UHD’s Dr. Felicia Harris' 'First in the Family' Explores Cycle Breaking, Family Ties
By Mike Emery
Family and faith are often the “ties that bind.” Those ties, however, can sometimes become tightly knotted and difficult to break when relationships with siblings, parents and other relatives become strained beyond repair. Too frequently, they become impossible to loosen and what follows are frayed connections and toxic environments.
University of Houston-Downtown professor Dr. Felicia Harris is all too familiar with difficult family dynamics and the pressures to maintain such relationships out of obligation. Her first book, “First in the Family: Biblical Truths for Cycle Breakers,” addresses how to overcome the obstacles of a challenging family relationship and the expectations placed upon us by communities and congregations.
According to Harris, UHD Associate Professor of Communication Studies, the book focuses on three I’s when it comes to family: ideals, influence and imperfection.
“There is a perceived concept of what a family relationship should look like,” Harris said. “We learn this through culture, the church and so many other sources. The book offers another perspective and essentially says that if your family experiences do not align with what is traditionally expected, that’s ok! You can choose what you want your family’s story to be whether that’s with the family you were born into or perhaps one you create yourself.”
In the book, Harris interweaves stories from the Bible. That particular book, she said, is often used to bring families together. Its stories, however, often illustrate families’ vast imperfections.
“Look at Adam and Eve,” she said. “The very first family has its problems right out of the gate, and their sons, Cain and Abel, are the very model for a dysfunctional family.”
The church can paint a picture of what a family should look like, and that image can be highly unrealistic, Harris said. Employing scripture throughout “First in the Family” to depict the realities surrounding parents, spouses and siblings complements her own biographical details surrounding her family background.
“First in the Family” ultimately is focused on letting readers know that there is no model family, Harris said. It also serves as a reminder that one can step away from their relatives and emerge as a stronger individual … and despite facing criticism for not embracing a traditional family role, one can find a sense of peace as a cycle breaker (or someone from a turbulent or imperfect family who recognizes their past and works to create a better future for themselves).
“More people are having conversations about what it means to be a cycle breaker and being more reflective of the consequences stemming from childhood experiences,” she said. “They’re also asking what it means to be their true selves and how to be whole and healthy. This book furthers this dialogue.”
“First in the Family” was written during the pandemic following much self-reflection from Harris. After being quarantined with her son at the height of COVID-19, she recognized her own happiness as a single mother and questioned what a quarantine situation with other family members would have looked like.
Published by Leafwood Publishers, the book is available through Kindred Stories (a new Black-owned bookstore in Houston’s Third Ward), Amazon and other outlets. Reviews have commended Harris on her honesty and fresh approach to a complex topic.
“Every once in a while, a book comes along that reveals things you didn't even know were hidden. With the skill of a surgeon, Harris extracts brokenness and brings hope. When it comes to family heartache, the typical response is to ignore or excuse, but this book invites us to another option. . . to get free. A must-read for anyone serious about moving from pain to possibility,” wrote Gari Meacham, President and CEO of nonprofit The Vine Uganda, and author of Spirit Hunger, Watershed Moments, Truly Fed, and Be Free.
Presently, Harris is hosting talks with book clubs and other groups about her book and the subject of cycle breaking. She hopes that this book not only supports those needing a new perspective on family relationships but eases the pressures placed upon them by peers within their spiritual circles.
“This is very much a ‘justice’ conversation,” she said. “Christianity and the Bible are used in ways that are not in alignment with the true spirit of fellowship and compassion. This book is how I am approaching these topics from a justice perspective … coming in and questioning how the concept of family is viewed by Christians and what a true happy, healthy unit really looks like.”
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.