When Joe Biden mentioned he would pick a woman of color for his Vice President, the ramifications of this act did not hit me initially. I figured after the Obama win in 2008, and reelection in 2012, the diversity door was kicked wide open to the White House. History has shown that when Black people progress, even to the highest offices in the United States of America, systematic racism and racial ostracism will try to erase what has been accomplished. Yet when policy is made to benefit Black people, we take everyone along. In a New York Times article, Professor Brittney Cooper, said about Harris, “Her presence represents the maturation of Black women as political actors in an American nation-state that forced us to sit at the kiddie table over and over again.”
“history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own,” says Michele Obabma
While on my New York commute from Trenton, the significance of this historical nomination and win swallowed me whole. I stared out of the window looking at the land and recalled the Harriet Tubman narrative imagining her journey. Between each stop, images of my personal and more renowned Black female trailblazers, visionaries and icons ( and yes I will say their names)—Sojourner Truth, Queen Latifah, Sarah Parker Redmon, Ethel Hedgeman Lyle, Myra Hemmings, Dr. Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler, Cheryl Clarke, Kimberlee S. Williams, Alicia Heath-Toby, Saudra Toby-Heath, Audre Lorde, Judy W. Reed, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, Madame C. J. Walker, Mary McCloud Bethune-Cookman, Cora Brown, Rita Mae Brown, Sakia Gunn, Bessie Smith, Shirley Chisholm, Katherine Johnson, Althea Goodman, Serena Williams, Beverly Johnson, Lucy Diggs Stowe, Dora Lee Jones, Marsha P. Johnson, Pauli Murry, Vanessa L. Williams, Dr. Mae Jemison, Whitney Houston, Toni Morrison, Carole Simpson, Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Hillary, Karen Bass and my mother, Betty J. Dowell—flashed before my eyes like a running film reel. Now I must imprint another image into my historical archive of Black women achievers—Kamala Harris, the first woman Vice President of the United States.
Michelle Obama said, “You may not always have a comfortable life, and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once, but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have, because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.”
Despite the obstacles, Kamala and the aforementioned women honed the keys of strength, courage, and hope that would be needed to break the padlocks of prejudice, gender bias, racism, homophobia, classism, and misogyny to dream past society’s predetermined reality for them.
Just like Kamala, my mother, Betty J. Dowell, understood the importance of legacy and made sure my sister and I learned our history—not the bland US history void of any otherness taught in our private school during the 1970s. My mother enlightened us with a wealth of her personal narratives about being Black and female, raised in the segregated south supplemented with additional black history knowledge gleaned from reading tattered books she’d amassed doing research and writing my father’s college papers at St. Louis University.
My mom was a single parent raising two daughters on her own. After her divorce, she worked three jobs and put herself through college to ensure my sister and I had the foundation needed for a chance at better economic and educational achievements. Mom vehemently stressed the importance of having an education and enrolled us in private Catholic school. She also knew that the city life was no place to be a single mother, so she relocated us from St. Louis to the predominately White suburb of Ferguson, Missouri.
Janet Mock said, “I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act.” I am the woman I am today because of my mother’s willingness to share her experiences, sacrifices and unwavering work ethic. Kamala, too, acknowledged the importance of her multicultural upbringing by an Indian mother and Jamaican father, her education at Howard University (a Historically Black College and University) and the influence of her often unacknowledged predecessors on the largest political stage giving relevance to the value of diverse contributions to the fabric of America.
I examined my list of gamechangers and wondered what it would be like to walk in their shoes and envisioned all that they must have endured. I pondered what brought them to that pivotal ah-ha moment in their lives when they decided settling for mediocrity would not be an option.
My ah-ha moment came because I was tired of being a passive participant in society instead of an active one. Shirley Chisholm said, “When I die, I want to be remembered as a woman who lived in the 20th Century and who dared to be a catalyst for change.”
As a Black, female-identified lesbian, activist, educator, foster mom of three multiracial children, spouse, and proud founder of Newark Gay Pride, I’d like to quote Audre Lorde in expressing my overflowing excitement and overwhelming satisfaction about Madame Vice President Kamala Harris. “We are powerful because we have survived.”