Chuck Harris

February 20, 2023

The keen eye of Chuck Harris is focused on his family’s legacy of dyslexia research and student support at VCU

Spurred by his struggles as a youth, the successful cinematographer is upholding his parents’ commitment and philanthropy

The keen eye of Chuck Harris is focused on his family’s legacy of dyslexia research and student support at VCU

As a third-grade student, Charles A. “Chuck” Harris struggled with reading, writing and spelling. After seeing those challenges, his mother, Ruth, launched a personal mission to find the resources he needed to learn in the best way for him.

Now, decades later, Chuck Harris is an accomplished independent film professional, specializing in cinematography. He knows that without his mother’s perseverance and investments in learning about dyslexia and other learning disabilities, he may never have graduated from college, let alone worked with some of the biggest names in his industry.

That’s one reason he continues to nurture his parents’ commitment to support students like him. In 2010, Louis S. Harris, Ph.D., and Ruth Harris established the Ruth Harris Professorship in Dyslexia Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Education. Not only does the gift support research into better understanding learning disabilities, but it also provides financial support for future teachers who bring emerging best practices to help these students in the classroom.

His mother’s early action was essential to getting Harris the resources to learn in the best way for him.

“We need more educators who are prepared to work with neurodiverse students. When I was young, that support was lacking, so I lost many years,” Harris said. “Our family’s guiding principle is that any gift should have a lasting impact and continue to grow and give back. This is why we emphasize endowments rather than just a one-time gift. It’s a significant part of how my parents shaped my thinking.”

Between earning an advanced degree in special education, studying at VCU and engaging with Orton-Gillingham, a leading organization in dyslexia, Ruth Harris dedicated her career to helping those with dyslexia and learning disabilities before she passed away in 2014 at age 94. She was an early leader and advocate for proactively diagnosing and accommodating dyslexia in teaching methods. Her husband, Louis, who served on the VCU School of Medicine faculty for 44 years, was equally committed to philanthropy before his death in 2019 at age 92.

As supporters of VCU for decades, the Harris family and then its Harris Family Foundation have funded programs in education, arts, medicine, pharmacy and dentistry. Beyond the Ruth Harris Professorship, their endowments have created the Louis and Ruth Harris Professorship in Pharmacology Toxicology and the Dr. Louis S. Harris Fund for Children’s Dental Health Research.

Chuck Harris, the couple’s only child, now leads the Ruth and Louis Harris Family Foundation. While the foundation supports many VCU programs — including in art and pharmacology, his father’s research specialty — Harris collaborates with the School of Education to ensure the legacy of his parents’ vision for dyslexia studies.

Today, the Ruth Harris Professorship of Dyslexia Studies supports faculty and doctoral student research that advances the study of reading disabilities, with a focus on dyslexia but also other language-learning challenges, and new approaches that help these students succeed in the classroom. The endowment also funds workshops, events, presentations and the annual Dyslexia Symposium, which showcases nationally acclaimed leaders in reading and learning.

With support from his parents and his own determination, Harris certainly made up for lost time. His long history of professional success in cinematography includes prominent films such as “The Sentinel” (2006), “Captain Phillips” (2013) and “Kingpin” (1996). Most recently, he was involved in the second season of Apple TV+’s critically acclaimed series “Swagger,” filmed in Richmond in 2022. Harris also was involved in cinematography for Hulu’s “Dopesick” miniseries, starring Michael Keaton and primarily filmed in Virginia, which tells the story of the opioid pandemic and its impact in the southwest corner of the state.

After starting as a camera assistant and operator on commercials, Harris moved to larger movies in roles such as lamp operator, grip, best boy and key grip. He credits learning and being mentored by well-known cinematographers – particularly acclaimed Dutch cinematographer Kees van Oostrum, best known for his work behind the camera on the movie “Gettysburg,” an array of Emmy Award-winning TV shows and films, and numerous commercials.

That mentorship began with a simple entry-level role in a cinematography project in Richmond. Recognizing the young artist’s skills, van Oostrum entrusted some specialized equipment he had designed and coveted to Harris. That sparked a professional collaboration — with van Oostrum taking time to explain and demonstrate his approach to cinematography — that spanned multiple projects across the U.S.

Not surprisingly, Harris now shares his passion and expertise, too, supporting the VCU School of the Arts cinema program. Besides donating equipment, Harris volunteers to assist VCUarts students in their cinema projects, providing valuable hands-on experience in their summer productions of movie shorts.

Harris was born in Boston, and the family moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, when his father accepted an appointment as professor and later chair of pharmacology at the University of North Carolina. Harris’ early involvement in film started with volunteering to help film and edit UNC football and basketball games, ensuring the films and highlight reels were ready for review by the teams.

After spending his early undergraduate years at Hampden-Sydney College, Harris took a break before enrolling at VCU. He also started working on campus after graduation to help pay off his student loans. He completed his master’s degree in cinema at Boston University, then returned to claim Richmond as his longtime home.

Looking back on his learning experiences, Harris emphasizes the significance of early diagnosis and intervention for dyslexia. With the proper support, he said, students can learn to navigate and overcome learning disabilities, rather than continue to struggle and even drop out of school.

The Harris Family Foundation has established scholarships and professorships, and it has funded initiatives that provide students with resources for immersive, hands-on learning experiences. “The primary focus for my parents and all the foundation board members is investing in student support that lasts in perpetuity,” Harris said.

“A college degree demands a considerable time and expense. We aim to provide ongoing support that ensures students have the resources to maximize the investment in their education,” he added. “My parents instilled in me the importance of teamwork. It’s a fundamental principle that holds in any endeavor. It’s not just one individual; the entire team makes it happen.”

Read here more about the Ruth Harris Professorship.


Source VCU News