Women of color across Connecticut are rejoicing Saturday in the historic election of Kamala Harris, a Black and South Asian woman and daughter of immigrants, as the first female vice president of the United States.
The meaning of the watershed moment behind Joe Biden’s presidential victory was still sinking in for 44-year-old Janee Woods Weber minutes after Pennsylvania, and the election, was called for the Democratic ticket. But the activist from West Hartford said her heart was full knowing Harris was poised to become the highest-ranking woman of color in U.S. history.
“Elevating Sen. Kamala Harris, to me, feels like the fulfillment of the promise of our democracy," said Woods Weber, president of PoliticaCT and co-chair of the state committee for Connecticut’s Working Families Party. "This is what so many of us have been working for for such a long time.
“And it’s not the end of the journey,” she said. “This is only the beginning."
Da’Sharia Gaynor, a freshman at Capital Preparatory Magnet School, was deeply engaged in election talk when her virtual class was supposed to end at half past noon Friday. Her teacher said the 40 students could stay on if they wanted and 33 did, talking for another 15 minutes about the race and a Biden-Harris win that seemed inevitable.
“I’ve been waiting since the last election” for a woman in the White House, the 13-year-old said after logging off. “I thought we were gonna get (Hillary) Clinton but we didn’t. I wanted a woman regardless, but now that she is of my color, it feels even better.”
Da’Sharia, who is Black, still doesn’t think the country would allow a female president. But she hopes four years under Biden and Harris will change that.
“A lot of people don’t think that women have the power to be the president,” she said. “I do.”
Da’Sharia’s grandmother, former Hartford city council member rJo Winch, she was looking forward to celebrating the victory when her community can come together in person again, without the threat of the coronavirus.
“I’m really, really happy for her and I’m really excited for the voters in the United States who have finally accepted that women can be in that place of real leadership," Winch, 66, said.
Elizabeth Horton Sheff, another former city council in Hartford and an education activist, said it’s critical for young people to see female leaders reach new heights in government, whatever their race.
“That’s a role model for little girls everywhere, and I am excited by that,” she said.
Brittney Yancy, an assistant professor of the humanities at Goodwin College, spent the week glued to her phone.
She’s part of a number of circles of Black women and all of them were watching the race with bated breath — the academics, the activists, and especially her fellow members of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the historically Black sorority that counts Harris among its sisters.
Her election as vice president tells Yancy that her country now recognizes the political power of Black women, the strongest voting group of the Democratic Party.
“We are just not behind the scenes organizers, we are strategists, we are thought leaders, we are movement builders, and for so long Black women have always been undermined, whether it’s by racism or sexism and other isms,” Yancy said. “It’s just our time.”
Harris’ newfound place in history was also inspiring to a small group of South Asian students and graduates from UConn who rallied behind the Black Lives Matter movement this spring.
The organizers of South Asian Advocates 4 Black Lives — Rishita Jani, Srinath Ramanan, Parth Rana, Mehreen Pasha and Tamashi Hettiarachchi — said Harris is the latest leader to reframe the American dream for young people of color.
They take issue with some of her past actions as a prosecutor and senator, particularly instances where she opposed criminal justice reforms and police accountability measures. Jani, a 25-year-old recent graduate of UConn School of Law, said they’re wasting no time crafting their agenda under the Biden-Harris administration.
While she is definitely a face of hope, I think it’s important we acknowledge her past and some of the things we may not have agreed with," Jani said. “It’s gonna be a little bit ‘time to go’ and a little bit of ‘pop the champagne."
Rebecca Lurye can be reached at email@example.com.
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