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Howard U. Grads In Birmingham Elated With Rise of Alum Kamala Harris

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Courtney Howard, a 2015 graduate of Howard University, lives in Birmingham and attended the same HBCU as Kamala Harris. (Marvin Gentry Photo, For The Birmingham Times)
By Sydney Melson
The Birmingham Times

The historic nomination of Kamala Harris as a candidate for vice president of the United States couldn’t have come at a better time, said Courtney Howard, a graduate of Howard University, the same Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Harris attended.

Howard, a Samford University Cumberland School of Law student who lives in Birmingham, described Harris’s nomination as momentous for people of color across the nation, especially during a pivotal time of unrest related to Civil Rights and social injustice issues.

“Howard University is truly the essence of Black excellence, and this nomination proves that,” said Howard, who earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and economics from the venerable HBCU in 2015. “As a fellow alum, I can vouch that at Howard University, you come as a leader and leave as a world changer!”

In August, Harris, 55, a U.S. Senator, accepted the Democratic nomination for vice president, making history as the first Black woman and Asian-American on a major U.S. presidential ticket, joining former vice president and current presidential nominee Joe Biden.

During the Democratic National Convention, when she accepted the nomination, Harris famously said, “Family is my beloved Alpha Kappa Alpha [Sorority Inc. (AKA)], our Divine Nine [historically Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLOs)], and my HBCU brothers and sisters.”

Harris graduated from Howard University in 1986 with a degree in political science and economics, and HBCU graduates around the globe expressed pride and joy for their fellow alumna—none more than in the Birmingham area.

“The Mecca”

Howard said the Washington, D.C.-based university founded in 1867 is called “The Mecca” and is one of the most well-known HBCUs in the nation. Among the school’s graduates are the late Elijah Cummings, U.S. Congressman from Maryland; Thurgood Marshall, the first Black U.S. Supreme Court Justice; Kwame Ture, then known as Stokely Carmichael,, a leading Civil Rights activist who coined the phrase “Black Power”; and Chadwick Boseman, a renowned actor who portrayed historical figures, such as superstar performer James Brown and baseball great Jackie Robinson, and received acclaim for his role as the Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero Black Panther.

Ryan Walker, a Birmingham, Alabama, resident and 2017 Howard University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, said he was ecstatic when he heard that Harris had been nominated.

“I think that it’s amazing to see Black women lead,” he said. “She’s a Christian influence, and she’s all about Black women empowerment.”

Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick called Harris’s nomination, “an extraordinary moment in the history of America and of Howard University.” In his statement, he said also it was a “milestone opportunity for our democracy to acknowledge the leadership Black women have always exhibited but has too often been ignored. Let’s pause and take a collective breath that has been denied to so many.”

Miles College President Bobbie Knight said Harris has been a proud and vocal HBCU alum and will be a vocal advocate “for all of our beloved institutions.”

“I see the nomination of Sen. Harris as that moment in time when all Black and brown girls in America can envision themselves reaching higher than their dreams and aspirations have taken them before,” Knight added.

Harris has always represented her alma mater through her work as a lawyer and politician, but her selection as a vice presidential nominee places Howard University on a higher level, said Walker, who is an algebra professor at Lawson State Community College.

“It truly depicts what the school can do for you, both in education and in shaping the minds of people who want to do well for their community,” he said.

Black Excellence

Catherine Marable, a Homewood, Alabama, resident who earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Howard University in 2010, said Harris’s nomination puts a spotlight on Black professionals, specifically HBCU-educated Black women.

“It’s an opportunity for the world, not just the country, to see the excellence produced through Howard University,” she said, noting that the school teaches students that success is limitless—and Harris listened.

“Her impressive career shows that she not only listened to the ideals Howard imparts on students but also truly took on the oath and embodied those words,” Marable said.

Harris’s success proves that graduates not only from Howard but from all HBCUs are capable of greatness.

“We are intelligent beyond society’s belief, and we produce leaders and change agents that America needs now more than ever,” said Marable, who works for the U.S. Department of Justice. “Oftentimes, when HBCUs have been mentioned [in mainstream media] it was in regard to our award-winning bands or sports. … Given recent social injustices in our country and [Harris’s] very intentional credit to her HBCU experience, the level of representation is shifting.”

Harris as the vice presidential nominee means great things for HBCUs across the nation, Marable added: “She can show America that an HBCU education needs no further validation or convincing, that we deserve the same respect as our non-HBCU counterparts.”

Marietta Wicks, a 1993 Howard University graduate with a master’s degree in computer science, said Harris’s nomination energized her as a Black woman.

“After hearing that she was nominated, I’ve taken time to evaluate my strengths to be sure I’m utilizing the gifts, tools, and talents that God has afforded me, so I continue to advance in my career while also mentoring others to advance in their careers,” she said.

Wicks, an insurance agent with State Farm, said the vice-presidential nomination was a confirmation that Howard University “gives us confidence that there is no limit to what we can achieve,” she said.

HBCUs as a whole instill a sense of pride in its students, and “[Harris’s nomination] just further confirms why I attended an HBCU, “Wicks said. “I’m glad that I did.”

Wicks and Harris are also members of AKA, which is yet another source of pride not only for members of the sorority but for the eight other historically Black fraternities and sororities of the Divine Nine BGLOs that make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council.

“When I see [Harris], I see me,” Wicks said. “The bond we have in AKA is strong, but it’s also about lifting others up and serving in the community. I’ll say the Divine Nine also have an opportunity to lift our platform for those who are not aware.”