By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times
For those in the Birmingham-metro area who know and have met Kamala Harris, it comes as no surprise that the California senator and vice-president-elect would shatter yet another glass ceiling.
U.S. Rep Terri Sewell listed a number of “firsts” achieved by Harris.
“She is first and foremost well qualified having proven herself as an effective public servant for many, many years in her role first as the first Black woman to be District Attorney of San Francisco, and the first Black woman to be elected statewide as Attorney General for the largest state in the union, and then to become the first Black woman Senator” from that state, said Sewell. “She has been breaking glass ceilings for such a long time, but more importantly showing that she’s prepared and qualified Day One when she’s in those positions by being an effective leader and an effective communicator as well as a decent person.”
As president-elect Joe Biden’s running mate in the 2020 election, Harris became the first woman, and first woman of color, on a winning presidential ticket.
Alabama Rep. Juandalynn Givan put Harris’ victory in historic terms especially in a year marking the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote.
“It took me back to [voting and women’s rights activists] Fannie Lou Hamer, Dorothy Height, Shirley Chisolm and all the countless other women of color who fought for us even through slavery years . . . [when] women were given the right to vote [and] for me to be a woman of color, I had to think about my ancestors also,” Givan said. “I thought about women who had to take a backseat… all of those countless number of Black people who lost their lives and we will now have someone in office who will hear the voices and the cries of Black people.”
Terri Chapman, 30, a member of the Birmingham Young Democrats and a vice-president with the Young Democrats of America, said she was pleased to Harris’s rise especially with the role Black woman have played in the Democratic Party.
“Black women are putting in the work, we [mainly] vote Democratic, we are literally the backbone of the Democratic Party and rarely do we see the benefit of all the hard work, so seeing someone like Kamala Harris in office in that position is so sweet,” said Chapman, who is also executive vice-president of the Alabama Young Democrats. “It lets me know that we’re coming. We’re already making a mark and we will continue to do so. It let’s me know that anything is possible, that I’m finally being seen. It feels like Black women are finally getting the return on their investment into the Democratic Party.”
At a fundraiser she hosted in June 2019 at her home in Mountain Brook, Linda Verin had an opportunity to meet Harris while the California Senator was then running for president.
“It’s always surprising to me that someone who is that high up, you realize that they are a real person. Besides being incredibly competent, she also had a sense of humor, she was very personable and one thing that impressed me the most about her was that she had given as much attention to people who had donated a very large amount as she did to people who gave a small amount or were even high school volunteers,” said Verin. “She spent time, she had her picture taken with them and she just seemed like a good person as well as being up to the task.”
Sewell said Harris is someone everybody can relate to. “A person who is like us,” said the Congresswoman said. “She is down to earth and humble. And at the same time just a force of nature. I also truly believe that you have to ‘see it to be it’. The fact that we will now have ascending to the vice presidency such a strong woman, a woman of color, a black woman, who’s not afraid to claim her ethnicity. She claims that as a part of who she is. She will be such a wonderful role model for all women and young girls but especially Black girls.”
‘Anything Is Possible’
The fact that Harris attended Howard University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc., the nation’s first sorority created by and for Black women on the campus of Howard in Washington, D.C. in 1908, also makes her close to many supporters.
State Rep. Rolanda Hollis and Harris are sorority sisters and Hollis said this week, “I’m still celebrating, I was excited, ecstatic and the work that we put in was not in vain,” she said. “I’m still rejoicing. All I had to say was skee-wee and I’m glad to have one of my sorority sisters in the White House and a person who looks like me.”
Givan, another sorority sister, said the vote for Biden-Harris was a vote for democracy. “There was a vote for decency, character, for someone to be a voice for the people, not just some people but all people,” she said.
For Birmingham City Councilor Crystal Smitherman, the win was big because vice-president elect Harris looks like her, attended a Historically Black College or University (HBC) just like her, is an attorney like her and is also a member of a Black Greek Letter Organization (BGLO), the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), composed of nine historically African American Greek-lettered fraternities and sororities collectively referred to as the “Divine Nine (D9)”.
“That just shows me that anything is possible,” said Smitherman, who is a graduate of Hampton University and is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. “I have somebody to look up to, especially being on the city level of politics and I just admire the way that she carries herself.”
As a member of the AKA Sorority, Birmingham City Councilor Wardine Alexander said she felt an “extreme sense of pride” having Harris elected and what it means for HBCUs as well as Black Greek Letter Organizations, but even more so what it means for the country.
“I was just happy to see that we would see change in government,” Alexander said. “I was excited thinking about how [Biden-Harris] would unify the country . . . it seems unification is going to be a strong part of their tenure and time in the White House. They want to bring this country back together.”