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Kamala Harris breaks barriers and raises expectations

It is a win-win situation for Kamala Harris, no matter how the votes stack up.

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks at a campaign event Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Detroit.
Carlos Osorio/AP photo

And the biggest winner is … wait for it … Sen. Kamala Harris.

As the first woman of color (her father is Jamaican-American and her mother, South Asian-American), to be at the top of the Democratic ticket, she had the farthest distance to run.

In fact, for her, the starting line in the Democratic presidential primary was so far back, her dropping out of the race seemed a foregone conclusion.

And yet, here she is.

Standing strong — her black and white converse sneakers now symbols of her individuality and her grit.

Win or lose, Harris has managed to break a barrier that has stood for more than two centuries and land in a position that could catapult her into the presidency in four years.

After all, it isn’t likely that 77-year-old Biden will want to go through one more presidential campaign.

I confess. I didn’t take to Harris right away.

Although she announced her long-shot run for the presidency on Martin Luther King’s birthday and wrapped herself in the legacy of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to serve in Congress and the first woman to seek the Democratic presidential nomination, I didn’t see a sister.

I saw an opportunist who could easily assimilate in a white man’s world.

Frankly, Harris had to grow on some of us.

“I was up for Elizabeth Warren,” said Kim Dulaney, assistant professor of African American Studies at Chicago State University, and the director of education and programs at DuSable Museum.

“I wasn’t necessarily for Kamala at first because of what I had read about her record of prosecuting Black people for circumstances they really had no control over,” Dulaney said.

“But when I heard Kamala promised to forgive a chunk of student loan [debt] for people who earn less than $150,000, that’s when I became a supporter,” she said.

“It is like the sharecropper system. You go to school and you end up with so much debt, there is no real generational gain. If you do all the things right, you still can’t move your family forward because of the debt,” Dulaney said.

Making history is sometimes a matter of timing. But living up to the history you have made takes work.

In this time of racial reckoning, the expectations are higher than ever that America will be forced to finally live up to its creed that all men are created equal.

A lot of that race work will fall on Harris’ shoulders.

“I expect her to represent us. To carry the banner for Black people by being concerned about our issues as African Americans,” explained Carol Adams, co-convener of South Shore Works, a movement dedicated to the revitalization of the city’s South Shore community.

“She went to an HBCU (Howard University), and that was clearly a definite choice. So I expect her to look out for our institutions. She pledged a Black sorority (Alpha Kappa Alpha), so she clearly cares about Black women’s issues. I have high hopes,” Adams told me.

But during Harris’ own presidential campaign, she came under fire from progressives for allegedly failing to embrace criminal justice reform when she was the California attorney general.

Harris has acknowledged the criminal justice system is flawed but has defended her record, saying as a prosecutor, she tried to change it from the inside.

No one can please all people.

But Black and Brown Americans are often the ones left behind despite campaign promises.

“We are always starting from a position of lack,” Adams pointed out.

Dulaney is hopeful that Harris’ priority will be improving the conditions for Black people.

“I don’t care about her sorority or none of that stuff. I just want her to keep her word,” she said.

Harris has four years to win naysayers over.

Because running with Joe Biden against Donald Trump gave her a head start and a real shot at making history all over again.