Dear Oakland Unified Community,
You’re looking at Norman Rockwell’s famous painting of a little girl in a white dress walking into school that perfectly illustrates the fight for civil rights in education. That little girl was six year old Ruby Bridges, and she had to be escorted by federal marshals enforcing the integration of her New Orleans school that until that day in 1960 had been entirely white. The entire painting shows the disgusting racist term someone had painted on the wall behind her, and a tomato someone had thrown. It’s called The Problem We All Live With, and now, the essence of it has resurfaced in an amazing and historic way.
Since California Senator Kamala Harris has now been deemed Vice President-elect along with President-elect Joe Biden, Ruby Bridges appears as a shadow of Ms. Harris in an image of her walking. As the first African American woman ever elected as President or Vice President, Harris would be the first to acknowledge that she stands on the shoulders of people like Ruby Bridges and Rosa Parks.
Now, I know the presidential election will not be final until the Electoral College makes it official in December, and the president has still not conceded defeat. But what appears clear, given how many states they won, is that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have made some incredible American history.
Of course, I will not be commenting on their politics, and frankly, if the circumstances were the same with the other ticket, I would say the same thing. But I have to talk about Kamala Harris who was born at Oakland Kaiser, the daughter of two immigrants. Her father is African and Jamaican American from Jamaica. Her late mother was from India. She spent much of her early life in Berkeley, a child of Oakland and the East Bay. So, put all of that together and you have numerous firsts in presidential politics. Kamala Harris, who was born the same year Rockwell created his painting, is:
The first woman elected President or Vice President
The first person of color elected Vice President
The first daughter of immigrants to be elected President or Vice President
The first African American person elected Vice President
The first Indian American person elected President or Vice President
And yes, she is the first person from Oakland to ever reach the White House
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has shattered myriad glass ceilings that have existed in American politics since our nation’s founding in 1776. She is a success that the founders of the United States never would have imagined, let alone allowed. More than that, Ms. Harris has gone a long way to showing the children of Oakland and the entire country, many of whom look like her, what is now possible.
As a Black woman from Oakland, I am in awe of where we have arrived as a country, especially given where we have been in recent years with regard to race relations and racial justice. Kamala Harris, a Black and Indian woman, has reached the second highest office in the land because a majority of American voters chose her and Joe Biden to lead us for the next four years. We know we have much work still to do to root out racism, sexism and xenophobia in our country. But the step we took in this election shows anything is possible when we work together for a common cause, an ideal that all people are created equal, and that everyone can reach the American dream no matter where they came from, what color they are, what gender, religion, or anything else that makes them American.
I hope that because of Ms. Harris’ election, like me, you can now look in the mirror and know that the person you see does indeed have the opportunity to reach the highest levels of power because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, former President Barack Obama, and yes, Ruby Bridges blazed a trail for all of us.
Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell
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