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How Howard University could help bring about a Biden-Harris victory

And his ticket has some support built in: Howard's alumni rallied behind Harris during his 2016 Senate campaign and the 2020 primaries. Biden's decision to add the senator and former California attorney to the Democratic list makes Harris not only the first black woman to run for vice president of a major party, but also the first college graduate. or Historically African American University (HBCU). It has injected a new burst of energy into the HBCU community's commitment to the presidential race.

"Howard really paved the way for a lot of HBCUs and the importance of (Harris) being at the top of the list really shows the value of HBCUs and… how transformative it would be for us," said Charlie Lewis, a graduate. from Howard in 1989. "We have more than 86,000 students and we are not all monolithic," Lewis continued. “We come from the entire diaspora, the African diaspora. That is unique. And she participates in that. ”

Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick described seeing a Howard alumnus on the Democratic list as "humiliating" and "exhilarating." Harris and his team, he said, have shown that they are aware of the unique challenges facing the African American community and want to help remedy them, but cannot do it alone


"She's clearly going to be a champion and that's good," Frederick said. “But we, as a population, have to keep pushing for broader reforms, etc. and recognize that all of our elected officials will be required to participate at the federal, state, and local levels. ”

Members of the Howard network maintain that the university's unique political and cultural education set the standard for their success as black leaders in America. His most notable alumni include Thurgood Marshall, Elijah Cummings, and Stokely Carmichael. Harris's time at Howard coincided with a pivotal era of black political activism, from Jesse Jackson's first presidential race to the international protests against apartheid in South Africa.

Yet even as Harris's fellow Howard graduates recognized the historical significance of his selection, they emphasize that symbolism is not enough. In particular, they hope that she and Biden will be prepared to consider their backgrounds (hers as a local prosecutor, his as the architect of the 1994 crime bill) and how those policies helped put tested harmful systems that have been particularly damaging to black communities. . It is perhaps the biggest obstacle to Biden and Harris' efforts to rally the same voting bloc that has overwhelmingly supported Democrats for decades.

Jade Agudosi, a Howard graduate in 2018, said that while she is excited about Harris's nomination, she does not subscribe to the mantra that it is enough for "black faces in high places."

"There has to be more involved in that," said Agudosi, who was the president of Howard's student government association when the students occupied the university's administrative building in 2018. "There is work that goes along with that."

After developing a reputation in California as a pragmatist on crime, Harris has changed his approach to criminal justice in recent years. As a senator, her legislative record has been notably more progressive than in the past, including sponsoring a series of criminal justice reform laws alongside her Democratic and Republican colleagues. In June, she co-authored the Police Justice Law, which aims to standardize the tactics of the police force and independently investigate cases of misconduct


“In my career, the conventional wisdom was that people were soft on crime or tough on crime. But I knew we should be smart about crime, ”Harris said in his keynote address to Howard's Class of 2017, explaining his work to reduce recidivism rates as a district attorney. Challenging the status quo while making substantial improvements in black communities were not easy goals, but, he said, he learned the manual through his education at Howard.

His explanations of his past as a prosecutor weren't enough to win over the coalition of black, brown, and young voters he hoped to appeal to in the 2019 Democratic presidential primaries. His big bet in South Carolina, he thought the early primaries 'status as a snapshot of black voters' preferences paid off only marginally. Before suspending his campaign for the presidency last December, Harris barely made his way through the top three choices among black voters.

Yet in the face of the stakes in November, even those who did not support Harris or his past policies are now giving him the benefit of the doubt. That is echoed in recent polls, which have found that joining Biden's list has the support of a majority of voters of all races and ideologies. A Morning Consult blip poll of voters found that 84 percent of all Democrats and 79 percent of black voters approve.

“I'm not trying to square it. She was a prosecutor. And hell, I can think of a lot of things that I probably don't agree with her on. And that's the same for probably every other elected official around here, "said Ras Baraka, the current Newark mayor who graduated from Howard in 1994." However, I think his idea of ​​America includes us. And her idea of ​​what should happen is different than what we are experiencing right now… and whatever problem she has with her, she deserves a pass. For now. ”

Harris's supporters say she is more than prepared to address questions about her record in law enforcement.

"She has never chosen the path of least resistance," said Kirsten Allen, a Howard alumnus who was Harris's national press secretary during his presidential campaign. “When I was doing interviews, especially when we were on the beat [during the presidential campaign] I would start a lot of questions about his tax history with the statement: 'I understand why black and brown people have a problem with prosecutors, I totally understand their concern.'"

Since Biden's vice president's announcement last week, questions about Harris's loyalty to the black community have returned as Republican talking points – Harris's supporters say his college choice answers many of them.

"When you choose to go to Howard after living in Canada and coming from California, you are making an affirmative decision about blackness," said Keneshia Grant, associate professor of political science at Howard University. "When you choose commit and stay in the sorority, stay active after getting out of school … and all these other things, like she's making multiple decisions. active on Blackness. She is hugging him. ”

Grant, who had been quietly hoping that Biden would choose a black woman to run for the vice presidency in recognition of the value that black voters bring to the Democratic Party, said she was surprised by how immediate and vehement the criticism of Harris was. .

"People didn't even take a moment to celebrate the historic nature of their name on the ticket," Grant said. "I understood why people had these feelings of criticizing her, but I didn't understand why they couldn't celebrate progress."

For some, the unwillingness to acknowledge the seriousness of her achievement reveals a more insidious tendency among her detractors, who have pointed to specific professional decisions to make radical calculations about how worthy of the black vote she might be.

"The reality is that we made this mistake in the black community in 2016," said Ravi Perry, chair of Howard's political science department. “I think if we allow ourselves to convey these narratives, this time we will just shoot ourselves in the foot, whether it's Hillary Clinton and the 'super predators' or the crime bill or Anita Hill, or the prosecution record of Kamala Harris. ”

In the absence of in-person campaign events and since university courses are conducted primarily online, participation in any campaign with students will be limited in the run-up to November. Biden's HBCUs remain active and have organized events for the campaign following the announcement of Harris's vice president selection. However, HBCU graduates, in particular, remain an untapped resource for campaigning and fundraising.

The Biden campaign said in a statement that Biden and Harris recognize "the important role that black colleges and universities play in our society" and said that "the United States can expect the Biden Harris administration to commit to ensuring a more equitable situation. , sustainable and prosperous future for these historic institutions. " But it did not provide any details on its outreach strategy to the wider HBCU community.

While Biden's polls with black voters top 90 percent, it's crucial to make sure his enthusiasm translates into electoral support in November. With a black woman and an HBCU graduate on the list, Democrats have a chance to close the enthusiasm gaps that cost Hillary Clinton the White House in 2016.

“The HBCUs are a point of contact in African American society. They mean a lot to all of us, ”said Lodriguez Murray, senior vice president for public policy and government affairs for the United Negro College Fund. "Good education, comprehensive services, economic empowerment, that creates loyalty in that community and galvanizing that loyalty for any candidate would be a game changer."

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