MLK Salute

Let’s make this personal. Joining us this year is a panel of Houstonians who will share their stories and answer the question:

What is the Impact of Dr. MLK and influence on your life?

Moderator: US District Judge Vanessa Diane Gilmore, Southern District of Texas

Paula McCann Harris, Director Global Stewardship, Schlumberger

James E. Harris, CDP, H-E-B, Director, Diversity & Inclusion and Supplier Diversity


5430 Westheimer Ct.
Houston, TX 77056
11:30 a.m. - 1:00 pm.

Judge Vanessa D. GilmoreUnited States District Court Judge

Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore is a judge on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. In 1994 when she was sworn in, she was the youngest sitting federal judge in the nation and the first University of Houston Law Center alum to serve on the federal bench. She was born in St. Albans, New York and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland. She was the youngest member of her freshman class at her alma mater, Hampton University in Virginia. Gilmore decided to undertake a career in law after she represented herself and won a minor civil lawsuit. She graduated from the UH Law Center in 1981.

In 1982, Gilmore began a 13-year tenure at Houston law firm Vickery, Kilbride, Gilmore and Vickery where she specialized in civil litigation. Gilmore also became an active member of the Houston civic community, serving on the boards of a number of civic and charitable organizations including a term as president of the YWCA of Houston. She also became involved in the Texas political arena while serving as counsel and teacher in the area of election law.

Her civic activities outside of the courtroom brought her to the attention of Governor Ann Richards who in 1991 appointed Gilmore to the Texas Department of Commerce Policy Board, where she also served as chairperson from 1992 to 1994. Her appointment to that board made Judge Gilmore the first African-American to serve on this board responsible for increasing business, promoting tourism, and developing job training in Texas. In 1993, she also served as chairperson of Texans for NAFTA. In this capacity, she worked regularly with diplomatic leaders, including the President of Mexico, to increase U.S. trade opportunities. Judge Gilmore was nominated to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 1994.

Judge Gilmore is the co-author of "A Boy Named Rocky", a book for children of incarcerated parents, and is a frequent speaker on issues related to these children and their families. She has worked on initiatives to help these families with access to resources for their children, including the development of a legal clinic at Texas Southern University. Gilmore is the author of three other books including "Saving the Dream" a fiction novel that Gilmore hopes will encourage other families and single people to pursue their own dreams of parenting through adoption. She is the recipient of numerous civic awards for community service. She spent seventeen years on the board of trustees of Hampton University and has recently completed terms on the board of trustees of the River Oaks Baptist School, and the board of First Tee of Greater Houston. She currently serves on the boards of Texas Children’s Hospital and the DePelchin Children’s Center.

Paula McCann Harris, Director Global Stewardship, Schlumberger

A 31-year career veteran in the energy industry, having worked as a Field Engineer, Sales Engineer, Global Sales Training Manager, Global Project Manager and now in Global Stewardship. Traveling globally to develop business opportunities, she stays committed to decreasing the environmental impact in the communities in which they work while increasing value and revenues through service and technology.

     Paula Harris has enjoyed a career in the energy industry working in various capacities with oilfield service giant, Schlumberger. Harris began as a Field Engineer managing operations on offshore rigs throughout the Gulf of Mexico. After years in operations and operation management, she worked as a Sales Engineer and North American Recruiting Manager. Her global positions include Global Sales Training Manager, Global Project Manager and currently, Director of Global Stewardship. Harris has had the opportunity to develop business opportunities and teams throughout Europe, Africa, Russia, China, South America, and Australia. In her current position, she manages Schlumberger’s assets and teams to ensure that the advanced technologies they offer customers are helping them to decrease their environmental impact while optimizing the recovery of hydrocarbons and the impact on the communities they work in. Paula’s global career has focused on helping her teams and the company increase value and revenue through service and technology. 

     Harris has been appointed to the Space Center Houston Board, Menil Development, and the Texas Energy Planning Council to which she was state-appointed by Governor Rick Perry. She holds memberships to the Society of Petroleum Engineers, National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, Executive Leadership Council, and American Leadership Forum. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Petroleum Club of Houston. 

     Harris was elected to the Houston Independent School District Board of Education in 2007. She was an integral part of developing theories of action and developing and enforcing policy, instrumental in the 2008 superintendent search, and served on the finance committee to help develop and manage the districts $1.6- billion-dollar budget. Her emphasis was raising the academic achievement of the 215,000 children in the district and providing policy to increase the output of the 25,000 employees. Paula served as board president and the district was recognised twice by the White House under her leadership.

     Harris is the author of 2 books, “For Sister: The Guide for Professional Black Women,” which helps first generation professionals navigate corporate America, and “ When I Grow Up I Want to be an Engineer,” a children’s book focused on introducing girls and minorities to careers in Engineering. The latter has been distributed to over 100,000 children and organizations and has been translated into 4 languages.

     Paula is a graduate of Texas A&M University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Petroleum Engineering and a graduate of Abilene Christian University with a Masters in Instructional Leadership with a focus on Emerging Technology.

     She and her husband Dwayne are the proud parents of their daughter Madison Serelia Harris.

James Harris, Director, Diversity & Inclusion and Supplier Diversity, H-E-B

James Harris is Director, Diversity & Inclusion and Supplier Diversity with H-E-B. As director of diversity & inclusion, Harris develops policy, creates programming and sets the strategic direction for the company and the (10) regional diversity councils across the state. These councils provide tactical execution of diversity awareness programming, community engagement and event activation for their respective regions and locations. Additionally, they insure the company’s overall strategy is driven into the marketplace, which creates an emotional connection to the brand.

     Harris also leads the supplier diversity direction for the company. He creates, collaborates and connects local, small, minority, disabled and veteran business owners to the company’s procurement and sourcing process. He accomplishes this through building business networks across the state with various councils, chambers and advocacy agencies. This has led to the creation of new and differentiated goods and services for the company. In addition, it has provided job opportunities and economic impact to the communities H-E-B serves across the state.

     James serves as director and advisor on many boards and councils; Houston Minority Supplier Development Council’s: SDAC (Supplier Diversity Advisory Council) as Chair, Texas Diversity Council Board of Directors, TrueBlue Inclusion National Member, FMI(Food Marketing Institute) Supplier Diversity Committee and Liaison to FMI’s Collaborative Committee, Houston Area Urban League, Texas NAACP; Corporate Advisory Council as Chair. World Youth Foundation as advisor.

     Harris has over 30 years in the food industry and has developed a reputation for driving stakeholder satisfaction by connecting corporate business strategy to customer and community needs. Before joining H-E-B, he had a number of stops along the way to include The Minute Maid Company, Bruno’s, Meijer and Kroger. In these organizations he held director and other key leadership roles.

     Harris has received many awards and accolades, nationally and locally because of his business acumen and drive for results. He has the reputation of being approachable, charismatic, strategic thinker, advocator and passionate negotiator.

     He is married to wife, Shavonda for 30 years and has two adult children, Carmen and Brandon. They are both recent college graduates and supply chain professionals.