Dr. Forrest Elliott Harris, Sr., President of American Baptist College (ABC)
Forrest Elliott Harris, Sr. is the tenth president of American Baptist College (ABC), assuming this leadership position in 1999. President Harris holds the distinction of ranking at number 5 among the longest-tenured leaders of the nation’s 100 plus Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and is distinguished for making a significant contribution to the academy and the church by bridging academic theology with justice activism and ecclesia praxis.
As president, he has led the development of countless new programs and initiatives at the College. He remains deeply committed to sustaining and enhancing ABC’s academic distinction by building upon its unique strengths as a Historically Black College with a focus on social justice advocacy, combined with the College’s stunning background in civil rights leadership. President Harris has succeeded in advancing innovative teaching and in amplifying ABC’s partnerships in the United States, the Caribbean, and on the African continent.
President Harris is recognized internationally as one of the world’s most progressive scholars and theological educators. His vision for prophetic Christianity in the Black Church tradition has led to multiple recognitions and speaking engagements. In 2018, he delivered the message, “The Unity of Love,” at the annual session of the Baptist World Alliance in Zurich, Switzerland.
American Baptist College, a private, Christian liberal arts educational institution, has consistently benefited under President Harris’ 20 years of leadership and the exceptional breadth of expertise he brings to the position. Dr. Harris cultivates a philosophy of educational “vitality,” investing in strategies and approaches deeply connected to teaching and learning innovations for diverse students.
Dr. Harris remains deeply committed to sustaining and enhancing ABC’s academic distinction by building upon the College’s unique strengths in educating servant leaders and its stunning background as the “incubator” of the civil rights movement. Under his leadership, in 2013 the College was officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as an HBCU.
Since his inauguration, Dr. Harris has continually devoted time and attention to launching initiatives shaping ABC’s future for the 21st century and beyond. Today, President Harris’ focus is on developing the critical synergies which support his vision to “Light a Flame which Lasts Forever” and to capitalize on the distinctive strengths of this 95-year old institution. Among his highest priorities is promoting ABC’s founding commitment to educating first-generation students and those who come to the College facing challenging academic and economic obstacles.
Since 2013, Dr. Harris has hosted a satellite radio program, the “Plumbline,” heard four times weekly on SiriusXM Channel 142-HBCU, and has delivered over 100 interviews to the SiriusXM audience of 55 million listeners. His interview guests have included prominent global thought leaders.
He has published numerous articles and position papers and has edited and authored several books, including: What Does It Mean to Be Black and Christian: The Pulpit, Pew and the Academy in Dialogue (Townsend Press); Ministry for Social Crisis: Theology and Praxis in the Black Church Tradition (Mercer University Press), and What Does It Mean to Be Black and Christian: The Meaning of the African American Church (Townsend Press).
Dr. Harris holds a secondary faculty appointment as tenured professor in the Practice of Ministry at Vanderbilt University Divinity School. As a multi-faceted administrator, President Harris originated the Kelly Miller Smith Institute on Black Church Studies and continues to serve as Director.
President Harris received the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree from Knoxville College and a Bachelor of Theology (B.Th.) degree from American Baptist College. He earned both the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) and Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degrees from Vanderbilt University Divinity School, where he was a Benjamin E. Mays Fellow and received the Florence Conwell prize for preaching.
President Harris was born and reared in Memphis, TN. He is married to Jacqueline (Jackie) Harris, a registered nurse by training. They have four grown children and four grandchildren.