Kamala Harris Is Having a Moment…So Are HBCUs
On Tuesday evening, my text messages were flooded by friends and family members sending “IT’S KHIVE,” “PERIOD,” and “Ayyyeee.” After the first few reactions inundated my phone, I did what any Gen Zer does when they need to verify news — I checked Twitter.
I couldn’t believe it was true. For the first time in history, a Black woman was nominated for vice president on a major party ticket, and it was Senator Kamala Harris.
Pride and shock overcame me as I leapt out of my seat and let out a sharp squeal. The adrenaline kept me pacing around the room and sharing my thrill via group messages and FaceTime. While there are still three months until the general election, this felt like we had a victory.
I first came to admire Harris in 2016 as she ran to become the first African-American to represent California in the U.S. Senate. Back then, I was a senior in high school, researching colleges as I struggled to find the right fit. I knew I wanted to pursue a degree in political science because I felt a magnetism to serve and a drive to lead, but I had never even heard of anyone who looked like me who was pursuing that goal. Then, as I began to dive into the legacy of Howard University, I found her picture. It was by coincidence that I stumbled across Harris’ Wikipedia page. It felt like fate to find an intelligent, charismatic, powerful Black woman creating a path that I could envision for myself.
I began attending Howard University in 2017, quickly realizing that choosing a historically Black college was the best decision I had ever made. The same political science department that would enlighten me to the rich history and nuances of Black political power in America gave a future vice-presidential nominee her foundation. What makes Harris’ undergraduate degree so significant boils down to the respect given to HBCUs. Some critics have reduced HBCUs to “party schools” that don’t prepare students for the “real world.” While those claims ignore the long-standing legacy of Black excellence produced by these institutions, having a proud Howard alumna on a presidential ticket tells the world that HBCUs are not to be ignored.
The HBCU community is anything but a monolith, though, and with our diversity of background comes diversity of political thought. I have many friends who are Black women and have harsh judgments for Harris’ politics. Some feel caught at a crossroads between defending her as a person and pressuring her as a politician. But we all feel the emotional complexity of this moment where Breonna Taylor was murdered in her home mere months before, and now we see an ambitious Black woman rise to the national leadership she has earned. Black women feel both hope and anxiety, knowing that one of us has the opportunity to get real justice for Taylor and others, even though Harris will likely face the nastiest attacks a person could endure. We know that we are the backbone of the Democratic party, and for the first time, we’re in the front.
Harris’ vice-presidential nomination makes history for the country, but it swells something deeper inside me. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I, as a young Black woman, could have such a close connection with someone who might become the most powerful woman in this country. When I look at her, I see me at nine years old, crying in my parents’ bed because I lost my fifth-grade student council election and then ran again and again until I finally won. I see the past where Shirley Chisholm, the first Black congresswoman, sat alone in the Congressional cafeteria and turned her courage into a presidential run. And now I look to a future with Harris as vice president of the United States of America. That’s encouragement that one day someone like me can help lead the political change that Black women have been fighting for since the very beginning.