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Dr. Jennifer Harper: Balancing Dual Careers

January 2016

jharpDr. Jennifer Harper, C’75, has been balancing two demanding careers as a medical doctor and an actress long before ADW existed. Most recently, she’s been the on-screen mother to Kelly, one of the three main female characters on the TV One comedy "Born Again Virgin." Dr. Harper explains that her dual careers reflect the interdisciplinary values embodied by Spelman, as well as by her parents, who were both school principals.

“My parents thought very much interdisciplinary,” she said, “but they called it a different word; it was being well-rounded, and the most important part of getting an education was to make sure you were well-rounded.”

That well-roundedness was very much a part of Dr. Harper’s Spelman experience. “I would go and start a chemistry experiment and run across the yard to Read Hall and do a ballet class,” she recalled.

“I always had food to nourish me in whatever my interests were and it’s funny because I’m still doing that. I’m an actor who lives in Atlanta. I trained in London at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art just to get the Shakespeare under my belt, and I did that after my medical training.”

Instead of the obstetrician/gynecology track she did in her residency at Emory University School of Medicine, the Morehouse School of Medicine graduate practices occupational medicine and cares for male and female inmates at a correctional facility, in addition to other medical duties. She’s even landed roles in which art and real life collide. From 1990 to 1994, she played Dr. Winona Day in the television version of "In the Heat of the Night," based on the film about a Black police detective working in a southern town with a white police chief who was not keen on the changing racial climate.

This article by Ronda Racha Penrice originally appeared in the 2016 winter edition of the Spelman Messenger.

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