Letters to Kamala: What the vice president-elect’s victory means to these Pittsburgh-area Black and Brown girls

Kamala Harris broke boundaries by being elected the first woman of color as vice president. These Pittsburgh-area girls see her win as an inspiration.

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'Dream with ambition'

Essay by Arathena McCormick

A drawing by Asha McCormick of Kamala Harris in front of an American flag.

A drawing by Asha McCormick of Kamala Harris in front of an American flag.

I vividly remember the moment I first heard that Joe Biden had chosen Kamala Harris to run for vice president on his ticket. My mother excitedly told my sisters and me that Kamala Harris, a half Indian, half Black woman, could possibly be our future vice president. I was thrilled to hear the news. In the history of the United States, there has never been a woman as vice president, let alone a woman of color, and she is half Indian like me! I remember telling my friends who were also biracial, and we were all equally excited.

When I discovered that Kamala Harris was vice president-elect, I was overjoyed. This was a legendary moment in American history. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” I believe this is true.

From left: Sisters Asha, Arathena and Daya McCormick. (Courtesy photo)

From left: sisters Asha, Arathena and Daya McCormick. (Courtesy photo)

In many of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s speeches, she highlighted the importance of her mother in her life. Kamala Harris’s mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, was an Indian woman who immigrated to the United States at age 19. She became a civil rights activist and fought against injustice. She surrounded her daughters at a young age with Black role models, and brought Kamala and her sister Maya to civil rights protests and taught them from a young age the importance of fighting injustice. Recently I have been learning more about America’s history and the injustices faced by people of color. Fighting for justice and equity for all people is important to me, and I am excited that our country’s vice president-elect is also passionate about these issues. Also, because Kamala Harris is a woman of color, she will better understand minorities and stick up for them. She will be able to see issues in government in a different light because she has experienced them.

Another reason I am excited for Kamala Harris to become vice president is because we are both Indian. When my mom first announced Kamala Harris was running for vice president, she showed me a video of Kamala Harris cooking dosas with Mindy Kaling. I was so excited when I saw this video, because cooking Indian food with my Appachen (the Malayalam word for grandfather) is special to me. It is a way I experience Indian culture. Also, Kamala Harris’s mother immigrated to the United States of America as a young single woman just like my Ammachi. She was a nurse in the U.S. before returning to India for an arranged marriage to my Appachen. After they got married, my grandparents returned to the U.S., where my mother and aunt were born. It is exciting to me to know that the vice president-elect can connect with my family and me on such a deep level because she went through and understands similar experiences.

As Vice President-elect Kamala Harris stated in her speech on November 7, “But while I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities. To the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourselves in a way that others may not, simply because they’ve never seen it before. But know that we will applaud you every step of the way.” I know that having a woman as vice president will inspire other women and girls in America to achieve their dreams. We can do anything we set our minds to!

Arathena McCormick, 13, lives with her parents and two younger sisters in Highland Park. She is passionate about addressing disparities in the education system in America and plans to be a teacher.


Brown girls can do anything

Essay by Kadie Wulff

A drawing by Kadie Wulf of she and Vice President-Elect Kamala with 50 snowflakes for 50 states and their AKA pearls.

A drawing by Kadie Wulff of herself and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, with 50 snowflakes for 50 states..

Dear Vice President-elect Harris,

My name is Kadie Wulff and I am 7 years old. When I found out that you were going to become the first Black female vice president, I asked if that meant I could be vice president too someday. You and I both have beautiful brown skin and are girls. I would love to be a strong Black woman like you when I grow up. I have always wanted to be a pediatrician when I grow up, but now I want to be both a pediatrician and a vice president. It makes me a little sad that there are not more people like you in powerful positions, but it makes me happy to see that Brown girls can do anything.

I have been asking my parents who would win the election. I wanted you and Joe Biden to win because I thought you two would be the right people for the job. You guys are going to unite the world. The environment will get better and there will be more opportunities for everyone. I am sad that COVID-19 is here, but I am hoping you can help make it go away.

Congratulations on winning the election. Do you have a favorite flavor of ice cream? Will it be available at the inauguration? I plan on watching the inauguration, just like I am excited to stay up tonight and watch the acceptance speech. I watch Brown girls be heroes in cartoons, but now I get to watch you be on TV in real life.

I live in Pennsylvania, and maybe someday I could see you in Pennsylvania. I wish you could come to our school and tell us about what you do when you’re the vice president. You could also talk about what you do when people say mean things. Or about how to deal with being the only Brown person in a space.

It can be lonely to be the only Brown person in a space. That’s why I like going to Hill Dance Academy Theatre because I can dance with friends who look like me, have fun and celebrate Black excellence. My dance teacher, Ms. Ayisha, went to Howard University just like you! I want to go to Spelman College – and I have a shirt from there. I hope your time as vice president makes it possible to see more Black and Brown people in important positions. I have hopes that you will be the best vice president ever. Maybe you could even run for president again and win this time. That would show people that girls can rule the world. And you show that Black Lives Matter. Everybody deserves a fair share and to be treated equally.

