By Brandon Tensley and Jasmine Wright, CNN
(CNN Nov. 7th 2020) Kamala Harris, who became America’s first female, first Black and first South Asian vice president-elect, represents a new face of political power after an election all about who wields power and how they use it.
The California senator’s history making win also represents the millions of women in the demographics -- often overlooked, historically underrepresented and systematically ignored -- who are now the recipients of that new power for the first time in the country’s 200-plus-year history.
Harris was born in Oakland, California, in 1964, to parents who raised her in a bassinet of civil rights activism. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, an Indian immigrant, was a breast cancer researcher; she died of cancer in 2009. Harris’ father, Donald, is a Jamaican American professor of economics. On the campaign trail, the vice president-elect often talked about how her activist parents would push her in her stroller at civil rights marches. The couple divorced in 1972.
Harris grew up in the Bay Area but took frequent trips to India to visit extended family. At 12, she and her sister, Maya, moved with their mother to majority-White Montréal, where Gopalan Harris had secured a teaching post at McGill University as well as a research position at the Jewish General Hospital.
While campaigning, Harris frequently spoke about her closeness to her mother
“My mother, she raised my sister and me, and she was tough,” Harris would say. “Our mother was all of 5 feet tall, but if you ever met her, you would’ve thought she was 10 feet tall.”
After graduating from Howard in 1986 for her undergraduate degree and from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in 1989, Harris passed the bar the following year and joined the Alameda County prosecutor’s office as an assistant district attorney. From there, she began
her political ascent.
In 2003, Harris won her first race for San Francisco district attorney,
becoming the first Black woman to hold such an office in California. In 2010, she
became the first Black woman elected as California attorney general, and in
2016, she became only the second Black woman ever elected as a US senator.
She often spoke of her barrier-breaking life during her presidential primary
campaign, saying that she understood how being the first requires voters to
“see what can be unburdened by what has been.”
Harris is a lot of things beyond her gender and her race, of course. But her mere presence brings so much with it -- so much to those, of all ages, who see themselves in her.
As she waited for Harris to take the stage at a rally in Asheville, North Carolina, in October, Elinor Earl, 77, said she never thought that she’d see a Black woman like herself rise through the ranks as Harris has.
“Not at my age,” Earl told CNN. “It’s wonderful to see her. I wouldn’t have missed it for nothing in the world.”
Harris isn’t shy about highlighting her upbringing or her influences, as was clear through her shoutouts to AKAs and HBCUs during her DNC speech.
“Family is my beloved Alpha Kappa Alpha, our Divine Nine, and my HBCU brothers and sisters,” she said.
Harris was referring to the nickname for America’s nine historically Black fraternities and sororities, and nodding to the fact that she was the first graduate of a historically Black college or university to be selected as a major party’s candidate’s running mate.