In the kind of campaign that is sure to come, that life-defining experience will give her deep reserves to draw upon.
That Harris is an alumna of Howard University only adds to the historic nature of Joe Biden’s decision. And it hits home. Like the late congressman Elijah Cummings, former Veterans Affairs and Army secretary Togo West and literary giant Toni Morrison, as well as my wife, Gwen, whom I met there in 1958, and throngs of other alumni, this writer bleeds Howard.
Harris’s selection, without question, will resonate in the homes of hundreds of thousands of HBCU graduates across the country. For most of them, Election Day is now no longer just a critical political event. With Harris on the ticket, it will be a Cause.
This development is more than a reason to point to Harris with pride. It is not incidental to her story, but a driver of it. The most significant circumstance that launched Harris’s journey from college to law school, to district attorney and California attorney general, to the U.S. Senate and now to our biggest political stage, cannot be overlooked. It is her grounding in the HBCU experience itself.
“I became an adult at Howard University,” Harris told The Post’s Robin Givhan last year. “Howard very directly influenced and reinforced — equally important — my sense of being and meaning and reasons for being.”
Howard University provided Harris with valuable life-enriching experiences she would have been unlikely to find in a PWI — predominantly White institutional — setting.
Similar learning conditions exist at other historically Black institutions of higher learning, such as Spelman College, Hampton University, Morehouse College, Florida A&M, Tuskegee University, North Carolina A&T, Fisk University and many others.
HBCUs, as Harris discovered at Howard, are places where quality education is received in a diverse and inclusive family-oriented setting, but also with many classmates who share similar backgrounds and cultural experiences.
“It was more, for me, about the numerosity than it was the diversity,” Harris explained. “I grew up in a community where there were many representations of diversity. Going to Howard, there were so many [Black people]! And they’re all in your age group, in your phase of life.
Howard, Harris told The Post, awakened her to the empowerment that comes from being part of a multitude. Baked into that cultural and social climate was an all-encompassing atmosphere valuing social change and justice, regardless of curriculum.
She attended an HBCU where everyone knows that Black students’ presence on campus is unrelated to any affirmative action goal or athletic scholarships. These are institutions where students are wanted for their minds, not their bodies; where strong social relations and bonds are formed — links that pass the test of time.
Harris’s HBCU experience prepared her for life in a world in which opportunity is not equal and appreciation, encouragement, even fairness, for people of color, are in short supply. All odds to be overcome.
The passion to fight injustice that Harris has said is inspired by her late mother, Shyamala, and the commitment to freedom that prompted Harris, as a Howard student, to march in front of the South African Embassy against apartheid, will be needed more than ever in the Biden-Harris campaign to win back the White House from the bigot in residence.
Imagine, in 2020, a president of the United States saying this: “The ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me. They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood. Biden would reinstall it, in a bigger form, with [Cory] Booker in charge!” But Trump did it this week. And what a surprise that he name-checked a Black U.S. senator in his dog whistle of a tweet.
Expect more and worse. Harris knows what’s coming. But she is prepared.
Standing up against that kind of racism is another one of Harris’s “meaning and reasons for being” — influenced and reinforced, thank goodness, by her HBCU grounding.