the difference." These lines from the poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost describes Steven James Harrison.

Steven, a teacher at East High School, was killed last month in an accident on the New York State Thruway.

Steven was my first student teacher. At that time, in 2000, he was a student at the University of Rochester and I was a teacher at the then-Dr. Freddie Thomas Learning Center. Steven's autobiography and credentials were impressive. We talked about everything from "we as a people" to children lacking equitable access to education because of the despicable labels placed upon them. A quiet storm, Steven effectively rallied for change in the lives of our youngsters.

He was a humble person, passionate, compassionate and respectful. As his first cooperating teacher, I felt more like a peer.

This "brotha" was awesome. He plugged into curriculum, the best practices, and subsequently we team-taught. I wrote in his recommendation for employment in the City School District, "He walks the floor as a Clydesdale" referring to his commanding presence and the respect he drew from students.

Steven also worked at a local help center for children of abuse and mentored one of my students who resided there. This child proved very taxing for me and would often try to disrupt instruction. Seeing how exasperated I felt, he said, "Ms. Dobson, allow me to work with him one to one. I know his story." He also admonished me to have more patience with that pupil. I thought to myself, "Are you kidding me! An intern telling me how to handle my business!?" However, I felt the power of God humble me to listen to Steven. Because of his unswerving dedication, my student did very well.

In 2001, Steven started teaching in the RSD. He and I always talked about students and our respective roles being called as Christians to break poverty cycles. The most important matter in Steven's life was his walk with the Lord, his family and his students. He always shared with me the victories and the outstanding times with his mom, Loraine; and his sisters, Rashida and Keisha; and his brother, Marquis. I felt a part of his family. A legend, a teaching rock star, a comrade, a brother, my eternal friend.

Now Steven's work is completed. As an educator, Christian and peer, I proclaim: Let's honor Steven and the unprecedented work that he did and undertake the work that lies ahead.

Gina Dobson
Rochester City School District Teacher
Guest Essay Democrat and Chronicle - September 5


My name is Kara Finnigan and I was Steven's advisor at the Warner Graduate School of Education of the University of Rochester.  I am here today speaking on behalf of the dean, faculty, staff and students of the Warner School.  It is with great sadness that I stand before you.  I can remember the first time Steven walked into my office with his big smile and an enthusiasm for learning he could not contain.  I knew right away that Steven was the type of student that made me want to become a professor.  He embodied our mission at the Warner School, which is to "prepare knowledgeable, reflective, skilled and caring educators, who can make a different in individual lives as well as their fields, and who are leaders and agents of change."  He was always pushing himself to learn more and become a better educator with his ultimate goal of receiving his doctorate.  Last summer he was a student in my course on education policy and he would share details about his lived experiences at East High that brought meaning to our discussions.  Early in our conversations, we would talk about the many other commitments he had that he also cared deeply about.  As his advisor, of course, I hoped he might reduce some of these other commitments to focus more on his graduate studies. . . I quickly learned that this was just who Steven was.  He threw himself fully into every aspect of his life and was not willing to do less than would meet the high standards he set for himself.  He always knew that he could and would make a big difference in the lives of young people and that kept him deeply committed to his studies at U of R.  Steven, we will miss your infectious smile, your big heart, your passion for learning, your commitment to social justice, your dedication to urban youth, and your devotion to your students in the hallways and classrooms of the University of Rochester.  Thank you.

Kara Finnigan
Warner School Professor
Remarks given during the Memorial Service for Steven on August 18, 2006 at the Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church.


My Beloved Steven,

Words cannot express. I remember meeting Steven as "a little freshman" as I so commonly referred to him as. I don't know what the class of '00 hit the class of '98 with; their charm, their humor, and proved to us that chivalry was in fact, NOT DEAD. Steven was a true friend, honest, even when you didn't want to hear it, a natural born leader - from Mr. Pink Panther to BSU President to SA. He could sing right up there with Barry White and Luther to me anyway. BSU President - did they really take over the administration building? "That was a mess", as Steven always used to say. I watched Steven grow from a little freshman into a man dedicated to children, a man with a mission. Meliora Weekend should be a tribute to Steven James Harrison. AMBITIOUS is only the surface. When you speak to this brother, you realize he's more than meets the eye. Harvard Urban Superintendent's Program doesn't even KNOW what they were about to get.

