Editor’s note: Each Q&A in the Influential Women enewsletter will feature a woman from the region who’s influential, a rising face in her industry or doing interesting work. Submit tips on potential Q&A subjects to tgortsema at grbj dot com.
Graci Harkema was born in a mud hut in the Congo, Africa.
She was miraculously healed from several diseases.
Harkema now has “the most amazing career” at TEKsystems, impacting the lives of others and providing them with opportunities that they wouldn’t have otherwise had.
Biggest career break?
My biggest career break was being promoted into my current role at TEKsystems. My career has allowed me to be virtually debt free and financially stable. Five years ago, I was struggling to the point where I couldn’t go to the bathroom in my own place, because I couldn’t afford to buy toilet paper. The only time I would have a meal was when it was given to me. I believed that hard work would pay off — no matter what it took. I worked many long hours, including evenings and weekends. Arriving to where I am now represents overcoming adversity, keeping my eye on the prize and that there are no limits for achieving your goals.
My proudest moment was traveling to the Congo with my parents in November 2015 to meet my biological mother for the first time. My co-workers, parents and I were able to provide her the best malaria treatment available, which helped save her life.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
“Keep your eye on the prize.” -my mom
How did you make your first dollar?
I started my own window-washing business when I was 16. However, according to the IRS, I made my first dollar as a sales associate at The Gap when I was 18.
My United States Certificate of Naturalization, which I obtained in 2010
To be a motivational speaker and help inspire others
If I were president for a day, I would . . . ?
Make the means of U.S. citizenship more streamlined and obtainable
Last book you’ve read?
“The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman
Last thing you Googled?
“whoosa” . . . it was one of those moments
Your worst habit?
Thinking I have more time than I do when I have to be somewhere
To unwind, I like to . . . ?
Spend time with a close friend, with a glass of red in my hand
I would love to go to South Africa to learn the history and culture, tour wineries and enjoy a safari.
Hamburgers on the grill
Person you most admire?
My biological mother, Mari Jani. She was deathly ill when she gave birth to me. She wanted me to have care and knew that I wouldn’t have a chance at life if she kept me. When I was a week old and only weighed three pounds, she walked through the mountains and brought me to an orphanage. I was adopted by missionaries two hours later. She gave me up in order to give me life.