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WGLT's reporting on the November 2020 election cycle.

B-N NAACP: As VP Pick, Harris A 'Powerful' Symbol For Black Girls

Kamala Harris looks up
Carolyn Kaster
Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., looks up as she signs required documents for receiving the nomination on Friday, Aug. 4, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware.

The Bloomington-Normal NAACP says Joe Biden's selection of Kamala Harris as his vice presidential nominee is more than historic.
While the group doesn't endorse political candidates, it sees the first Black woman on a major party ticket as an inspiring moment at a pivotal time in U.S. history.

Linda Foster, left, and Carla Campbell-Jackson at WGLT.
Credit Eric Stock / WGLT
Linda Foster (left) and Carla Campbell-Jackson with the Bloomington-Normal NAACP.

Bloomington-Normal NAACP President Linda Foster said it was exhilarating to see Biden tab Harris to join the Democratic ticket.

“It culminates with thoughts of we can be whatever we want to be, and to think there are so many young people and if you go back into the historical view of so many women who have excelled,” Foster said.

Carla Campbell-Jackson, first vice president of the local NAACP chapter, shares an honor with Harris. Both are members of the first African-American Greek organization, Alpha Kappa Alpha. Harris was a member while attending Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Campbell-Jackson said the sorority prepared Harris for a lifetime of leadership and public service and “for momentous occasions like this.”

“Having Sen. Harris publicly admit that being in that sorority has certainly prepared her and she even said that was one of the pillars toward her success,” said Campbell-Jackson.

Like anyone who has spent a career in public service, Harris has a record to scrutinize and many in the Democratic party have.

Willie Halbert
Credit Bloomington-Normal NAACP
Willie Halbert, 2nd Vice President of the Bloomington-Normal NAACP

Harris’ campaign struggled to gain traction in the presidential primary race, and she dropped out of the race before any votes were cast. Some in the party portrayed her record as a prosecutor and state attorney general in California and later as a U.S. senator as one that largely upheld the status quo--a system they see as systemically oppressive to people or color and other marginalized people.

Harris later presented herself as a “progressive prosecutor,” who fought against the old tough-on-crime stance.

Foster said she doesn't hold someone's past against them if they show a willingness to learn from their mistakes.

“The times have changed. As long as you have people willing to look at it (through) a different lens and are not stuck in the old ways of doing things and not being able to listen, those are the individuals you want,” Foster said.

Bloomington-Normal NAACP 2nd Vice President Willie Halbert said Harris doesn't have to atone for anything she did as a prosecutor.

“She was good at what she did, but she learned a lot from those experiences and she’s very open to listening to what people have to say,” Halbert said. “So, she will hear all the young adults and people who have been disenfranchised.”

And what feels like a flashback to Barack Obama's presidency, conspiracy theories have emerged about Harris' legitimacy to serve. Harris was born in California to immigrants from Jamaica and India, but an opinion piece in Newsweek suggests Harris isn't a natural born citizen.

Foster isn't surprised. She puts much of the blame on the man currently in the White House, who led the birther movement against Obama.

“Everyone expected (this). It’s sad to think that it’s not uncommon, it’s not unusual and we’re not surprised that our president would promote something that is not true,” Foster said.

To be clear, President Donald Trump didn't raise the Harris conspiracy, he simply said, 'I have no idea if that's right.'”

Foster said chatter like that just takes away from the real issues.

“It’s not a conversation piece. It’s nothing we sit around the table talking about because I don’t have time to talk about untruths,” she said.

The NAACP is non-partisan. The group simply encourages people to get engaged in politics and to vote. But the organization doesn't pass up the chance to beam with pride in seeing a Black woman potentially serving in the second highest office in the land, and possibly becoming the Democratic party's standard bearer in 2024.

Campbell-Jackson said Black women are the bedrock of their families and communities, and now it's time for Harris to cement her place in history.

“Whether we are referring to the Rosa Parks’ of the world, the Shirley Chisholm’s (the first Black candidate for a major party’s nomination for president) of the world, we have always been that foundation,” said Campbell-Jackson. “Sen. Kamala Harris has now been elevated on the shoulders of giants and we recognize and applaud that.”

Foster said Harris' political rise is powerful to Black girls all over the world, so they can see the power that lies within. She said it's more than an appointment, it's a movement.

While Harris is known as the first woman of color on a major party ticket, a Democratic U.S. senator from Illinois, Carol Moseley Braun, had a short-lived campaign for president in 2004.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.