Only he could call me at 2 a.m. and text at 4 a.m. on a school night!!!! If I was down, who would be on my caller ID? It's funny how you get older and age only becomes a number. I remember giving Steven advice, in the latter years he would guide me through various struggles. While my BEST friend has gone on to be with the Lord, I believe he is smiling down on us. When we are about to "CUT UP" he's on our shoulder saying, "that's a mess!!!!" When people are rude, students are not acting correct - "ridiculous!" I believe that Steven lives in and through us, at least in my world. My life has been changed by this "little freshman." I'm so glad he was able to "Share My World!"

Donna Joseph '98


I still can't believe that Steven is gone.  Although it really hurts to think that I won't be able to pick up the phone and chat with him or hear his hearty laugh again, I do take comfort in the fact that I had the chance to know such a wonderful person.  I'll miss his crazy antics and his even crazier sayings (for those of you who knew Steven, you know what I am talking about).

Steven was one of the first people that I met at the University of Rochester when I entered as a freshman in 1998.  He reached out to me, and was like a brother ever since.  Throughout college, I worked with him in an afterschool program at the Mount Hope Family Center, as well as on the Executive Board of the Black Students' Union.  In all situations and circumstances, Steven embodied what it meant to be a true leader.  He led by example, and set the highest standards of excellence.  He always thought outside the box, and was always pushing to take things to the next level.  One of the things that I most respected about him, was his dedication to education.  For many people, being an educator is sort of a default option--something to do, because they don't know what else to do.  However, it wasn't like that for Steven.  He was committed to educating young minds and revolutionizing and reforming public education.  He will be sorely missed.

LaFleur Stephens
Class of 2002


I have known Steven Harrison at least since 1998 when Steven began working for me at Carlson Library Circulation.  His love for his family and friends was apparent right from the start.  He talked often of his mother and her dedication to her children, his younger brother Marquis and his sisters.  At that time he was very involved in campus organizations like NSBE and BSU.  Many of his friends worked at Carlson as well, or would stop by to see him.  Through those years he shared his passion for education and urban schools.  As a parent of four city school children I was very pleased that he intended to stay in Rochester as a teacher.  I knew he would have a great impact on the students he would work with.  As someone who has supervised hundreds of students over the years there are a special few who stand out, who touch us in a deep and everlasting way.  Steven was one of those students.  He continued to stop by regularly to touch base.  He was always ready to give a big hug and ask about my family.  He kept me up to date with the accomplishments and activities of his siblings, of his students at East and of his many UR friends that he still kept in touch with and that I knew too  (several had also worked for me).  In fact this summer he was here several times a week to study for his Warner class.  Like so many in these tributes I too saw him last week.  He was in Carlson studying on the 2nd floor and I encouraged him to move to another floor because the air conditioning had been shut off on our floor.  As always he was as sweet as ever with that big smile.  I will never ever forget that smile.  The loss is so overwhelming and my heart goes out to his family, friends, colleagues and students.

Trina Lowery
Carlson Library Circulation


Steven was a little brother to me and my husband. A regular fixture at family functions In my sons eyes, part of our family here in Rochester. We shared many holidays together because both of our extended families are in the Bronx..We spent lots of time reminiscing and boasting about growing up in the Bronx. We had our tiffs and disagreements the way family does. We argued. We laughed. We danced. We ate and drank. We sang. We had stimulating discussions regarding best practices. This is a difficult time for us all. For our colleagues at East HS. For his family. For his students. For our district. I am up late-unrested and hurting trying to figure out how to get through this-how to understand that he won't be knocking on my door anymore. Let us support each other in this time of unexplainable sadness. I wrote a poem in memory of Steven tonight and I hope it can bring you just an ounce of shortlived comfort.

God Needed an Angel

God needed an angel…
An angel with the courage to step up to the plate
To lead by example
To create opportunities
God needed an angel to guide the young who have died
The ones who are lost
The ones who were taken off the earth because of violence, extenuating circumstances and extreme suffering
God needed a leader to put strength and love back into the hearts of those lost
God needed somebody to herd those wandering souls into Heaven
As we cry
Trying to say goodbye
Trying to figure out why
Such a young, smart, articulate, caring, role model to our children was taken away from us way before his time
We must remember
God needed an innovative angel to take care of business
God needed a multitasker
One with a vision
One with the drive to take control and make miracles happen
One with a true level of commitment and the passion to think outside the box
God needed an angel that was so powerful
So powerful that when he left the Earth to work for our maker
His memory would live forever because of the impact he had on us all
He will live through our hearts
He will forever live through our funny, thoughtful, warm memories of him
His laugh
His overwhelming desire to make a difference in this world
His sense of humor
His sense of responsibility to the community
His smile has made a permanent imprint on our hearts
God called his child for his next assignment
He believes in him and He needs him
We will never forget the way he loved his family
The way he spread himself thin but made time for friends
He went way above and beyond his call of duty as an educator
As we mourn for our loss
We must remember that he was saved
God brought him back home to continue on his pilgrimage
The pilgrimage to make a change
We are hurting
We are suffering because he’s gone
We are broken and confused and maybe even weakened by his absence
We must remember to live each day to the fullest
To have faith and find peace with God's decision
We must remember to be life long learners
To love wholeheartedly with a genuine kindness
God needed an angel and his name is Steven Harrison
We love you Steven
We miss you
We believe in you and know that you will be the leading Angel that God needs you to be.

