“We Did It, Joe”: Rewriting HERStory
“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.” - Shirley Chisholm
The inauguration of Vice President Kamala Harris has inspired the hearts and spirits of many people, similarly to the election of former President Obama back in 2008. For me, it means even more.
Not only do the vice president and I share the same beloved alma mater (shoutout to Howard University!) but we were also both initiated into the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. It’s such a surreal feeling to see someone who looks like me and someone who shares a similar background being inaugurated into the second most powerful office in the country. Seeing my fellow Bison and sorority sisters express indescribable feelings of pride and joy is such a unique experience and it’s an experience I’m excited to share for years to come.
In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman elected to Congress. Four years later, she became the first woman and the first Black person to pursue a presidential nomination for a major political party. Considering her achievements during a time where Black people - especially Black women - lacked opportunities for equality and upward mobility, it is quite clear Chisholm was far ahead of her time. Like many pioneers during that time, her courage and tenacity broke barriers for future generations of marginalized leaders.
Nearly 40 years after Chisholm’s presidential bid, Harris made history as the first woman, the first Black American and person of Southeast Asian descent to become vice president of the United States. During the inauguration, Vice President Harris donned a purple outfit to pay homage to Chisholm, who was known for wearing purple throughout her political career. In the same way Chisholm paved the way for Black women in politics, Harris is shattering glass ceilings for a younger generation of women who can relate to her story.
Both women embody the importance of representation. Both women lived very ordinary, relatable lives and proceeded to accomplish extraordinary feats. Since the day President Joe Biden announced Harris as his running mate, historically underrepresented groups such as HBCU graduates and members of the Divine Nine expressed excitement at finally seeing themselves represented on a large scale.
I want to clarify that these feelings of honor and prestige surrounding madam vice president’s inauguration should not be confused with condoning any type of respectability or elitism. Harris’ accomplishments don’t define her but she’s bringing a new meaning to her roles by simply being herself.
Realistically, most of us will not become vice president of the United States. And that’s okay! My friends from Howard are medical and law students, journalists, teachers, engineers and entrepreneurs and we are all on different trajectories for impacting this world in our own special ways.
Even without these professional achievements, we’re still worthy of everything this world has to offer. That’s what makes this occasion so meaningful; the inauguration of Vice President Harris has taught us that we are capable of doing whatever we want in this world. There are no restrictions to how we can shape the world in the present and future. For all my fans of “Mean Girls,” Cady said it best when she exclaimed, “The limit does not exist!” There are no limits. Ever.
Black women have always been the prototype for strength, resilience and success. However, we are not a monolith; sometimes we are weak and sometimes we fail. Harris experienced some challenges and a fair amount of criticism over the course of her career and she likely will still face trials in the future. However, she continues to push forward and that’s all that matters. Her presidential pursuit was unsuccessful, but she made it into the White House anyway. She reminds us all that it’s never about how you start but it’s about your intentionality and your determination to finish.
At 56-years-old, Harris is beginning a new journey and embarking on a new path she’s created for herself. For any young people like me who are still searching for themselves, I hope her story serves as a reminder that our stories remain unwritten and that we have our whole lives to pursue our dreams. Life is an ongoing journey for us all and there will constantly be something new for us to learn and experience. Truthfully, life is an ongoing process of finding ourselves, then losing ourselves and finding ourselves again.
I’m excited about this new era and I’m looking forward to supporting madam vice president and holding her accountable for fulfilling all her promises. Most importantly, it warms my heart to see the pursuits of her dreams finally come into fruition. I’m sure Shirley Chisholm is beaming down on us with pride. It only goes up from here!
Harris’ story is my story - it’s everyone’s story. Please don’t ever be afraid to write and rewrite yours.