Prior to becoming a household name on popular television shows like “227” and “Sister, Sister,” Jackée Harry worked as a history teacher in New York City. “I worked at Brooklyn Technical High School,” Harry tells ESSENCE. “I taught American History. Ninth and tenth grade. All boys. I still love teaching. That was my first love.”
At the time, Harry believed that she would “do acting and teaching on the side,” but as her popularity grew, the North Carolina-born actress’ life took a path that was quite the opposite. Still, she says, “I thoroughly enjoyed teaching. I still enjoy it. I feel like it’s one of those things that takes kids through life.”
Though it may not have been clear at the time, Harry’s passion for sharing knowledge didn’t end when she left the classroom. Her “Sister, Sister” co-stars Tia and Tamera Mowry never skip an opportunity to share how much they’ve learned about the art of acting from TV mom. “I was just born that way,” Harry reflects. “I like imparting knowledge, but I’ve learned that everyone doesn’t want your knowledge. You have to learn how to get somebody to want to learn. The learning process has to be understood before you can understand what somebody is trying to teach you.”
Although she likely won’t be returning to her school teacher roots anytime soon, Harry reprises the role of an educator in her latest film project, The Wrong Cheer Captain. In the Lifetime movie, which also stars and is produced by Vivica A. Fox,Harry plays a high school principal who is oblivious to the sinister acts committed by one of her students.
“These Lifetime movies get you hooked because they are full of suspense and you don’t know what direction the movie will turn,” says Harry. “You don’t have to worry about them being gory or graphic, but they are definitely an indulgence. Once you start watching them, the next thing you know, your day has gone by watching all of them.”
As for her co-star, the actress adds, “Vivica always delivers with her Lifetime projects with her creativity and imagination. She definitely knows how to hustle and she got it going on. That is why I have enjoyed making these movies with her.”
Fox has starred in and produced more than 20 films for Lifetime’s “The Wrong” franchise as the network makes a notable shift to appeal to more diverse audiences. “They have changed substantially – especially in the last five years,” Harry says of the network. “Things are still turning for people of color. Specifically, Black actors and actresses. Seeing people who look like you in leading parts is very important.
As for the impetus for this shift, Harry adds, “There’s more diversity because more women are getting into positions of power where they can tell these stories. We’re headed in the right direction but we can always do more. Lifetime has changed the schedule.”
The Wrong Cheer Captain airs Sunday, August 29th at 8pm ET/PT on Lifetime.