I drew a picture for you to remind you of if you and me were together. There are 50 snowflakes to represent the 50 states. I gave you a puff like me because it is my favorite hairstyle. Since you are a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, I made sure you had on a pearl necklace. I hope you like it.

Love,

Kadie Wulff

Kadie Wulff, 7, lives with her parents and brother in Hopewell where she attends second grade. As she shared above, she hopes to be a pediatrician when she grows up, and now also a vice president. Her mom June notes that she sometimes adds both dancer and astronaut to her aspirations.


We shall overcome

Essay by Lee Owens

When I was in the third grade, I remember learning that a Black man was running for president, and that we were voting for him because he was Black (not my parents’ reasoning, but that’s what my young mind could make sense of). I would go to school and talk about it because I didn’t know that a Black person could run for president. My mother recently rekindled the memory of another child in my grade telling me that “Obama kills babies.” I didn’t know at the time what that meant, or why it was important to tell me that about the man my parents were voting for. I was taught not to ask people who they voted for because it was none of my business. I remember feeling happy when Obama won — inspired and all of the other things you feel when you’re part of a historical event. I bought a book on “how to become the first woman president” from the Target dollar section. That dream fizzled out fast, but I can’t help but think that it may have stayed if America was not programmed to condition Black children into believing that they aren’t capable of achievement. Obama’s second term passed without incident. I learned more about racism (surprise — it's not gone!) and social justice, but I was 11 then and all I wanted to do was draw. As I got older and social media gave me access to more information, I was lucky enough to be exposed to social justice pages rather than things that taught me to hate myself more. I was educated on the rights of LGBTQ+ people, misogynoir and other important topics.

Lee Owens at her high school graduation. She currently attends the Rochester Institute of Technology where she is studying illustration

Lee Owens at her high school graduation. She currently attends the Rochester Institute of Technology where she is studying illustration. (Courtesy photo)

Then 2016 rolled around. My art school friends and I would joke about Trump and his crappy politics, about allegations against him. We laughed at the concept of the host of “The Apprentice” becoming president. Election night came, and I went to bed confident that I’d wake up in an America that had elected a woman as president for the first time.

I was in for a rude awakening. I received a text from a friend that said: “Lee, I'm crying. I can’t believe this.” I logged into Tumblr to find messages from my mutuals, saying that they were afraid for their lives and they were having panic attacks, suicidal thoughts and emotional breakdowns because of Donald (who I will refer to solely as Donald to signify my disdain), his fear-mongering tactics and his violently racist followers. I remember posting a picture next to my personal Hillary Clinton sign (that I wasn’t allowed to put outside. I think back now, and realize that this may have been a smart choice, considering that we lived in a suburb in Pennsyltucky at the time) after I cried a bit. I felt numb, which was clear in the photo. The caption was something along the lines of “and with all the power I have, I will fight.” A few friends messaged me saying it was inspiring, but I tamped down the fear I felt. I went to school that day for attendance and left early because I didn’t feel safe there as one of three Black kids in my grade. My brother came home, walked into my room and burst into tears. Someone, in passing, had called him a n*gger. He left school under the guise of a stomach ache. It was one of the hardest years of my life — I transferred schools, Donald won the election and I was losing hope for America.

I was not hopeful for the 2020 election. I was almost certain that Donald would win with astounding numbers; I have noticed that America absolutely adores white supremacy. Donald refuses to denounce it (which, by association, makes him a white supremacist), so the supremacists vote for him. The pro-lifers, the sexists, etc., also adore Donald’s disgusting disinformation and hate-mongering. In his presidency, I  spent my time becoming a part of “the radical left” (which Donald couldn’t fathom if he tried), trying to be the person that I wanted to see in the White House. Someone who was stern but compassionate, who will educate those who are willing to learn but lecture those who refuse. I used the reign of Donald as inspiration to become the revolutionary and the activist I had needed in my times of ignorance. It destroyed some relationships, mended others and forged new ones. I have grown accustomed to living under the rule of someone who is nothing short of a complete idiot, while trying to compensate for our lack of leadership.

Kamala Harris wasn’t my first choice for a presidential candidate (Biden definitely wasn’t my first choice), but I couldn’t say that I wasn't excited to see a Black woman at the debates during the Democratic presidential primary. I wasn’t happy about any of the candidates, honestly. They were all neo-liberal centrists, all imperialists. No one nearly progressive enough to balance out the backward movement we experienced under Donald. I knew I had a duty to vote for Biden — for the fearful child I was in 2016. For my baby cousins, for the sweet little Black girls who hold power they haven’t even discovered yet — a burden that no one should have to bear. I voted full of complaints, but no hesitation. It was exciting to vote for the first time in such a high-stakes election, but also terrifying. With over 200,000 people dead from COVID-19, several Black people murdered under a president who will not denounce white supremacy, for the trans and cisgender women of color who never made it home. Their ghosts stayed with me when I cast my ballot. I didn’t process the achievement within Harris until she won the vice presidency.

