Thu | Nov 14, 2019

Coffee break with Chris Harper

Published:Sunday | October 20, 2019 | 12:05 AMDanik Frazer - Gleaner Writer
Stylish and ultra cool, Chris Harper caught up with the Flair on his travels, plans for the future and ideal brunch menu.
Kingston isn’t big enough for this jetsetter, but he sure is happy at home.
That rare Harper smile, like bottling lightening!
When he’s not in Washington on important missions for human rights, Harper is right at home enjoying local cafes and drinking holes.
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Jamaican Lawyer and human rights and social justice advocate, Christopher Harper, is better known for his poignant and hard-hitting views, particularly his views on youth and children’s rights in Jamaica.

However, at only 26 years of age, all work and no play would make Harper a very dull young man, so we decided to take a look at the man behind the advocacy, to learn more about how he keeps himself passionate about his work.

Fresh from his Chevening journey at the Queen Mary University of London, England, Harper was happy to share his experiences about living overseas, travelling around, and the initial culture shock (and reverse culture shock) he experienced, as well as his take on the perfect brunch party hosted by him.

When Outlook asked about his Chevening experience, Harper had a lot to say.

“From the degree perspective, I had the benefit of being taught by some amazing professionals. They’re now mentors to me. My classmates were just amazing people,” he said, stating something anyone who’s ever had to do group work can hope for.

On a personal level, he continued: “In terms of just being in London and what London represents – the whole diversity. That it wasn’t really ‘British’, it was more foreign. Having the accessibility to different things. The conveniences of living in a city like that. Having access to Europe was the greatest plus about the entire thing.”

It all sounded dreamy, but Harper was quick to add a caveat, one future Chevening scholars and others struck with wanderluster ought to take into consideration.

“There was a necessary adjustment. The biggest culture shock was I became hypersensitive to race. You wouldn’t think that being in à city like that, where black people were present, it would be an issue. They weren’t really represented in professional spaces as often as you’d expect. Navigating that was something ... . I would be like, ‘Did she move her back because I’m black?’ But I did get used to it after a time, and I was able to just centre myself, plus I had my diaspora connections, which gave me some reassurance.”

The access to Europe was a big plus for this cosmopolitan man when discussing his favourite place to visit. When he wasn’t busy soaking up all the academics the Queen Mary had to offer, he was country-hopping across the continent, trying to soak up as much as he possibly could. Take a look at his Instagram and you’ll find evidence of gastronomic adventures in London, making macarons in Paris (yum!), lounging in Santorini, sightseeing in Barcelona, and swimming in Marrakech. But of all these incredible locales, Harper’s favourite was Rome.

Sure, there’s the Colosseum, that old fountain and the holy city itself, but after all those other otherworldly experiences, Rome sounds like it would fall a bit flat in comparison. Not to Harper.

“I chose the countries I did so I could get a variety of experiences. And of all of them, Rome (we’re still shocked) had the most to do and the most to see compared to, say, Santorini,” where he zipped around in a rental.

“Such a small island, once you’ve been to the three main towns, that’s it.” When he put it like that, it was easy to sway us to the side of Italy which has so many gorgeous views and clearly fits into his lifestyle. But there was one place we were curious about.

“I had a traumatic experience getting to Marrakech.”

Harper cringed, and after hearing the story of being stranded in a busy airport, getting to his final destination at 1 a.m., (instead of the intended 3 p.m.,) and having his Jamaican passport almost rejected, before being forcibly separated from one of his travelling companions with drawn guns, it’s amazing he even still got to enjoy the Morrocan desserts.

Thanks to his Instagram, we got to see it all through his careful documentation, something Harper said was strategic.

“I deleted all my previous posts, which were about 600, to highlight my Chevening journey from September 2018 until now.” He explained, “I can actually remember what I was doing, feeling, and who I was with. I use it more for community now. A lot of young people will turn to me for advice and mentorship there.”

Merging his social life and work has been a seemingly easy transition. The quality is still there and maybe even a little more elevated, taking us along recently to Washington for the 37th Meeting of the Council of Human and Social Development.

Here at home, though, when he’s not doing his social justice warrior engagements online and in real life, you can oftentimes catch him having drinks with friends at TGI, to unwind after a full day. On the weekends, he travels his island and visits favourite rustic spots. And when he’s not on the move, he’s happily in the kitchen.

“I did food photography, and I like to cook things I know I never made before and challenge myself.”

Harper challenged us with the concept of this Israeli breakfast called a shakshuka, which is an egg cracked and poached in a bubbling vegetarian stew. After announcing that he’s planning to return to the kitchen – we’re sure to the pleasure of his adoring Instagram followers – we asked him to plan the perfect brunch.

“I’d start with oats. I’ve learned that your toppings make a world of a difference. Maple syrup, blueberries, strawberries, then a pulled pork sandwich, and dessert would be some sort of crepe.”

Harper knows his purpose and clearly puts his all into it, remarking as a toddler, to the amusement of his parents, that he’d someday be a household name – and he’s more than well on his way to achieving that lifelong goal.

“I want to be someone who can actually make a difference and show that you can have fun doing it. I was never that student who was always in the library beating books. I want to show you it can be done. I try to encourage young lawyers now to have a full experience and not sacrifice a part of themselves for a degree. I want to show that you can live a full life.”