When Gregg Harris packs his suitcase for work he's sure not to
forget his face-painting kit, limbo sticks and party music. The bag
barely zips without a Nerf ball popping out. After costuming
himself in colorful garbs and face-paint, he transforms into Yogo.
He's the self-proclaimed "clown who likes to get down and is
sometimes profound," and is on a mission to entertain and encourage
the young and old across Chicagoland.
His mission, however, starts at home. He's a husband and dad of
six. "All my kids know that there is always a message in (my
act)-that's why they get a little bored with me," Harris says. His
three sons (Akia, Ian and Ori) and three daughters (Yumiko, Asha
and Erica), who range from age 10 to 27, have all partnered with
him, playing characters, painting faces, juggling or practicing
other crafts. Yet Harris and his wife have probably proven
themselves to be the most skillful jugglers of the family in
handling the daily challenges of raising six kids, each with a
niche set of talents and interests. All of the Harris children were
home-schooled through at least early childhood by their mom,
Jackie. The type of school they attended afterward was up to them,
as long as they kept their grades up.
The oldest sibling, Akia, is now a dad himself who paints and
designs everything from murals to invitations. Yumiko, the oldest
girl in the bunch, paints faces and body art and just received a
B.A. in contemporary dance. The second youngest, Ian, can juggle
and unicycle, but prefers the business side of entertainment.
"They're all independent contractors," Harris says. "I'd love
for it to be a family business, but it's not a family business in
the sense that they have to work. They work when they want to work,
and when they want to work, they get paid and … pay the bills for
what they want to buy."
Although Yogo has provided most of the bread and butter for the
Harris family, he's not always welcomed with open arms by the four
kids who still live at home. "Sometimes you do things as a joke and
they say, 'Dad, that's not funny.' You have to learn how to keep it
balanced. I'm trying to. It's hard sometimes because I love what I
do and I do it at home, too."
The youngest child, Ori, describes Harris as a "really cool
dad," but isn't always in the mood for Yogo and his antics.
Jackie describes her kids as independent and self-driven. "If
they want to do something they're just going to do it." Perhaps
it's a trait they've picked up from their dad. He was one of six
kids himself and worked in modeling, acting and even paper delivery
to relieve some of the burden on his parents.
"I've always been an entrepreneur from childhood," Harris says.
"I used to go to people's homes and get their glass bottles and
take them to the store and earn money."
As an adult, he remained driven but couldn't stop clowning
around. He eventually became bored with managing his own cleaning
and moving company. It just made sense to combine his business
savvy with his love for entertaining. A serendipitous encounter
with a clown in 1991 spawned the idea for Yogo and 18 years later,
he's still clowning at age 51.
Many lessons he has learned from clowning have spilled over into
his parenting. While he doesn't push his kids into the business
like a stage dad, he does hope to supply them with a few universal
skills to pull out at any point in their lives, whether it's for an
entertainment career or just to make a little money on the side.
This is a message he hopes to leave with other families through his
program, Stop Clowning, which teaches kids life skills and
entrepreneurship through the art of clowning. He helps kids create
characters to perform at kid- and family-friendly events to earn
money and become more independent or just help mom and dad pay for
those kid-coveted items like iPods and cell phones.
Jackie pinpoints flexibility as key. "It's different for us,
especially in the summer because the weekends aren't free," she
says. Scheduling has been the greatest challenge in how their large
family functions. When weekends become work days, play becomes work
for Gregg and his kids when they choose to help out, but that's
exactly how he wanted life to be when he created Yogo.
His unique profession in entertainment and clowning as Yogo, the
clown on the go, has helped shape his journey through fatherhood
and given him a profound message he shares with other parents:
"Enjoy your family … but leave them a legacy of creating for
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