‘Proud, ecstatic, happy’: For Black women in Bay Area, Kamala Harris’ election carries special meaning

Black women are the “backbone of our democracy,” Kamala Harris said Saturday night in Delaware, in her historic first speech as the vice president-elect. They have been forgotten or ignored too often, she said, their hard work and sacrifice taken for granted.

On Sunday, Black women across the Bay Area said they finally felt seen — and envisioned new possibilities for themselves, their daughters and their grandchildren.

“I’m proud, ecstatic, happy. I’m going from jumping for joy to tears,” said Oakland resident Dezie Woods-Jones, 78, a long-time civil rights leader and state president of Black Woman Organized for Political Action, who has known Harris for decades.

“Actually, I’m more than proud. Proud is when you look at somebody and they did a great job,” Woods-Jones said. “What I feel is a heartfelt understanding of the impact she is having and will have. This is such a profound moment.”

The election of Oakland-born Harris is a transformative moment in American history: She’s the first woman and the first Black or Asian American person to be vice president, or on any winning presidential ticket. Harris, 56, has embraced her trailblazing role through her career and the presidential campaign.

In her Saturday night speech she recognized the decades of battles by Black women who carried her to this point, and who made this election possible. Black women historically have been a powerful voting bloc, turning out in higher rates than most other demographic groups. They overwhelmingly supported the Biden-Harris ticket, according to exit polls.

In turn, Black women said Sunday that her election was thrilling and inspiring.

“I cried about five or six times yesterday,” said Oakland resident Susan Whitehead, 45. “To see her, the first Black, biracial, the first woman to enter the White House, it was a big thing.”

Whitehead said she wanted to be a veterinarian when she was a child, but she never saw Black people in that field and she eventually abandoned the dream. “I didn’t think anybody would bring their animals to me,” she said, tearing up outside a coffee shop near Lake Merritt. “The sky wasn’t the limit.”

Harris’ election broke a glass ceiling, she said. “When you’re growing up you think about all the things you want to be but you narrow it because you don’t see anyone doing it that looks like you,” she said. “Now it’s different.”

Harris explicitly referred to the importance of visibility in her Saturday speech, praising pioneers in the fight for women’s equality who could “see what can be unburdened by what has been.”

Sacramento resident Tameka Crawford, 36, said she wasn’t a huge supporter of President-elect Joe Biden, “but I was definitely rooting for Kamala.”

“It’s just cool to see a woman, a lady in the White House. We’ve come a long way,” Crawford said Sunday, sitting at a table facing Lake Merritt where she was selling T-shirts and other items from her store, Nappi Manifestationz.

On Saturday, Crawford had watched as crowds of people gathered

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