Sorority sister sees roots of Harris’s political rise in her student activism

By Laura Barros

Washington, Aug 19 (efe-epa).- The year was 1986 and a group of 38 African-American women and university students were dreaming of following in the footsteps of their sorority’s founders and forging a path as pioneers of societal change.

On Wednesday night, one of them will be formally nominated as the first vice-presidential candidate of African-American and Asian descent in the history of the United States.

Her name is Kamala Harris and at age 55 she is the running mate of Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden, but she also is a woman poised to write a new chapter in the annals of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA), an African-American sorority founded in 1908 at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington DC.

“I would say to describe her as a student is almost to describe her the way we see her now. She’s real, she’s authentic, she’s who she appears to be,” one of her sorority sisters, Lorri Saddler, said in an interview with Efe.

The two women were fellow candidates in the Howard AKA chapter’s 1986 initiation process, in which aspiring sisters must not only demonstrate their academic prowess with a high grade-point average but also show letters of recommendation from professors, employees or others who can vouch for their character.

The candidate also must have a track record of campus or community work that testifies to their role as agents of social change.

Harris, Saddler and 36 other line sisters completed the initiation process in the spring of 1986 and were inducted into the sorority under the name “38 Jewels of Iridescent Splendor.”

“We learned to work together. We learned what each other’s strengths were and we were able to work together to successfully complete the initiation process,” Saddler said. “And so I think it was during that time of bonding is my favorite memory.”

Saddler, who currently serves as associate vice president and dean of undergraduate admissions at Clark Atlanta University – a historically African-American university in Georgia – and is the same age as the junior US senator from California, said Harris was a “fully engaged student” who was very involved in campus and social activities.

She also highlighted the vice presidential candidate’s political activism in her student years, noting that she took part in anti-apartheid marches and social justice campaigns.

The sorority’s website states that it strives to foster the personal and professional development of its sisters, whose membership fees, known as “dues,” help the organization carry out its mission.

Being a part of Alpha Kappa Alpha represents empowerment, service and, above all, mutual support among the sorority sisters, Saddler said.

Media outlets have reported that AKA’s nearly 300,000 members and 1,024 local chapters could be an ace in the hole for the Biden-Harris ticket in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Saddler said the roots of her sorority sister’s rise from attorney general of California to US senator and now vice presidential candidate can be traced back to her university days.

“I think it’s (what) she experienced on that campus of Howard University that she is bringing forward today. I think we’re seeing the full manifestation of those seeds that were planted back on Howard University’s campus,” she said.

Saddler added that Harris would be effective in the role of vice president due to her ability to understand the challenges that people face.

The vice-presidential nomination of the daughter of a Jamaican-born economist and Stanford University professor emeritus father and an Tamil Indian cancer researcher mother comes less than three months after the death of an African-American man, George Floyd, in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, triggered a wave of nationwide protests and gave fresh impetus to the struggle for social justice for minorities.

“I think what we’re seeing in this nomination is a change. It’s certainly an opportunity for very much-needed change,” said Saddler, who recalled that the majority of black southerners did not obtain the right to vote in the US until 1965, a year after she and Harris were born. EFE-EPA


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