Kamala (pronounced comma-lah) Harris is a politician and lawyer who is the first Black woman and first South Asian American to be elected Vice President of the United States. Ms. Harris was born in Oakland, California, on October 20, 1964. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was a breast cancer researcher and biologist born in India, and her father, Jamaica-born Donald Harris, is an award-winning professor emeritus at Stanford University. In her formal acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, Ms. Harris noted that her parents “.. fell in love in that most American way — while marching together for justice in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.”
The Vice President’s younger sister Maya is a lawyer and public policy advocate who co-chaired the Senator’s presidential campaign and was an adviser to Hillary Clinton. When Kamala was twelve years old, her mother took a position at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. She moved with her two daughters to Montreal (the Harrises divorced when Kamala was five); that is where Kamala attended high school.
Ms. Harris received her undergraduate degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation’s oldest Black sorority. It was at Howard that Ms. Harris first ran a campaign. More from this ESSENCE story on the role Howard played in shaping the Senator’s future:
…a 17-year-old Harris, ran a successful campaign for the title of freshman class representative of Howard’s liberal arts student council. “That was my first run for public office,” Harris tells ESSENCE of her foray into elected leadership. “And when you run for public office at Howard University, you can run for office anywhere.”
Ms. Harris earned her law degree at the University of California, Hastings, in 1989. She then worked as a prosecutor in the Alameda County district attorney’s office for eight years. Ms. Harris was elected as San Francisco’s District Attorney in 2003; she was the first Black woman to hold this position. In 2010, Ms. Harris was elected as California’s first female, first Black, and first South Asian American attorney general, where she oversaw the nation’s second-largest Justice Department. Ms. Harris was elected as a U.S. Senator from California in 2016, where she serves on the Senate’s Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, among others.
The Vice President is a stepmother to Ella and Cole Emhoff, whom she describes as an “endless source of love and pure joy.”
On August 11, 2020, Joe Biden announced he had chosen Kamala Harris as his running mate. In her acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, the Vice President spoke about her vision of the United States as “A country where we may not agree on every detail, but we are united by the fundamental belief that every human being is of infinite worth, deserving of compassion, dignity and respect.” For her Secret Service code name, Ms. Harris chose “Pioneer.”
In a video posted on the campaign trail in October, the Vice President shares photos and talks about a few pivotal people and moments in her life.