Millie Quinones-Dunlap
Monroe High School


“I thought it might be of note how Steven spent some of his final time in the Rochester area...

Steven was part of my group's project for our course on the Superintendency in the 21st century. We had just started to all get to know one another better. Our task on Thursday (8/3) was to interview a veteran superintendent about what it was like to be the CEO. The superintendent we interviewed was immediately intrigued and interested in Steven. He wanted to know all about the courses he taught, the authors he used, and was genuinely interested in the positive role model Steven was for his students.

After the interview, the four of us went over to Tom Wahl's for a late lunch and to work on our project. We were there until about 5:00. Steven showed his great smile while he proudly talked about heading home to the Bronx to be with his mother on her birthday. Steven shared with me that he had just applied for his school district administrator's certification from New York State. I asked him what he wanted to do, if he wanted to be a principal or superintendent. He modestly laughed it off and said, "some day, but not right now."

When I saw the newspaper the next day, I wept. I couldn't help but think, "I was just talking to him... He was going home to see him mother... This is not fair... He has so much more to offer." Stories like Steven's truly test our faith. The only thing I can say is that God must have a plan for Steven that none of us can understand. What little I knew of Steven, I know that he had an impact on those of us he touched in his short time here.”

Dan Murray
Warner School Student


“I have known Steven Harrison since my first year here at the Warner School (2001), when he was nominated and won the Larson Award for the 2002 commencement. When I arrived here at the Warner School, I kept hearing that I “had to meet Steve Harrison” and eventually, I did. I never got the chance to have Steve in class (he finished the English education program just before my arrival), so most of my encounters with him were passing conversations in the hallway. But even that brief contact made an impression on me. He was a bright light in the Warner School, a bright light in the Rochester community, and I’m very sure he was a bright light in the lives of his students. Every time I saw him, he told me of plans for professional development, travel, and eventually, a second Master’s degree in Educational Leadership. His passion and dedication to the field of education were obvious from the light in his eyes, and his infectious smile. Seeing Steve in the hallway always brightened my day. As soon as he received tenure from the Rochester City School District, I contacted him to ask if he would serve as a Cooperating Teacher. He graciously accepted, and this past year, hosted his first student teacher. I never got to know Steve as well as I wanted because I was on leave the semester that he hosted my student teacher... but I always thought there would be time for that. I was looking forward to building our relationship and future collaborations—I thought there would be time for that too.

This is certainly a very sad occasion for the Warner School community, the University of Rochester community, the East High School community, and the Rochester community. A bright light is gone from our midst, but Steven Harrison will be very fondly remembered by all who were lucky enough to know him.”

Meg Callahan
Warner School Professor


I had the opportunity to get to know Steven Harrison a bit in my work at East, and am deeply saddened at his loss. He embodied many of the central principles we embrace ‹ commitment to and practice in service of social justice; appreciation of the strengths, commitments, and histories of cultural groups; and the potential of our work in education and human development for transformation of oppressive influences in peoples¹ lives. At East, he would deal explicitly with issues of race, giving African American students a sense of their history that students my doctoral students and I worked with felt was really critical to their education.

I am glad that the Warner School is considering ways to honor Steven and to continue his important work.

Nancy Ares
Warner School Professor


“A spirit as loving as his never dies. He will be missed.”



“I read about the death of Steven Harrison in the newspaper this morning.    I did not know Steven.  I am sorry for this tragic loss for many people, of an educator, family member, friend, community leader, and colleague.”

