Let the Cheer star mat-talk you into making the best of a bad situation.

Morgan Noll
August 24, 2020
Jennifer Houchens

Jerry Harris could give a master class on infectious positivity. A fan-favorite from Netflix's six-part docuseries Cheer, Harris, 20, is known for being the king of "mat talk," the motivational speak that Navarro cheerleaders yell out to encourage each other during practice. Since the series dropped in January of this year, Harris has been spreading his "You got this!" energy all around, mat-talking Idina Menzel on the Oscars red carpet, Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on the Today Show, and even some lucky strangers on their way to work. On and off the mat, he's a natural hypeman—and now, in quarantine, Harris is using his positivity to offer advice to those struggling with their mental health.

"I feel like a lot of us, we start our days with something that we worry about or stress about and we shouldn't start our days like that," Harris tells HelloGiggles over Zoom in August. "We should start our days with something that makes us feel good and that brings us joy."

For the athlete, that's an "attitude of gratitude" journal. "I write down five things that I'm very grateful for. They can be different each day or each week, or they can be the same for days and weeks," Harris explains.

Another key to staying positive? Choosing the people in your life wisely. Though it's likely Harris could easily make a friend in anyone (and it's safe to say that many Cheer fans would gladly take on the role), he says he values quality over quantity. "I try to keep my circle small and keep it filled with my real friends who really are there for me," he says.

Of course, some of those people are his fellow Navarro Cheer teammates, including YouTube star Gabi Butler, his inseparable bestie La’Darius Marshall, and his "little," James Thomas. With the 2020 Daytona competition canceled due to the pandemic, the team lost their chance to win another national championship this year, but Harris says they've all still been keeping up with each other and staying connected over group chats during quarantine. And from the sound of it, there's a lot of virtual mat talk going on.

"We share how much we love each other," Harris says. "We share how proud we are of each other for the new things that are happening. We're all rooting each other on and being a good support system, no matter what."

Clearly, Harris' commitment to positivity has no limits. This summer, he teamed up with Cheerios for a motivational morning Mat Talk Series, hosted on his Instagram stories. Each Tuesday morning from August 11th to September 1st, Harris is sharing different ways to motivate people to tackle the day with good energy, something that he feels is especially needed right now.

Cheerios, which recently donated $1.3 million to No Kid Hungry, recruited Harris to help spread the word to end childhood hunger—an issue he holds especially close to heart. "Growing up, I had food insecurity, where I wouldn't know where my next meal would be or what I would be having for dinner," he explains. "It doesn't make me feel good knowing that other kids, other families out there, are experiencing the same thing."

Since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic started, causing many schools to close early and now have difficulty reopening, children who rely on school-provided meals are in even more vulnerable positions. From his own experience, Harris knows that stigma and shame can prevent people from talking about the issue of food insecurity. "Nobody really wants to bring up that side or bring up what happened to them while they were growing up," he says, "But it's something that needs to be talked about."

By using his platform to help spread the word, Harris hopes he can inspire people to take action to end childhood hunger in whatever ways they can. "I want to get across to every single person that, if they're in a position where they can help the next person, I encourage them to do so, because helping people makes you feel better at the end of the day," he says. "A good deed goes a long way."

Harris knows, of course, that amidst the ongoing pandemic, continued fight against systemic racism, and the stress of the upcoming election, it can be hard to keep an optimistic outlook. But for anyone feeling down, he has some more valuable advice: "Take it day by day...stay focused on what is good in this world."

At the moment, Harris is heeding his own advice. Earlier this year, he graduated from Navarro College with an Associate's Degree in science, and he says he's considering going back for a Bachelor's in business—which could also mean a return to the mat (and, wishful thinking, maybe even a Cheer Season 2). Unfortunately, so much is up in the air when it comes to the future for Harris, just like for everyone else. No matter what he ends up doing, though, he notes that he'll be ready to hit the ground running post-quarantine and say goodbye to all his excess free time.

"I'm glad to give it up because I've had way too much," he says. "I like to be busy. I like to be always doing something, it keeps me active, keeps me out of getting into trouble, of course, and the more busy I am the better."

For now, however, Harris is choosing to stay in the present—and, of course, stay positive.