On an Inauguration Day so unlike others—one amidst a global pandemic showing no signs of slowing and following the shattering of democratic norms that caused us to realize a peaceful transition of power is no longer a given—it would be easy to lose sight of how monumental, and overdue, the swearing-in of Kamala Devi Harris really is. When Harris takes the oath of office, she will become the first woman, the first Black person, and the first person of South Asian descent to serve as Vice President. This list of firsts deserves recognition, along with some consternation that it took us until the year 2021 to reach those milestones, lagging far beyond many of the world’s prominent democracies. And in a country that has spent four years actively pursuing anti-immigrant policies animated by cruelty and white supremacy, the fact that Harris is the daughter of two immigrant parents must be celebrated, too.
Black Americans were denied their rights as participants in our democracy until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and since then continued and concerted disenfranchisement has kept Black voters from polls. Still, Black women have been at the forefront of every movement for justice in this country, from Ida B. Wells’s leadership of women’s suffrage that was then not truly extended to her to Fannie Lou Hamer’s push half a century later to finally make us live up to our founding ideals. Recently we saw the power of Black women organizers and the relentless work of Stacey Abrams in the Georgia elections and Senate run-offs. So, to see a Black woman—a graduate of a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), Howard University; a proud sister of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority; and a pioneer who has broken several glass ceilings along the way—finally hold the second-highest office in our country is cause for celebration and appreciation. Black women have been leading in this country for centuries and it’s on their shoulders that Kamala Harris takes her oath of office (fittingly administered by the first woman of color on the U.S. Supreme Court).
All of this matters to our country’s children. The Children’s Defense Fund’s founder and president emerita Marian Wright Edelman famously says, “you can’t be what you can’t see.” Our nation’s children need to see people in power who reflect their own diverse identities in order to fully understand the power they hold themselves. In 2020, children of color became the majority of children in this country, and yet the leadership they see in the halls of Congress and in the top positions of the Executive Branch has historically been overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male. President-Elect Biden has vowed to lead the most diverse administration in history, and we hope our children will be treated to strong, diverse role models in this administration to whom they can look up and strive to follow. Swearing in Kamala Harris as a historic Vice President is a critical affirmation for young people who have never seen themselves in a higher office and will undoubtedly inspire many of tomorrow’s leaders.