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The First, But Not the Last: On the Importance of Kamala Harris’s VP Inauguration

20 Jan 2021

Just over a year ago, as I was moving into my sophomore dorm at Columbia University, I received an Instagram DM asking if I might consider taking up a job on Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before my bags were packed again. A few weeks later, I found myself moving to a city I’d never even been to, signing the lease on my first apartment, and laying out my clothes for my first day as Influencer and Surrogate Strategist on the Kamala Harris presidential campaign—a job that frankly didn't exist before I got there. I was 19.

In no time I’d left behind any lingering thoughts of Aristotle and Plato, and became fully immersed in the whirlwind of campaign life. We were the most diverse campaign in the field; I was regularly in meetings where the majority were other women of color. I was reminded every day by leadership of the value brought to my work by my lived experiences and unique perspective. They trusted me to dream up and lead initiatives like #ThisIsWhatAPresidentLooksLike, a social media campaign that highlighted the ways people saw themselves in Kamala Harris.

As a woman of color and first-generation American raised by a single mother—and as someone who calls herself a Future President—I personally saw myself in her in a way I never had in anyone else before. It’s what drew me to her and inspired me to leave my life behind in order to dive into the deep end for the most important election of our lifetime. It meant every win she had was an education in what was possible, a crack in a glass ceiling, a door opened. But on the flip side, every loss felt deeply personal. 

When the campaign ended in December 2019, it hurt. In some ways, it felt like a judgement on what I myself might be able to achieve. This is the unique responsibility that comes with being first, but Kamala Harris is no stranger to it. She herself is a first-generation American, was the first Black woman to be elected District Attorney in California, the first woman to serve as California’s attorney general, and the first Indian American United States senator. All of this truly was just the beginning, though.

On January 20, 2021, Kamala Harris will become the first woman, first woman of color, first South Asian woman, and first Black woman elected Vice President of the United States of America with her inauguration alongside Joe Biden as president, millions of womxn, especially Black and brown girls, will wake up to a world of new possibilities.

A lesson imparted to Harris from her mother that she often shared on the campaign trail was this: “You may be the first, but make sure you’re not the last.”

Harris will be surrounded by groundbreaking women in her first term. Coming in with the Biden Harris Administration is another long list of firsts, including Deb Haaland, the first Native American Cabinet secretary; Cecilia Rous, first woman of color to chair the Council of Economic Advisers; Avril Haines, the first woman to lead the US intelligence community; Dr. Rachel Levin, the first openly transgender official; and so many more. There are also historic numbers of women in the house of representatives and the senate.

Make no mistake: all of this is worthy of celebration, but even at a historic high of 144, women only make up 26.9% of all members of Congress. When the census records just over 50% of Americans as female, there is obvious work to be done. 

For more information on the work being done to get women to run for public office, listen to this episode of To The People podcast.

But what can you do? You don't have to drop everything and run for office or even work on a campaign. But if that is you, let me be the first to affirm you. You can do it. We’re in your corner and cheering you on. Some helpful organizations to get you started are She Should Run and Ignite National.

But if that’s not you, remember that we each have our own unique skills and gifts and they’re all necessary if we’re going to build a future you’d be proud to pass along to the next generation. So get creative with how you can best apply your time, talent, and treasure to uplift the women around you, and change the systems that all too often hold us back from reaching our full potential. And if you’re still drawing a blank on what you have to give, give an affirmation. Tell your daughters they can be President when they grow up, your mothers that they would be a wonderful addition to the local school board, or your girls that you see them as a leader.

With that being said, I want to take us back to my dorm because there’s something I left out. When I first got wind of the job description, I responded by offering to send through recommendations of people who I thought would be a good fit. It wasn't until a mentor and a role model responded back that she thought I would be a good fit that it even crossed my mind that I might be. This one affirmation quite literally changed the course of my life—and I often imagine how different things would have been without it. 

There is power in believing in one another’s potential. So now that you’ve read this, let someone know you see theirs. 

Written by Deja Foxx for Youth To The People

To see more of Deja, check her out in Beautiful People.

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