Black Chicagoans celebrate VP-elect Kamala Harris’ monumental moment in Black history
From the South Side to North Side, West Side to East, Black Chicagoans celebrated with much excitement the finally announced presidential election results — making Kamala Harris the first Black and South Asian American and first woman vice president.
Phones started ringing Saturday morning, a zillion messages before I turned on my cell.
With that many balloon and party horn images, I didn’t have to flick on the TV to hear anchors declaring the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket had surged ahead in vote counting, and the Democratic ticket was now the projected winner.
The excitement and relief expressed by Black friends nationwide this weekend was echoed across Chicago on Monday.
“First of all, it’s a miracle, against the history of prejudice and discrimination that Black people have experienced in this country since slavery,” said Beverly Addison, 67, of Englewood, waiting for her daughter to come out of the bank at 815 W. 63rd St., in the heart of Englewood.
“America has always tried to keep Black people down, as if we are not all human — whether pink, yellow, Black, white, blue or green,” she said. “So to have the first Black woman vice president is such an incredible moment in history, and particularly meaningful for me as a Black woman.”
Michael Tidmore, 58, a community activist with the Teamwork Englewood community organization, agreed.
“It’s just been wonderful to see the impact,” said Tidmore, as he left the Whole Foods at the corner of 63rd & Halsted.
“The election of Kamala Harris has inspired a lot of people in this community, particularly women and millennials and Generation Z’ers who now know that barrier has been broken for them,” he said.
“And with all the horrible things that have happened in politics in 2020, her and Biden’s election gives us hope for a turn of events in Washington. It’s been a trying year all around, with the pandemic and economic challenges. We really needed this victory.”
Harris, the U.S. senator from California who’d run for president before folding her campaign in December, was the first Black American woman and first South Asian American ever to grace a major party ticket.
Of mixed-race heritage, her mother, a renowned biologist who died of colon cancer in 2009, was born in Chennai, India, emigrating to the United States in the late ’50s to attend a doctoral program at the University of California at Berkeley. There, she met Harris’ father, Donald Harris, who had emigrated from Jamaica.
Her parents divorced when Harris was 7, and she and her sister were raised by her mother.
“It’s so fantastic! So wonderful! I’m just elated!” said Margrenee Williams, 86, of Chatham, who was shopping with her son, Carl Williams, 68, at the Walgreen’s at 8628 S. Cottage Grove, in the heart of Chatham.
“I had known all along she was going to win, because it was time. I knew she was the one for the job, because she’s so smart,” said Williams. “She has fully proven through success in her previous jobs that she’s well prepared and has the ability to do this job.”
Said her son: “It was unbelievable when they finally announced it. But all I could think was this guy in the White House is going to do everything to fight this. America will not let anything deter our Democratic process, so Mr. Trump can fight all he wants. In the end, he is just ‘Biden his time.’ Get it?”
Yeah, we got it, Carl. JoAnne Henderson, 60, of Chatham, got it too.
“This election is legendary. So many of us are still just amazed that we have a Black woman vice president. Black women feel so honored to have broken that ceiling,” said Henderson, agreeing with Carl Williams that no amount of legal maneuvering would change this history.
“At that moment they announced it, I was like, ‘Free at last! Free at last!’ We are no longer in bondage,” Henderson said. “We have a long way to go, but this is a new beginning.”
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Harris has deep roots in Black cultural institutions, obtaining her degree in political science and economics from Howard University, one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, in 1986, before attending law school at the University of California.
At Howard, Harris pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., the oldest and the largest Black sorority, whose members worked hard nationwide to support their fellow member, after Harris stepped into history’s glare with Biden’s Aug. 11 announcement that she was his pick.
For April Williams, 40, of the Gold Coast, who was leaving a shopping center at Madison and Western on the Near West Side, Harris’ ascension to the White House is of significance to Williams’ 9-year-old daughter.
“I was in a grocery store with my grandma on Saturday, getting some greens, when I got the Yahoo text alert. I said, ‘Thank God!’ Grandma said, ‘Hallelujah!’” said Williams.
“I’m so proud of Kamala Harris! Up until now, I’d been telling my two sons that if Barack Obama could become president, they can too. Now I tell my daughter that if Kamala can do it, she can too.”
In East Garfield Park, Shaqueeta Fitzgerald, 36, who was waiting at the Green Line L station at Lake and Kedzie, demonstrated the dance she did when she learned the vote results.
“I voted for her. It was so exciting,” said Fitzgerald. “I was jumping up and down, screaming and hollering, running up and down the street. It’s amazing to have someone who looks like us in the White House.”
Harris’ mixed-race heritage made her the first South Asian American to serve in the U.S. Senate when she was elected in 2016, and the second Black woman — Chicago’s Carol Moseley Braun was the first.
Previously, Harris was the first Black American and first woman to be elected California’s attorney general, in 2010.
Mary Graham, 65, of Cabrini-Green, was sitting outside in that North Side neighborhood’s Seward Park, at Division and Orleans, with Rene Dickerson, 58, of Springfield, still celebrating.
“This is quite simply Black history,” said Graham, of this latest trail blazed by Harris.
“She seems a pretty intelligent woman, and quite frankly, we need more women leaders. I believe a lot more women will want to become engaged in the political process because of her, and because she will know the issues that are important to us, unlike all these men.”
Quipped Dickerson: “Well, I guess it’s about time for women to make their stand. Men have been doing it 100,000 years, and still haven’t gotten it right.”
And in the Far North Rogers Park, Nicole Cobbins, 46, said she couldn’t agree more.
“It’s a good thing. It’s a change that had to come,” said Cobbins, walking with 5-year-old daughter Skyla, near the Howard Street Red Line L station. “I’m happy. I’m proud to have a Black woman as vice president. It’s good for my daughter to see she too can reach for the White House.”
But Skyla wasn’t interested in vice president. She says she wants to be president.