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Kamala Harris Carries Past and Present into America’s Future

Patti Singer

A youngster holds a sign for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris during a celebration at the Liberty Pole in downtown Rochester on Nov. 7. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

In 25 years, when Shakirah Gittens remembers Kamala Harris being for the first time called the vice-president elect of the United States, she wants to look back on a truly watershed moment.

“I would hope it would mean Black women are considered as worthy professionals, at the same caliber as everyone else,” said the 30-year-old account executive who lives in the Bronx.

“I hope that little Black and brown girls growing up see this and they know not to let anyone tell them any different,” she said with emotion. “That they are just as good and just as qualified as any other candidate.”
Gittens said that message is delivered repeatedly from elder to youth.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. File photo

“To actually see it is a different story,” she said. “When you’re raising a child, you can’t tell the child what to do or how to be. They follow examples. That’s really what’s so big about Kamala Harris. Being that example for all Black women to come.”

Harris embodies Black women who went before her.

Shortly after the election was called for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, an image by artist Bria Geller went viral. It shows a striding Harris casting a shadow of activist Ruby Bridges depicted as a child.

“Whenever she comes to the podium, she makes sure that folk understand the cloud of witnesses who are in fact standing in her shadow,” said Dr. Arlette Miller Smith, who holds a doctorate in American Studies with an emphasis on African American women.

“Those figures are women like Ruby Bridges, Ida B. Wells,” said Dr. Arlette, as she was known to her students at St. John Fisher College, where she retired as an associate professor of English and director of African American Studies. “She acknowledges them.”

Harris honors the historically Black colleges and universities and her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, of which Miller Smith is a member. The vice president-elect also honors the women who helped raise her and were role models unheralded outside their own families.

Dr. Arlette Miller Smith in a shirt that plays off the theme of ‘stroll to the polls.” She added “by any means necessary” and used the pink and green colors of Alpha Kappa Alpha for the lettering. Provided photo

“There is nothing that she could do that would give us more pride, more presence than the fact that she acknowledges that background,” said Dr. Arlette, who is writing the foreword to “The Harris Letters: Put the Wind Beneath Her Wings.” The book is edited by Peggy Brooks-Bertram, a historian in Buffalo, and seeks letters from women around the world that express their visions for America and to support Harris.

Dr. Arlette said that watching Harris reminded her of the mid-1960s, when she was a teenager in Mississippi and went to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Kamala’s moment on the stage in terms of justice and victory and hopefully some element of peace, it is priceless.”

She said that Harris was born for this time. “I like to think of it as destiny. … What draws particularly African American women to her is — here is this brown beauty who is just very present, very calm and conscious of this moment and how in fact she is going to reimagine it.”

Gittens said she hoped a Biden-Harris administration gives America a display of unity between a white male and Black female working together to achieve a common goal.

She said Black women have a trifold experience in this nation – being American, being Black and being female. “Hopefully we can cut that down into maybe a bifold experience with her in office.”