By Greg Ellson
(April 22, 2021) Berlin native Joyce Harris-Cottman, 82, is being immortalized for a lifetime of inspiring family and friends though a new college externship to help minority students pursue a career in sports administration.
The initiative was launched by her great-grandson, Deshaun Harris, 24, CEO & co-founder of Intrusive Sports Agency, who said his great grandmother overcame significant hurdles early in life and for nearly half a century has served as a conduit for societal change.
“It’s the first year establishing the externship initiative,” he said. “Joyce Harris-Cottman encapsulates the reality that Black(s) heroes are everyday individuals that choose to continue the selflessness and sacrifice that has brought our beautiful country to this point.”
Harris said his motivations for starting the program were multi-faceted and multi-layered.
“I set out to impact others’ lives anyway possible,” he said. “Seeing and understanding generational ancestral sacrifice internally and externally has always led me to two words that I live by, and that’s ‘purpose’ and ‘obligation.’”
Harris-Cottman said the honor was humbling and that it caught her by surprise.
“I don’t know anything I’ve done special. I just helped people where I could,” she said. “Some people think I give good advice, and maybe I do, but it seems like I can’t take my own advice to stop worrying about people.”
Deshaun Harris’ father, Shaun William Harris, was raised in Berlin and graduated from Stephen Decatur High School before entering the military and later relocating to the West Coast.
“I’m the son of a military veteran, multiple business owner and community leader,” he said. “He’s the current dean of athletics at Westcliff University.”
After landing in California over a quarter century ago, Shaun Harris crossed path with, Neki, who became his wife.
“My upbringing, and my family empowering me to assist them in different spaces, continued to show me that purpose and obligation can really drive different visions or aspects of life,” he said.
Harris-Cottman grew up in Berlin until she left at age 18 to pursue family life.
“My husband and I moved to Baltimore and he was also from Berlin,” she said. “I got pregnant at 16 and didn’t finish high school.”
After suffering through family trauma, and with six kids in tow, Harris-Cottman eventually opted to return to the Eastern Shore.
“I was in an abusive relationship and was getting beat up every week,” she said. “Actually, I just woke up one day and said, ‘I’m tired of this,’ and got on the Trailways bus and came home.”
As a single mother, Harris-Cottman had no idea how she would support her children.
“I came back home and the only thing I knew how to do was housework,” she said.
Starting as a housekeeper at a resort hotel, Harris-Cottman said a trip to the unemployment office after the seasonal gig ended inspired her next move.
“I was waiting for my turn and everyone coming out of the office said, ‘They’re sending people to the chicken factory,’” she said.
Dismayed by the idea of working in a poultry processing plant, Harris-Cottman’s spirits brightened after she spied a sign suggesting a better pathway.
“There was a sign on the wall that said, ‘Do you want to be an LPN,’” she said.
Sensing a better option was at hand, Harris-Cottman quickly completed testing requirements and ventured down a new professional path.
“I was one of five people that made the cut,” she said. “I was in nursing for 26 years and have been retired now for 20 years.”
After spending roughly a decade as an LPN, Harris-Cottman again renewed academic pursuits and became a RN.
“I loved nursing,” she said. “I do have a lot of people that remember me and it’s a nice feeling [but] I can’t remember them because I can’t remember what I had for breakfast.”
Deshaun Harris said his great grandmother left an indelible mark on numerous souls over the years.
“She is a walking image of grandeur in a space that did not always openly accept people who look like her,” he said.
The family blueprint for success extended down the generations with Deshaun Harris joining his father’s nonprofit Erudition Leadership Academy in 2007 to assist student-athletes achieving high grades cover travel costs for basketball.
“Playing a role in the day-to-day operations gave me the confidence that my purpose and obligation can be consistent and constant in anything I do,” he said.
After a handful of years with the leadership academy, Deshaun Harris developed a network of collegiate basketball directors, coaches and players.
“I grew up building personal relationships with some of the brightest talents currently playing at the professional, collegiate, and grassroots levels throughout the United States,” he said. “I’ve also witnessed my younger brother [Dominick Harris] become a … top basketball … player at Gonzaga University.”
In 2018, Deshaun Harris completed undergraduate studies at the University of California San Diego and enrolled at Cal Baptist University to obtain a master’s in communication.
The following year proved eventful, as Deshaun Harris completed graduate school and received professional agent certification from the National Basketball Players Association.
“After months of diligence and studying in both, I became the youngest current NBPA Certified Agent at 22 in January 2019 and shortly after graduated … from Cal Baptist University,” he said. “That year was definitely a blessing.”
In 2020, brushing aside multiple offers from well established sports agencies, Deshaun Harris charted a different course.
“After evaluating if these companies aligned with my purpose, obligation and desire to offer change [or] impact, the short answer was no,” he said.
Having previously formed the Intrusive Sports Agency in 2017 with his fathers’ assistance, Deshaun Harris began scouting clients.
“In the spring of 2020, we welcomed an array of amazing human beings as members, with playing contracts secured in Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Australia, and North Macedonia, along with many marketing activations initiated,” he said.
In 2021, Intrusive Sports started the Joyce Harris-Cottman Externship.
“The program is designed to expose, engage, educate, and empower students by providing hands-on industry work experience and meaningful mentorship,” he said.
Deshaun Harris said the initiative was inspired by his great-grandmother’s legacy of self-determination.
“She easily could have taken a handout, but decided not only am I going to better myself, but I’m going to make sure I take care of my family and others along the way,” he said. “After a 30-year career of public service she’s still going and continues being a beacon of light for Berlin and Ocean City.”
Although quick to deflect credit, Harris-Cottman expressed gratitude for the recognition.
“I don’t see anything I do that’s different than anybody else [but] it’s always good when someone says something nice about you,” she said.
While long retired from the health care field, Harris-Cottman is still an active member at St Paul’s United Methodist Church in Berlin and a charter member of its senior “Happy Club.”
“I just like keeping in touch with people,” she said. “You never know when somebody needs someone just to say hello or how’s your day going.”