GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — She was born in a mud hut in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On Tuesday, Graci Harkema’s memoir — “Rising From a Mud Hut to the Boardroom and Back Again,” will hit the shelves nationwide.  

“It’s about my journey being born in a mud hut in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, being adopted, moving to the United States, and working my way up in business,” said Harkema.  

Her birth mom was young and malnourished when she gave birth to Harkema in a small village in the Congo.

“I wasn’t expected to live. I had a very, very small life expectancy and my biological mother did as well. She was near death when she gave birth to me,” said Harkema.  

Harkema was adopted by a West Michigan family who was in the Congo on a mission trip. Eventually, they returned to West Michigan with Harkema once their mission was done. 

Because of her birth mother’s health at the time of her birth, Harkema had always thought her mom had died. There was no indication that wasn’t the case.  

Nearly eight years ago, Harkema discovered her birth mom was still alive and living in the same small village in the Congo.  

“Seven and a half years ago, I flew to the Congo with my adoptive parents to meet my biological mother for the first time,” said Harkema.  

The trip started her journey to write her book.  

“I’ve waited for this day for so long it doesn’t feel real. I am excited to be able to have the book out there in the world. This is a book that I wished that I had, had growing up,” Harkema said.  

The book is about her story and how her identity has taken shape since the experience of meeting her birth mother. It is also about our journey to find belonging, as well as diving into her career in diversity, equity and inclusion.  

“I started in diversity, equity and inclusion nearly 10 years ago. From when I started writing the book until now there were many times I had to rewrite sections to be more relevant to what we’re seeing in the workplace, especially post Geroge Floyd’s murder,” said Harkema. “I think that rocked us from a national and global perspective in terms of putting in more practices that are equitable and inclusive and so I have seen a shift. But it’s important that we continue to do this work. That we continue to have representation and that we continue to have equity so that we are empowering everyone on our team to be able to reach their potential instead of empowering the traditional ones we are used to seeing in leadership.” 

The book, seven and a half years in the making, has been a labor of love for Harkema, but she’s ready for the word to hear her story.  

“I hope this book empowers others to know they aren’t alone and also empowers others to be a voice for the people around them,” Harkema said.  

There are two events this week where you can attend a moderated discussion with Harkema.  

On Tuesday, April 18, Harkema will be at the Schuler Books, 2660 28th Street SE Grand Rapids, at 6:30 p.m.  

Harkema will also have a second event, moderated by News 8’s Tom Hillen Friday, April 21, at 7 p.m. at the Barnes and Noble at the Woodland Mall.  

Her book is available wherever books are sold.