Kindred spirits

PC(USA)’s Racial and Intercultural Justice leader applauds history-making achievement of sorority sister Kamala Harris

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Denise Anderson wore Alpha Kappa Alpha colors Wednesday to honor her sorority sister, Kamala Harris, on the day Harris was sworn in as vice president. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Denise Anderson was brimming with pride Wednesday, decked out in pink and green as Kamala Harris officially became vice president of the United States.

Not only are they both Black women with impressive leadership credentials, they both are graduates of historically Black Howard University and members of the illustrious Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, which became the country’s first Black sorority more than a century ago.

“Representation matters, and having someone in leadership with this much visibility makes a huge difference,” said Anderson, coordinator of Racial and Intercultural Justice for the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “It does my heart a lot of good.”

Anderson, who served as co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly, recently watched as Harris participated in a virtual celebration of AKA Founders’ Day. During the event, Anderson was struck by the enormity of the fact that Harris would be ascending to the second highest office in the land.

“This is the first woman (vice president),” Anderson said. “This is the first person of color of any gender. First person of African descent. First person of South Asian descent. I mean, just so many historical milestones represented in the election of one person; it’s pretty remarkable.”

The official Senate portrait of Vice President Kamala Harris

To honor Harris, many AKA members wore pearls (and the sorority’s signature pink and green) on Wednesday, which was declared “Kamala Harris Day” by Dr. Glenda Glover, the organization’s international president and chief executive officer.

So Wednesday was a special time of celebration for thousands of AKAs around the world. But the inauguration also was a special time for members of the Reformed church as Harris and President Joe Biden assumed control of a fractured nation that has lost a lot of ground nationally and internationally during the last four years.

To move forward, “we need to do what we always have needed to do, (which) is pray for our leaders,” Anderson said. “That’s not sentimental, and it doesn’t even necessarily mean that you have to like our leaders, but to pray for them and to seek their success really does impact our own welfare.”

In the months leading up to the inauguration, Anderson has been impressed by the Biden-Harris transition team’s willingness to reach out to faith-based organizations that often were shut out by the previous administration. The Washington office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) already has met with Biden-Harris representatives several times.

“I’m really encouraged by that openness to our advocacy, our witness,” Anderson said.

She’s also encouraged that Harris and Biden will be empathetic to the needs of marginalized people who did not seem to be a priority for Donald Trump.

Harris was raised in the United States by a mother who understood that her daughters would be racialized as Black in America despite their mixed heritage, Anderson noted.

Harris is the daughter of Shyamala Gopalan, a native of India, and Donald Harris, a Black economist from Jamaica. They met at the University of California, Berkeley.

After the couple split, Gopalan remained committed to raising their daughters to be strong Black women who identified with Black culture as well as their Indian heritage.

“I’m really encouraged that she (Harris) brings that lens to governing,” Anderson said.

Prior to taking office, Harris recently told Time magazine that souls would be restored in this country when people know that they can feed their children, pay their medical bills and not fear going bankrupt just because someone in the family has fallen ill.

Reflecting on that, Anderson said, “We have not heard such sentiments coming out of the Executive Branch for quite some time now, and so that in and of itself is refreshing. It’s just my prayer that one of these days we don’t have to remind her of her own words.”

Biden and Harris are assuming power at a time when the country is deeply divided along racial and political lines as evidenced by the insurrection at the Capitol Building on Jan. 6.

With heightened security coupled with the need to keep people safe from COVID-19, the inauguration was very different from those in the recent past, and that was not lost on Anderson, who is from the “DMV.” (That’s a nickname for the National Capitol Region that includes the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.)

“To see fences and razor wire all around (the Capitol area) is incredibly heartbreaking,” Anderson said. “And we know that COVID would have muted this anyway, but this just seems like adding insult to injury, in addition to what COVID has wrought, and also the fact that we are here due to the inaction of our leaders … It’s heartbreaking that this kind of history won’t get the sort of celebration and the fanfare and really be met with the joy that maybe it warrants for a lot of people.”

Nevertheless, Anderson is still hopeful, especially when thinking about what Harris’ achievement could mean for women’s prospects in this country.

Biden “is giving the country an opportunity to actually see a woman of color in this particular role,” which could go a very long way, Anderson said. Now, “it’s not unimaginable for us to see a woman president. It’s not unimaginable for us to see a majority female Supreme Court of the United States. It’s not unimaginable for us to see people operating competently and powerfully in these roles, irrespective — or maybe even because of — gender, so I’m grateful that he did that.”

The Office of Public Witness and the Office of Racial & Intercultural Justice are Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.


Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?