Remarks By the Vice President at Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority's 70th Boule in Orlando, Florida
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good morning, sorors! (Applause.) (Laughs.) Oh, my goodness. Oh. Good morning, good morning, good morning. (Applause.)
Please have a seat. We have so much to talk about. (Laughter.) Oh, my goodness. What a sight my eyes do behold. (Applause.)
It is so good to be here. I can't even explain how this feels. I can't even explain how this feels. (Applause.)
To our Supreme Basileus, Dr. Glenda Glover -- (applause); members of the Directorate; former Supreme Basilei; and all who serve Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated -- (applause) -- good morning to everyone. Good morning.
Dr. Glover, you have been a tremendous friend to me, and sister, over so many years, and a phenomenal leader of our sisterhood. So I want to thank you in front of everyone -- (applause) -- for all that you have done and for your commitment, your enduring commitment to exemplify excellence.
I also want to thank our International President, Danette Anthony Reed, as you guide us into the next chapter of our sorority. (Applause.) I'm so excited to walk with you on this journey.
And what an amazing sight to look out and to see so many of our sorority sisters under one roof at the same time. (Applause.) I look out at all of you and, of course, I see family.
In fact, our sorority, some of you may know, has been a part of my life since I was a little girl. You see, my aunt, Christine Simmons, joined Alpha Kappa Alpha at Howard University in the year 1950. And so --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We know!
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, you know. And -- (laughter) -- and when I was a teenager, she was basileus of Alpha Nu Omega chapter in Oakland, California. (Applause.) And when I graduated high school, there, of course, was no question that I would attend Howard University. And I was determined, from a young girl, to join Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. (Applause.) And, of course, this sisterhood remains a key part of who I am today.
In fact, when Auntie Chris was basileus, I'll never forget: She hosted one of our revered founders, Miss Norma E. Boyd. And Miss Boyd was in her late 80s at the time, and we had a reception for her. And she was then signing of her book, "A Love That Equals My Labors." And she signed a copy: "To Kamala, with love, Norma E. Boyd." And I will tell you, I proudly display the signed copy of that book in my West Wing office in the White House. (Applause.) Yes, I do. The legacy lives on. (Laughter.)
And last month, I'll tell you -- and I see some of them here -- I was so proud to host my line sisters, the 38 Jewels of Iridescent Splendor -- (applause) -- at my home in the official residence of the Vice President of the United States. (Applause.)
All of that being just one of the thousands of stories of how enduring and lifelong and through the generations our sisterhood is.
Our sorority, along with all the Divine Nine organizations, was founded to create lasting bonds of community.
All of our founders were acutely aware we needed to build networks of support for young Black men and women who attend college in America.
AKA, of course, was the first sorority created to meet this call. (Applause.)
As we all remember, Ethel Hedgemon Lyle led the effort to found our sisterhood -- and in the face of terrible challenges.
Just think: In the year 1908, when our soro- -- sorority was founded, 89 Black people were lynched across the country. Just think: At the time of the founding of our sorority, American life was deeply segregated.
When Miss Lyle attended Howard, less than a quarter of the students were women. And yet, despite all of this, and perhaps because of it, she believed in the power of sisterhood and in the power of service to create desperately needed social and legal change -- beliefs that guide us all to today.
Our legacy is service to all mankind, and our work in Mississippi alone over the last 87 years is a perfect example.
During the Great Depression, our sorors provided free medical care to poor Black women in the Mississippi Delta. (Applause.) And generations later, many of you here ran vaccination drives in those same communities during the COVID pandemic. (Applause.) It's but one example of so many.
You know, recently I was reminded of another example of our longstanding, enduring commitment to service when I was a member of the United States Senate.
So across the street from the United States Senate -- and my office is in the Hart building, it's called -- sits the Library of Congress. And I would visit the Library of Congress from time to time. And one time I visited, and the librarian was very proud to show me an old photograph from the year 1950 of President Truman.
He was meeting with representatives from the National Pan-Hellenic Council, which included a member of our sorority, to talk about ending employment discrimination in America.
