‘It’s about time!’: Howard University students and alumni react to Kamala Harris becoming the first HBCU alum on a major-party ticket

Sen. Kamala Harris of California at Howard University on January 21, 2019, after announcing her run for president. Al Drago/Getty Images
  • The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, announced Tuesday that Sen. Kamala Harris of California would be his running mate for the 2020 presidential election.
  • This announcement makes Harris the first alumna from a historically Black college or university to appear on a major-party ticket.
  • Members of the Howard University community shared with Insider how they reacted to the announcement.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, announced Tuesday that Sen. Kamala Harris of California would serve as his vice-presidential running mate after months of speculation.

The former prosecutor is a woman of many firsts, including being the first historically Black college and university alumna to run on a major-party ticket. She is also the first Black woman and person of Indian descent to be nominated by either party for vice president.

‘From the Hilltop to Capitol Hill’

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Harris in a Howard University yearbook. Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Harris attended Howard, the illustrious HBCU located in Washington, DC, in the 1980s. During her time there, she joined Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first historically Black sorority founded at the institution, and studied political science and economics. She graduated in 1986 before going on to law school at the University of California at Hastings.

In a 2019 Washington Post article by Robin Givhan, Harris said she attended Howard because she wanted to be “surrounded by Black students, Black culture, and Black traditions.”

“When you’re at an HBCU and especially one with the size and with the history of Howard University – and also in the context of also being in DC, which was known forever as being ‘Chocolate City’ – it just becomes about you understanding that there is a whole world of people who are like you,” Harris told The Post. “It’s not just about there are a few of us who may find each other.”

In a Twitter post on Tuesday, Howard University’s president, Wayne AI Frederick, championed Biden’s pick and said Harris “represents a milestone opportunity for our democracy to acknowledge the leadership Black women have always exhibited.”

But the Howard University community isn’t a monolith, and not everyone was pleased with Biden’s choice. Some on Twitter took issue with Harris’ record as a prosecutor, concerned that she and Biden didn’t have the views necessary to adequately address criminal-justice reform and other political issues.

Insider spoke with several Howard students and alumni who shared what Harris’ name on the ticket meant to them.

The Howard University community reacts

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Students and alumni lined up to receive T-shirts and posters before a planned march from the Howard University campus to the Lincoln Memorial on August 24, 2013, for the 50th March On Washington anniversary. Nathaniel Grann / For The Washington Post via Getty Images

HU ’87 alum and Harris’ AKA sister, Jill Louis said, ‘We are overjoyed to have a Bison chosen to help lead this country forward’

“It validates all that we have worked for as a University, as a country, and as people of colour in this country,” Louis told Insider in a statement.

HU ’17 alum Devin T. Jones said, ‘It was a very smart idea on the part of Biden’

“Harris checks all boxes on the Democratic checklist: young, woman, and Black. She is a smart and courageous leader,” Jones told Insider. “As an HU alum, I’m ecstatic. Senator Harris was my commencement speaker, and we saw the light in her eyes then. Howard alum will always have this chip on their shoulder that one of our own is the first woman, first Black, first Asian American VP of the US.”

HU ’19 alum Nailah Roberts said she’s ‘ecstatic’ that her prophyte could be the next vice president

“As a Black woman, I never imagined I would see this day in my lifetime. We face so many microaggressions, bias, and ridicule when it comes to being in positions of power. So this is monumental,” Roberts told Insider. “As an AKA we live by ‘Service to ALL mankind.’ I am certain that Kamala will take the morals of our beloved sorority and apply them to the American government, where that mentality is much needed. When I first stepped foot on the campus of Howard University, there was an energy I could not describe … I quickly learned that the energy was success. Howard breeds greatness. We are the mecca. The centre of Black excellence. As a Howard student, I am filled with pride and joy to know that the Howard legacy of greatness is continuing all the way to the White House.”

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Harris with Mara Peoples, the executive vice president of the Howard University Student Association, beside Amos Jackson III, the executive president, at Howard University on January 21, 2019. Al Drago/Getty Images

HU ’19 alum Jaylen Scott Wilson said, ‘I feel a sense of pride knowing that my alma mater has the first grad on a major ticket’

“I think this goes without saying, but this is another remarkable achievement accomplished by a Howard graduate. As a whole, this continues to emphasise the importance of HBCUs and the impact they have on our society,” Wilson told Insider. “Gaining a Howard University education not only instills leadership, excellence, truth, and service, but it allows all who enter its doors access to endless possibilities. Howard graduates continually illustrate that we are not setting the standard – we are the standard.”

HU ’19 alum Kaaya Bufford said, ‘It’s about time!’

“I feel a sense of satisfaction knowing that there is someone that I see myself in, who will potentially be in the White House. I understand the black community may have their opposing views on the VP candidate, but she is more than qualified for this position and has the best interest at heart for POC, women, immigrants, the working class and the country as a whole,” Bufford told Insider. “She will be the voice for many people, who throughout history have felt silenced in this country. When news first broke out about Kamala Harris being Biden’s running mate, I felt a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. I see my grandmother, mother, aunts, sister, female friends in Kamala Harris. She is for us. And I’m confident she will not only rise to the occasion, but she will also exceed her duty as VP.”

HU ’21 student Avery Brown said Harris as VP is ‘essential and incredible’

“I 100% support and am cheering for her! While people scrutinize her for her work as AG, she is thorough, focused, and excellent in her work! Not only is she the first Black woman to be on a major-party ballot, but she is a representation showing young Black women that despite the country’s hateful fabric, you can achieve political success and bring change for a better future,” Brown told Insider. “Who knows … this could potentially lead her to consider a presidential run in the future. I love this decision by Biden, as it shows the progressive movement within Congress and how it’s starting to shift.”

HU ’21 student Stanton Hare said he’s ‘happy to see Kamala Harris on the ballot.’

“Despite the valid concerns many may have about her past actions as a prosecutor, I think it’s important to recognise that this is a step in the right direction. Regardless of her political decisions, making history as the first Black woman to be chosen as a VP candidate is beyond groundbreaking. She’s serving as living representation and inspiration for all women of colour in politics that has been severely lacking for years,” Hare told Insider. “Hopefully, this will force the country to take a closer look at the talents that come from HBCUs and give us the proper recognition and appreciation that we deserve.”