Janice Resnick
Warner School Student


My Friends,

By now you have probably heard of the tragic and sudden death of a true friend Steven Harrison. When I learned of Steven's death Friday morning I was in complete shock and disbelief. Only being able to sleep 2 hours last night has afforded me a lot of time to just think about Steven and the impact he has made in just 28 short years. As a teacher this man took his job seriously, it was not just a 9-5 but a 24/7 commitment to the lives of the youth of Rochester. He coached step, was active in his lodge and took on other people's problems as if they were his own. He had a way of lighting up a room but never needed to be the center of attention. He loved the University of Rochester, and I would joke that he bled blue and gold. He loved East High, many thought he was from Rochester because he became so immersed in our community during college and after. He was a trend setter and mold breaker- I mean come on who else could become the first male counselor to work at Alternatives for Battered Women-a side job he kept for many years. Steven had a way of comforting anyone that came in his presence just ask Quincy Robinson and Rashad Smith-who would not have graduated had Steven not kicked them and gave them tough love. He loved his Family especially his brother Marquis- he would do anything for him. He was so proud of his mother and would talk about how she went back to finish college.

Steven was the one constant I had in my life, be it debating years songs came out, talking to young people, hanging with the fellas on our many excursions, campaigning alongside me, planning my yearly 3 day birthday parties or just having Cajun chicken wings and conversation at the Distillery or Mathews with the one woman that was quick to put both of us in our place, Latresha-who Steven adored and looked up to. I'm thankful that we had the chance to have one last meal together on Monday. I just remember his last words on Wednesday night "alright brother I'm headed to the Bronx tomorrow night and will get together when I get back." I told him to be safe and have some fun for me.

We can take comfort in John 14. We must be committed to keeping the legacy of this amazing man alive, our lives will forever enriched because we came into contact with Steven Harrison Jr.

The way I will always remember steven flashing those pearly whites- laughing having a good time

Malik Evans


A letter to the East High School faculty and staff:
(reprinted with permission)

August 4, 2006

Dear Colleagues,

By now many of you have heard of the tragedy that struck us this morning. If you are as of yet unaware, I am greatly saddened to report that we have lost one of the dearest members of our staff. Steven Harrison was traveling to New York City last night to celebrate his mother’s fiftieth birthday when his car struck a tree near Poughkeepsie, New York. This news has devastated all of us.

Words cannot express how we feel about Steven. His smile lit up a room. He was the kind of person who could be counted on to tell the truth, but always in a caring way. In just the few short hours after hearing the dreadful news, we began to hear from people who saw him in the past week. The STEP team performed in Cornhill last Saturday, and the entire team gathered at the Delehanty’s house afterward to celebrate. On Sunday, Steven attended church services with three of our recent graduates who planned to leave for college this week. On Tuesday, Steven attended the Principals’ Leadership Conference and served as a member of a panel of teachers, students and parents who discussed school leadership. The same day he attended the transition program at East so that he could meet our new seventh grade students. Yesterday, Godfrey Milan spoke with him at Sam’s club. Steven was purchasing items for the birthday party he and his siblings were hosting for their mother this weekend. Before leaving for New York, Steven worked on a group project with members of his graduate class at the University of Rochester.

When I think of a way to describe Steven, what comes to mind is deeply committed, passionate about students. It seems that nothing went on at East that escaped his attention. Besides being the advisor to the STEP team, he and Hughan Reid started Men at Work, a club for young men. He was active in the Ebony Culture Club and with the Teaching and Learning Institute. Steven was eager to become a member of the AVID team, and attended the AVID Institute in Atlanta earlier this summer. He recognized the potential impact it would have on our students, and as you can see from his involvements, Steven was devoted to the students of East High School.

Steven had a seemingly unquenchable thirst for knowledge. He completed both his undergraduate and Master’s work at the University of Rochester. Additionally, he was working on a Master’s degree in Educational Administration at the UR. He planned to continue after that and complete a Doctoral degree in Educational Thought in Policy. He planned, ultimately, to leave Rochester and East High School, intending to make an impact in a larger arena.

Steven student taught at East High School, and we worked very hard to bring him home to East when he was teaching elsewhere in the District. I remember the year he came back. Voluntary transfer day for English teachers occurred while Steven was at a summer workshop in Chicago. I couldn’t find his proxy in the room, and the anxiety was high while we waited. Finally, we communicated with him by cell phone and made sure that we got him back.

We knew we wouldn’t have him forever, but we never knew our time would be this short, and we were not prepared for this to happen. We like to say about ourselves and our jobs that we are all replaceable, but I know that this is not true. Some of us may be, but I know in my heart that we will never be able to replace Steven.

Please keep Steven’s family in your prayers.



To submit a memory, comment, or tribute, please email laura.brophy@rochester.edu.

Related links:
13WHAM News Story
Democrat and Chronicle Editorial

Democrat and Chronicle News Story
MSNBC News Story

Tags: Fifth Year in Teaching Scholar, Steven Harrison