LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Joe Biden has won the presidency, and his running mate, Kamala Harris, is breaking barriers. Harris will become the first woman of color to sit in the office of the vice presidency - a historic milestone at the end of a bruising presidential election. NPR's Juana Summers reports.
JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Vice President-elect Kamala Harris stepped into history last night with gratitude for the decades of work by women that made this moment possible and a promise for the future.
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KAMALA HARRIS: But while I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last...
HARRIS: ...Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.
SUMMERS: Harris is a daughter of immigrants - her father from Jamaica, her mother from India. She embodies the future of a country that is growing more racially diverse. Manisha Sinha, an American history professor at the University of Connecticut, said that Harris' rise sends a signal about what kind of country the United States is.
MANISHA SINHA: An interracial democracy that represents people, men and women from all over the globe - and I think that is a very good thing for American democracy. And for me personally, it gives me a sense of national belonging.
SUMMERS: Harris grew up in Oakland and Berkeley, Calif., where she says she was immersed in the civil rights movement. She often talks about the strollers-eye view she had as her parents took to the streets to protest. And in her memoir, she wrote about hearing Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to be elected to Congress, speak. Congresswoman Barbara Lee worked on Chisholm's presidential campaign.
BARBARA LEE: When Kamala was selected as the vice presidential nominee, I thought about Shirley Chisholm, and I thought about how it took all this time but how happy she must be.
SUMMERS: Celebrations broke out across the country, including on the yard at Howard University, the HBCU where Kamala Harris went to school in the 1980s.
ASHLEY GRAY: There's symbolic history in us being here and her having gotten her foundation here. So this is a great place to be today.
SUMMERS: That was Ashley Gray who defended her dissertation on Black women in leadership this week. Megan Weaver was driving when the news was announced. Then it hit her group text, and she had to pull over.
MEGAN WEAVER: Being a Howard grad and knowing that Kamala Harris came from Howard University and is also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, my sorority as well, it just meant so much to me. It means - to me, I felt like a child - you know, when you find out that certain things are possible and achievable.
SUMMERS: Harris' rise to the vice presidency is a nod to the future of the Democratic Party. She is the embodiment of a promise that Biden made during the Democratic primary, that he would definitively choose a woman as his running mate. And it is a particular victory for Black women who helped deliver Biden the nomination and are the backbone of the party, though some say their contributions have been historically overlooked and taken for granted. Here's Congresswoman Barbara Lee again.
LEE: Now, Black women are showing that Black women lead, and we'll never go back to the days where, you know, candidates only knew our value in terms of helping them get elected. But now they will see how we govern - and from the White House.
SUMMERS: Harris is now clearly positioned to become the leader of her party in the future. And that will mean she will be carefully scrutinized for her ambitions. Chryl Laird is an assistant professor of government and legal studies at Bowdoin College. She is also a coauthor of a book on Black political behavior.
CHRYL LAIRD: She is going to be in a position where a critical lens will be placed on her in a manner that just will not have existed for the people who have been her predecessors, right? So the white men who have sat in that role just don't have to deal with that type of critique.
SUMMERS: But today, many young women saw something different - a role model. In Austin, as the crowd sang "We Are The Champions," Gabriela Long described a moment of release.
GABRIELA LONG: The past four years has been really bad and, like, seeing - I'm going to cry - seeing, like, a Black woman, like - sorry - as vice president, like, after all of this, it really, like, makes me emotional, seeing someone I can look up to.
SUMMERS: Harris had a message for young women like Long - America is a country of possibilities. Juana Summers, NPR News.
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