No justice, no peace. No Donald, no Mike. Just Joe and Kamala.
Four years ago I was overjoyed when the first woman of a major political party was nominated to be President of the United States. From Seneca to Selma to Shirley Chisholm to Stonewall, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of the beloved community has been slowly bending the arc of the moral universe toward justice and equality for all. This week with the Democratic Party’s nomination of a woman of color to become Vice President of the United States I am once again optimistic for people of good will in America to prevail in November, to reverse the current administration’s attempts to bend that arc in a different direction.
“She taught us to put family first—the family you’re born into and the family you choose,” said Senator Kamala Harris about her mother in her acceptance speech for the vice presidency this week at the Democratic National Convention.
In 1946 I was born into a Texas family that was part of a generation later identified by historians as the Baby Boom generation (1946 – 1964). WWII ended, the young soldier boys returned home to marry their teenage girlfriends who were waiting for them and then boom, here came the babies. Millions of us born into families who now had amazing educational opportunities through the miracle of the GI Bill to do what their parents couldn’t have done. My father took advantage of the veterans’ benefits to enroll in college while he also worked to support his little family of me and my mom. He was the first and only person in his family to earn a college degree, a degree that enabled him to become a teacher, coach and then superintendent at the same small rural school he attended as a child.
While daddy was teaching and coaching, he encouraged my mother to make the half-hour commute from our home to Sam Houston Teachers College in Huntsville five days a week so that she could finish her college degree she started at Baylor University during the war. I was in the fourth grade when my mother enrolled and in the sixth grade when she graduated. She came to teach music part-time the next year when I was in the seventh grade, and I have to say it was a nightmare being in my mother’s class while going to a school where my father was superintendent.
But I survived…and in my home with two parents who were educators there was never a discussion about going to college when I finished high school. No. The discussions were about which college I would attend and how education opened doors of endless opportunities. My father once told me the whole earth was my territory – that I could be anything I wanted to be if I worked hard and believed in myself.
For seven years after graduating from the University of Texas in 1967 I explored different parts of my territory while I worked in several jobs as a CPA in the early 1970s from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Northwest to the southeastern Atlantic Coast state of South Carolina. Every position I had the story was the same: I always was paid less for equal work. I was in a nontraditional occupation for a woman in those days and felt frustrated – even angry – at the unfairness of a system that ruled the kingdom of numbers.
I was with my father in his hospital room in Houston in 1974 following his surgery for colon cancer, but he was talking to me even then about my career and the reality of my territory. Why don’t you be your own boss? Why don’t you set up your own business if you don’t like how you’re being treated? That is exactly what I did for the next 40 years. I found my place in my territory, but my father wasn’t with me on the journey. He died from cancer in 1976 at 51 years of age. He was my mentor, my friend and a wonderful example of public service in an era that valued educators.
In 1958 at nineteen years of age Kamala Harris’s mother left India with the blessing of her family to come to America to discover a cure for cancer. She married Kamala’s father who had immigrated from Jamaica to study economics at the University of California Berkeley where he met her mother, and Kamala was born in Oakland in 1964 – the last year of the Baby Boomer demographic cohort – into a family that literally included the whole earth as their territory at a moment in history when the Civil Rights movement was at an inflection point. As Kamala’s parents pushed her in a stroller while they marched for equality in the streets of Berkeley they gave her the foundation for a passionate belief in civic responsibility, but neither one could have known that stroller would roll her all the way to Washington, D.C.
I am grateful for Kamala’s family, for the family I was born into, for the family I have been allowed to choose, for the opportunity to explore a territory my father could not have envisioned and for the potential of passing a better democracy to my granddaughter who may begin her life with a Black woman of Indian ancestry as the Vice President of the United States.
Stay safe, stay sane, stay tuned and vote in November.