By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Louise Jones, wife of Sen. Doug Jones, (D-AL) helped kick off Women’s History Month on the Miles College campus Sunday afternoon with a conversation about women’s issues in Alabama and across the nation.
The hour-long program was moderated by Bobbie Knight, who was recently named the permanent president at the institution in Fairfield. The Women for One Alabama event, was held in Pearson Hall, and in coordination with the Doug Jones for Senate campaign.
Harris, who recently ran for Democratic U.S. president, had some words of advice for the mostly female audience in the packed room: “you are making friends that will be your sisters for life…so hold these relationships dear, hold them close.”
The Senator encouraged the young women to make choices about the people they surround themselves with and to make choices based on those who encourage them to be their best selves… people who will applaud them when they rise and laugh with them when they trip “because you will,” she said. “Choose people who will encourage you and stand by you.”
She also told them not to ask anyone’s permission to lead. “When you want to lead, you just lead,” Harris said. “Remember moments like this where you can look around an auditorium and see people who are applauding everything you do and will do, and hold on to these moments in your mind, visually and in your heart, because you will find yourself in many situations in life where you are the only one like you in a room, the only one that looks like you, the only one who has had your life experience.”
Harris added that the young women should make career decisions based on what speaks to their hearts — and follow it. When you follow the thing that makes you feel something, “you’re going to work so hard that you will then be the best and the titles and the fame will come.”
Knight asked each of the visitors to name women and change agents who had the most impact on their work.
Louise Jones said, for her, it was Lilly Ledbetter, of Alabama, who worked for a Goodyear plant in Gadsden and had a Fair Wage Act in her name. The law allows individuals who face pay discrimination to seek remedy under federal anti-discrimination laws.
For Harris, that person was her mother and Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the United States Congress.
“My mother would say to me many times, ‘Kamala you may be the first to do many things, make sure you are not the last,’” said Harris. “So, that’s how I was raised with that spirit. I was raised with a spirit where she would often say, don’t you ever let anybody tell you who you are, you tell them who you are.”
Asked one of biggest challenges facing Alabama, Louise Jones said healthcare. She pointed out that the maternal mortality rate in Alabama is twice the national rate, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Alabama has the third highest rate of maternal mortality in the United States.
This is all while we’re losing these rural hospitals, and we’ve lost 14 in the last eight years and we only have about 16 out of…about 47 have obstetric care, that’s pretty scary,” said Louise Jones.
Jones said she and her husband speak often about Medicaid expansion in Alabama that could help with the number of people that could be covered and the money needed to help with most issues.”