Kamala Harris Then and Now: An HBCU Perspective

The hypothesis is simple: everything for which so many of us have hoped and dreamed, and at which a growing number of us have pursed our lips and rolled our eyes about a Kamala Harris presidency is true for a Kamala Harris vice-presidency.
That’s the editorial.
Here are two editorials I wrote on Jan. 21, 2019. Feel free to stop reading and leave a comment when the content of 19 months ago doesn’t match the context of today.

A Sustainable HBCU Platform Must Be Part of the Democratic 2020 Agenda

Howard University alumna and United States Senator Kamala Harris announced her bid for the 2020 presidential campaign this morning, joining a growing list of diverse faces in position to take the Democratic party’s nomination for the chance to topple Donald Trump. 

Her announcement comes 24 hours before former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is scheduled to appear at Benedict College for a conversation with students, a likely pre-presidential campaign announcement tour stop designed to show face with an important voting bloc; black youth across the south.

Five years ago, Republicans were still trying to figure out how to court and convert voters from HBCU communities, two years off of another drubbing by Barack Obama delivered in part by black voters and two years away from selling their souls to the Alt-Right. And in our American political matrix, the same thing is about to take place in the Democratic party, with the Alt-Left preparing to push liberal centrists further to the west side of the political spectrum.

Republicans failed black voters by refusing to reign in their governors and state lawmakers on decimating HBCUs through budget cuts, Trojan Horse appointments to state institutions, and rule-breaking approaches to hiring presidents. Democrats will fail for propping up the stereotype that black people and our votes will be easily swayed by appearances on campuses and slang used from our stages to signal black empathy.

We don’t want empathy. We want policy. We want any conversation about free college to include all public and private HBCUs. We want any conversation about healthcare reform to include mandated funding for HBCU research and community outreach programming.

We want guarantees that federal agencies will commit seven percent of their grantmaking to higher education institutions to HBCUs, which on average return more than triple of the investment in the percentage of trained black professionals working in STEM fields, criminal justice, agriculture, education, and social services nationwide.

We want the areas surrounding every HBCU in the nation to be designated as opportunity zones, and specific exemptions for small business development instead of corporations being able to buy-in cheap, create jobs low-level jobs for black citizens while reaping astronomical profits through tax breaks.

We want HBCUs to be the awarding agencies for loans given to minority entrepreneurs who open specific businesses in opioid addiction recovery, mental health service clinics, charter school education, hemp production and resale and non-emergency medical treatment facilities, and for those entrepreneurs to receive three years of repayment deferment.

What we don’t want is for the party to believe that appearances and pandering will be enough for us. At least, it shouldn’t be at a time where more black folks are likely to vote, and more likely to be politically discerning than we have been in previous election cycles.

Just ask Andrew Gillum.

In an election decided by less than half a percentage point, Gillum’s race plainly could have been a key factor in DeSantis’ win.

But so could the strikingly large number of black voters in Florida who chose not to vote for Gillum.

Exit polls showed 86 percent of black voters cast ballots for Gillum, and 90 percent backed Nelson. At least 95 percent of black voters backed Barack Obama 2008 and 2012.

Nelson received a couple hundred more votes than Gillum in Florida’s only majority black county, Gadsden in North Florida. And the white three-term senator won more votes than Gillum in the five counties with the highest share of black residents, including Gillum’s home county of Leon.

Some Florida Democrats wonder: Did Andrew Gillum lose because of race? – Adam C. Smith and Langton Taylor (Tampa Bay Times)

We’ve been here before and the result, eight years later, was Donald Trump and an unexpectedly historic run of support for HBCUs. If Democrats, even black politicians with HBCU roots want black folks to pull this off for them again, they better do more than preach this time around.

Because if money and recent history show us anything, who we like and who we will support at the ballot box can be two totally different people.

How Did the ‘Cancel Kamala Harris’ Campaign Launch So Quickly?

Kamala Harris, a graduate of historically black Howard University, announced her bid for the 2020 presidential campaign around 7:30 this morning on ‘Good Morning, America.’

By the time the noonday news segments were airing, several op-eds in national newspapers were making the rounds on social media and in email inboxes about Harris’ record as a California prosecutor, and state Attorney General.

The New York Timesthe Intercept, and Mother Jones all offer varying takes on Harris’ professional work on issues like attorney misconduct, punishment for youth truancy, and policing reforms. They all published within hours of her announced presidential candidacy, the first black woman to declare such a campaign since Carol Moseley-Braun in 2003 and Shirley Chisolm in 1972.

Debating Harris’ record is a legitimate effort, as it would be for any middle-aged white male candidate who has had the spirit and finance to pursue such ambitions. What separates the debate around Harris’ campaign is the speed with which the criticism and potential talking points which have surfaced on day one of the formal Harris For President campaign.

These same issues were present for Harris’ successful campaign for U.S. Senate. Maybe they’ve always been there and not just in the national line of sight for the average American voter or Twitter commentator. Typically, the HBCU community would love to chase down such a coordinated effort as racism or sexism against one of our graduates, but the truth is that at the heart of this campaign are black folks taking issue with her politics as enacted through legal activity.

At first blush, it is a painful echo for what has long plagued black folks pursuing power and influence inside and outside of politics; who really is responsible for smear campaigns against our best and brightest, and how much should we trust them? Through the lens of conspiracy, this has the look of a Democratic National Committee hit on a candidate seen by many as a front-runner for the party’s nomination, with echoes of how Bernie Sanders was railroaded in the effort to support Hillary Clinton.

This round of political mudslinging may be that, but it may simultaneously be a sign of how far we’ve come as a country and as a people. Could it be that all kinds of people are supporting and opposing Harris for DNC-driven political reasons, and for individual and meaningful grievances with a candidate?

On day one, there are reasons to worry about a successful Harris 2020 bid, and reasons for HBCU stakeholders to give it a chance. Her prosecutorial moves from years ago are now dueling with today’s actions as a candidate looking to court key communities.

A press conference at her alma mater, a meeting with members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc in South Carolina later this week. A likely slate of HBCU outreach in the years to come. Harris will know how to play this game and play it well with a changing Democratic base.

All of it suggests that Harris may earn the right to be canceled, or earn the right to be supported. But with all that we know about her past record, today is not the day for a submarine effort which could’ve been launched against her bid for senator in 2017. The timing, the details, and the prospects don’t quite stack up for her to be out just hours after she got in.

She’s earned the right to explain herself and to win us over. Now let’s be sure to pay attention to make sure she’s doing more than simply speaking our language.