I was shocked.

I had been ready to buy my visa application for the U.K. and had some universities picked out there. I didn’t think Biden would win the election. I was beginning to think that in my lifetime, I may never see a woman president of the United States. I had made my peace with it, or at least as much peace as I could. But seeing a woman — a South Asian, first-generation American, Black woman — as the winner of the vice presidency gave me a sense of hope that I haven’t felt in years.

There is so much work to be done. Reparations to be made, people to be fed, children to be educated. International relationships that need to be mended, freedom to be delivered. The Biden-Harris administration, I think, will not carry out the work I feel needs to be done to create this country — a country was never functioning in the first place. You cannot build a society on the backs of enslaved peoples and genocide and claim that it’s “a great nation.” But at the very least, the backs of my people carry a tale of resilience and strength that is somber, yet empowering. Kamala Harris, though flawed, is an example of the power that women of color in this country hold. In a country that constantly casts us aside, allows us to be raped and beaten and killed, and leaves our corpses on the side of the road. In a country that needs women of color to raise its children and its leaders. She is a reminder to my current and younger self, to my predecessors, to the sweet children I care for as a babysitter.  No matter what, we shall overcome.

Lee Owens is nineteen years old and resides with her parents and brother in the North Side. She attends Rochester Institute of Technology where she is studying illustration.


'Create that path'

Essay by Amira Henderson-Thomas

Kamala Harris being elected makes me feel like nothing is out of reach — as long as you reach for it. To me, Kamala is a role model because, as a female of color, I need some people to look up to and there aren’t many out there. Just seeing her on TV makes me feel like I can do anything because she had to work hard in order to become vice president. Kamala studied political science and economics and got a law degree. She didn’t stop there. She became the district attorney of San Francisco and the attorney general of California. Seeing someone work this hard for something and trying to change the world makes me feel like as long as I try and never give up, nothing can stop me. A quote from Harris that means a lot to me is: "Our unity is our strength, and diversity is our power.” This means that working with each other and not against one another is our strength, something that can change the whole game. Our differences give us power. No matter our race, sexuality, ethnicity, culture, etc…these all make us, us. The differences we have can cause people to have different views. When we put the ideas of a lot of different people together, we get something amazing: teamwork. That's power. Kamala is an inspiration to lots of people, and I am one of them. "My mother would look at me and she’d say, 'Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last,'" Harris said during a lecture at Spelman College, recalling the motto that's guided her life. "That’s why breaking those barriers is worth it. As much as anything else, it is also to create that path for those who will come after us."

Amira Henderson-Thomas. (Courtesy photo)

Amira Henderson-Thomas. (Courtesy photo)

Kamala also thinks there should be a tighter policy on assault weapons purchases. I like that Kamala thinks this because some people who have purchased a gun do what they want with it and ignore the laws. The other day I was in the car with my mom and grandma, and we saw this car parked on our property. He was hunting and there were signs that said "No Hunting," but he did it anyway. People think that because they are able to buy a gun that they can do anything they want. That hurts because some people kill innocent people and think it’s OK, and it’s not. Therefore, there should be a more strict policy on assault weapons. "Upon being elected, I will give the United States Congress 100 days to get their act together and have the courage to pass reasonable gun safety laws. And if they fail to do it, then I will take executive action,” Kamala said during an April 2019 CNN Town Hall.

Kamala is also a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community. This means a lot to me personally as an African American girl and part of the LGBTQ+ community. To know that there is a leader who is a woman of color and a supporter of the community is so great. You get to see this big person who is fighting for us and doing all they can to help us. I saw this article that said people were trying to take away LGBTQ+ marriage, and I felt so sad because we had just got our rights, and they were about to be taken from us like it was nothing. That hurt. Look, we have someone who is gonna fight for our rights and the rights of others and I'm proud to call Kamala our VP.

Kamala has so many plans that are going to make her a good vice president. I believe she can get people to work together. I believe she will, with the help of President Biden, help the world we live in. Kamala Harris being elected as vice president makes me feel a lot. Excited because I’m ready for the future to change, and I’m ready to see the plan of how we are going to solve the situation we are in right now. I’m intrigued because I want to see what she and Biden do and how it will make a difference. I am also a bit scared because change doesn’t sit easy with me, especially when the change has to do with people who are making decisions that involve my life and millions of other lives. I’m feeling most of all happy, though, because I know things will get better under Biden and Kamala’s plans. I can’t wait for that because when it does we can all go back to the way we were living. We can tell our stories about what 2020 was like, how it felt and how it got better.

Amira Henderson-Thomas, 13, lives with her family in Braddock and attends Propel East. She plans to attend UCLA or Columbia to study writing. 

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