Kamala Harris draws support from unique bloc: Sorority sisters

Kamala Harris draws support from unique bloc: Sorority sisters
© Courtesy Glenda Glover

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump and Biden vie for Minnesota | Early voting begins in four states | Blue state GOP governors back Susan Collins Kamala Harris: Black Americans have been 'disproportionately harmed' by Trump Biden town hall draws 3.3 million viewers for CNN MORE (D-Calif.) has support from a nontraditional corner as she seeks to become the country's next vice president: Her sorority sisters.

A number of women in the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (AKA), the nation’s oldest African American Greek-lettered sorority, say they plan to help get former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSenate Republicans face tough decision on replacing Ginsburg What Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies Biden says Ginsburg successor should be picked by candidate who wins on Nov. 3 MORE elected after he named their sorority sister as his running mate.

While the sorority does not endorse political candidates, women in the organization say they plan to support the Biden-Harris ticket in their individual capacities as part of an effort to help install Harris, a member of the group, as the nation's first Black vice president.

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While Harris, who is of Jamaican and Indian descent, made history this week when she became the first Black woman and first Indian American to be selected to run for vice president on a major party ticket, her selection for vice president was a first in other ways, too.

Harris has secured the distinction of being the first graduate of a historically Black college or university (HBCU) to become a running mate on a major party’s presidential ticket as well as the first person from an African American Greek-lettered sorority on such a ticket.

HBCU leaders and others in her sisterhood lauded the achievement this week.

Glenda Glover, international president of the AKA and president of Tennessee State University, a renowned HBCU, called Biden's selection of Harris a “full circle moment” for African American Greek organizations as well as for historically Black universities.

The decision, Glover said, spoke “volumes for Black women.”

It “sends a message to little Black girls, little Asian girls, little Indian girls, all little girls that if you see it, you could be it,” Glover said in an interview with The Hill.

Glover recalled Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to be elected to Congress and the first woman or African American to run for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, casting the Harris pick as "in the spirit of Shirley Chisholm."

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And while the AKA is a nonprofit organization and won't be endorsing any political candidates, Glover said she plans to take part in efforts independent from the body to assist the Biden-Harris campaign.

DeVetta Hughes, an AKA member and former cluster coordinator for the south Atlanta region, said she too is committed to working independently to help the first-term California senator become vice president.

“I'm taking it on. I have recommitted myself to voter engagement, voter registration, education and mobilization,” Hughes said.

She added that other members of the sorority, which is known for its community outreach and commitment to service, are excited to take part in a get-out-the-vote push.

Hughes, an education professional, previously helped support Harris when she ran in the Democratic presidential primary before she ended her campaign late last year.

Hughes said a number of her sorority sisters are “energized” and “over the moon” that Harris has been named as Biden's running mate. They have looked at ideas such as helping older voters with absentee ballots and making sure ballots are submitted on time.

Minyon Moore, a veteran political strategist and former adviser to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhat Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies Bipartisan praise pours in after Ginsburg's death Trump carries on with rally, unaware of Ginsburg's death MORE, told The Hill this week that she thinks support from women within Harris’s sorority and other African American Greek organizations could help the Democratic ticket.

The sorority has nearly 300,000 members, and counts figures such as Ava DuVernay, Iyanla Vanzant and Jada Pinkett-Smith among its members. 

Moore said such backing could be “critical” especially given the coronavirus pandemic, since the sorority members "have natural ways to communicate with their members, which has probably been online anyway.” 

“They can put together buddy systems for older members who will have to now either do a mail-in ballot or do an online ballot of absentee [or] request an absentee ballots,” Moore said. “And so I see their role as very vital because they are always educating."

“This is just going to be an election about innovation, about groups of organized people that can lend their talent and resources … It's going to be a daughter-mother election. It is going to be a father-son election because it is a different type of an election, not just because we have a historic candidate but because we have historic obstacles,” she said.

Carla Mannings, a sorority member who was initiated with Harris at Howard University in 1986, said she’s not surprised at all by some of the swift support her line sister is already seeing from women in the organization.

“I would be surprised if it didn't happen,” Mannings told The Hill, adding that when women become members of the sorority it’s “a lifetime endeavor” for them.

“We take sisterhood very seriously and we take service very serious," she said.

Mannings, who works as a community development executive, said Harris exhibited a lot of the leadership qualities “that you see in her now,” such as dedication and hard work.

Their sorority has a long history of social advocacy and combating racism, stretching back more than a century.

Mannings said Harris “was active in on-campus social justice activities" and “participated early and often in campus political and student activism events, such as anti-Apartheid rallies” along with other sorority members.

"I mean, we're still talking about social, racial injustice with Black women today. So, you know, it was a really tough back in the '80s," Mannings said.

Glynda Carr, founder and CEO of Higher Heights for America, pointed to Harris's ties to AKA and Howard, saying she believes the senator's “access to the types of networks that made her the leader she is,” as well as her identity, will help bolster the Democratic ticket.

Carr, who is a member of the sorority and also a board member of the nonpartisan women's coalition ReflectUS, emphasized the “power” of the organizations’ “informal network” and the “pride of seeing that someone that comes from our tradition.” 

She pointed to recent presidential elections in which Black female voters played a pivotal role, specifically when former President Obama was on the ballot in 2008 and 2012.

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Glover agreed that Black women “will make [a] difference” again this year, emphasizing the importance of turning out the voting bloc.

“It’s time to get a return of investment in the ballot box," she said.

Carr echoed her belief about turnout heading into November.

“When you fire up a black woman, she doesn't go to the polls alone. She brings her house, her block, her church, sorority and her union,” she said.