Kamala Harris has officially carved out her place in history. Harris shattered racial and gender barriers this year by becoming the first woman of color to serve as vice president of the United States. While her election is one for the history books, the former senator’s career is chock full of barrier-breaking moments that are unlikely to end here.
Harris’ early life
Harris was born the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants. Her mom, Shyamala Gopalan, immigrated to the United States in pursuit of a doctorate in nutrition and endocrinology at the University of California, Berkeley. Gopalan was also a civil rights activist throughout her life. She met Harris’ father, Donald Harris, while they were participating in protests together. The couple separated when Harris was five and eventually divorced, which led Gopalan to raise her two children, including Harris’ sister, Maya, as a single mother.
Her mother’s strength and activism poised her as the perfect role model for her daughter. Harris was inspired to attend law school after attending civil rights protests as a child with her parents, a moment that would begin the next chapter of life.
Political history and first historical moments
After studying political science and economics at Howard University, where she was an Alpha Kappa Alpha, she earned her law degree from Hastings College and hit the ground running. From 1990 to 1998, she worked as the deputy district attorney in Oakland, California, eventually rising through the ranks and becoming the district attorney in 2004.
Her career in politics continued to propel forward, breaking down barriers in her home state and setting the ground for future women to follow in her footsteps. In 2010, Harris was elected attorney general, becoming the first Black woman to hold that position in the state. Six years later, Harris made history again as the second Black woman to be elected into the U.S. Senate and was the only Black woman in the senate as of last year. In August 2020, after Biden chose Harris as his running mate, she became the first Black woman to appear on a major party’s national ticket. And the rest is, well, history. Literally.
How she’s inspiring generations of women to come
Harris understands the gravity her historic win has on society and how it can and will affect generations of women to come. The 56-year-old has accepted her place in history and honored the women that came before her in her victory speech in November 2020. The vice president cited her mother as her inspiration. She noted that she was thinking of her in that moment, as well as the generations of women that came before her, acknowledging that they “paved the way” for her to be where she was.
“Tonight, I reflect on their struggle, their determination, and the strength of their vision — to see what can be, unburdened by what has been,” she said. “And I stand on their shoulders.”
This historic win is the foundation for similar victories for years to come, giving hope to a new generation of marginalized women. While Haris is the first woman in the White House, the vice president is confident that she will not be the last to hold a position in the highest office of the United States.
“Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities,” she said. “And 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.”