Vice President Kamala Harris Up Close: A Discussion With Former Staffer And Congressional Candidate, Lateefah Simon

Vice President Kamala Harris addresses 2022 NAACP Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on July 18, 2022

Source: Kamala Harris/Facebook / Kamala Harris/Facebook

If one believes, as I do, with the notion of the past as prologue, it will come as no surprise that in a major crisis moment for the Democratic Party, all eyes are on Kamala Harris. The Party is looking to the first woman and first Black person to serve as Vice President of the United States, to save the day. During the 2020 election cycle, it was Kamala Harris on the campaign trail and Stacy Abrams in Georgia who ushered the Party, including Biden and the Senate, to victory. Black women have been the most consistent voting bloc of support for the Democratic Party for generations. 

Yet while Harris, as the junior senator from California was widely appreciated across the national Black community and among women generally, her ascension to the White House has seen her targeted by both the left and the right in a way that was unusually brutal and often dishonest. It’s difficult to imagine one of the white men who held the role being so targeted from all sides, from Pence to Quayle. Sure one side might take aim, but both? To witness the way Vice President Harris has been treated is to witness the history of Black women who rise to positions once considered impossible. 

We Cannot Ignore the Misogyny and Racism

As Stacy Abrams shared when discussing the presidency and vice presidency with Jen Pskai on MSNBC, “We will always question the person behind the person…[but] we cannot ignore that misogyny and racism…” that plays a role in how Kamala Harris has been specifically targeted for attack from both the left and the right. But in the face of the exigent circumstance that has spiraled almost out of control since the presidential debate on June 27, there is now, seemingly for the first time since she took office,  serious consideration about Harris leading the Democratic ticket. 

To understand more about the vice president and this moment, this morning NewsOne spoke with Lateefah Simon, the veteran community organizer, current president of the Meadow Fund and the woman that a wide swath of people and organizations–including Barbara Lee–have heartily endorsed to succeed Ms. Lee as the next person to represent the people of the San Francisco Bay Area’s 12th Congressional District.

Lateefah openly and easily shared Vice President Harris’s accomplishments, her real, not media mangled, character, and what she learned from the woman who some are speculating may be the first–and certainly first Black and South Asian–woman to lead the United States of America.

The Conversation with Lateefah Simon


Source: GREG NASH / Getty

asha bandele: Lateefah, would you summarize what you see as Vice President Harris’ greatest accomplishment during her tenure in the White House? 

Lateefah Simon: Thank you for having this discussion with me, asha. First, I would frame the response by noting that the VP is largely a ceremonial role–and we see that even in the staffing and budget allotted the office. So I am deeply proud of Kamala for doing several things. 

She was the face of student debt relief across the country, ensuring support for Biden’s policy. And more, she was the person pushing for the HBCU Rise initiative that, among other things, provided students as HBCU law schools, free bar prep classes and living stipends. The first-time bar passage rate of those students rose powerfully. 

This is to say that from the beginning, Kamala challenged the ceremonial nature of her position. Remember how front-facing and brave a stance she took for women’s body sovereignty and autonomy prior to and in the wake of Dobbs

Kamala actually expanded the Party’s talking points because she listened to the people in the 27 states where women had the control of their uterus snatched away from them. And she ensured that wherever she went to help educate and activate people on the issue, there was special outreach to women from socially and otherwise marginalized communities. She looked to young women, young people, Black women, poor women, to enlarge the conversation about body autonomy so that the broadest number of people would be served in developing and implementing measures to reduce the harm women now face. 

ab: That could not have been easy for her—challenging the talking points that had been set,  given the scrutiny she’s been under since she joined the Biden ticket…

LS: Yes and no, I suspect. Kamala is a natural leader—and an excellent one. So I imagine that the most difficult thing for her to do was to so gracefully become a follower of the president’s agenda. That’s not to say she disagreed with it, but it’s to underscore that she’s spent her entire career developing agendas by engaging very closely and personally with the community. To sit back in order to best serve was a new way for her to be of service. Which in the end, is one of Kamala’s greatest strengths: to remain focused on providing meaningful public service rather than focusing solely on herself, which as we know, many in politics do. But to truly serve the people, one has to be able to be nimble and flexible. You have to be smart and humble, and you have to be ready not just on day one, but everyday. That’s Kamala. I mean…if you only knew the amount of information this woman not only digests, but retains, it would blow you away. 

ab: You must have seen that when you were working with her to help end the mass incarceration of young people. What did you learn from her?

LS: The first day I showed up for work in her office, my immediate task was to go out to visit young people in a detention center. And I was dressed Bay Area casual. Kamala told me to go home and change. She said, “We don’t dress down for our people.” I left the office that day in tears but got a call telling me to come in early the next day. I didn’t have money then. I’d donated a large amount of the Genius Award money to the organization I’d led and MacArthur had celebrated me for. But I did what I was told and the next day, there was a new size 2 suit that fit me perfectly! Kamala has been cast as hard because she works harder than anyone and expects her staff to work hard. Her motto is, “Show up early, leave late.” And for Black women, she knows that this is especially true.

ab: Is there a particular mischaracterization about the vice president that you’d like to correct?

LS: It may be impossible for me to measure how insulting it is when people suggest the vice president is in her role because of some kind of favoritism or privilege. We all have people who help us along the way, of course, but when Black women ascend in the way that Kamala has, it really comes down to our will, our determination and our diligence. That rarely gets considered when it comes to Black women in leadership—our sweat, blood and tears.

But Kamala lives by and taught me to live by the creed that we can and must move past what others think they know about us, and instead rely upon what we know about ourselves.

Between that, and her teaching me to show up early and leave late, and staying in closest touch with the people you serve—because public service is the greatest of honors—I know I was fortunate enough to be in Master Class working with her. The woman who is now the second most powerful person in the world.


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The post Vice President Kamala Harris Up Close: A Discussion With Former Staffer And Congressional Candidate, Lateefah Simon appeared first on NewsOne.

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