And fast-forward to today, there are recent photographs -- very recent -- of the Divine Nine presidents at the White House while they met with me in the Ceremonial Office of the Vice President of the United States. (Applause.)
And these photographs are a testament, then, to how members of the Divine Nine have always made sure Black voices are in the rooms where decisions are being made -- (applause) -- how our advocacy has been the history of moving the highest levels of government into action, and how we will always fight for what our communities need and for the best of who we are as a nation.
In the year 2020, our sorority proved this yet again. Our sorority registered more than 250,000 people to vote. (Applause.) Our sorority teamed up with our Divine Nine sisters and strolled to the polls -- (laughter and applause) -- indeed -- and with the entire Divine Nine to combat voter suppression. And I will never forget how, during those long days, you turned out for almost every rally and campaign event.
In fact, at one of my events, my -- I was in a hold room in the back, and some folks who were working the event came, and they said, "Ma'am, there are a bunch of ladies out there wearing pink and green" -- (laughter) -- "and they'd like to see you." (Laughs.) And of course I said, "Well, you bring them in immediately. Those are my sorors!" (Applause.)
So, in 2020, just as a most recent example, you not only showed up for President Biden and me, you showed up for America. (Applause.) And together, we were joined in our fight for progress, which is part of our legacy.
Together, we said we must fight to address the current challenges we face as a nation and that we are prepared to lead on issues like the Black maternal health crisis in our country. (Applause.) Because we know Black women are three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes, and we know women in rural America are more than one and a half times more likely to die.
So, after the election, the President and I and all of us elevated the issue of maternal health to a national priority, building on the work that we did together over the years.
In fact, for the first time, we hosted the women most impacted -- Black women, rural women, Native women -- to the White House to discuss -- get this -- at the White House to discuss the importance of doulas -- (applause); to discuss and speak up and out about the issues of fibroids -- (applause); post-partum depression; and the barriers to care for women of color and rural women. (Applause.) Because we're not going to be quiet when we know there is a role and a need for us to serve.
And through the work we have done together, we've dedicated resources to hire and train doulas. We have done the work of funding research to address the biggest contributors to maternal mortality, and to advance and speak about the need to advance culturally competent care. (Applause.)
Through the work that we did together on this issue, we have now got to the point where we have encouraged -- in a positive way -- encouraged states -- urged them, cajoled them to understand that Medicaid postpartum coverage should not just be 2 months, it should be 12 months. (Applause.) Because the women who require and count on Medicaid coverage require that, after giving birth to a human being -- (laughter) -- that their needs are recognized for beyond just the first 2 months. And this will benefit over a quarter million women as of today. (Applause.)
Together, we all said we must help our children reach their God-given potential. And so our administration extend -- extended the Child Tax Credit, which lifted up nearly 40 percent of Black children in America out of poverty just last year alone. (Applause.)
We recognized working people are struggling and, in particular, when it comes to covering the cost of their basic needs, including the cost of raising a child. So we passed a tax cut to give working families a tax cut of up to $8,000 a year, which gives folks more room in their budgets to buy food, medication, and school supplies for their children.
We've been traveling the country. Many of you have joined me in different places in our country to talk about the longstanding, very serious problem of lead pipes, where our babies are being forced to drink toxic water, having well documented, then, health consequences, including consequences to their ability to learn.
So, together, we did the work to remove lead pipes. We are in the process of doing that to ensure that no child has to drink water poisoned with lead, and to make sure that we, again, are doing everything we can, understanding our children -- God has given them so much capacity, but we here, on Earth, must do our part to make sure they are protected and can live in an environment that allows them to thrive.
Which is why, together, we have also addressed the issue of high-speed Internet. Because I know there are a whole lot of folks here right now who know what that pandemic meant to your child's ability to learn and go to school -- (applause) -- and what that required in terms of you having access and being able to afford high-speed Internet.
I travel the country. I can't tell you how many parents I met who would have to go and -- and drive the kids to the local fast-food restaurant or library to have access to the public Wi-Fi there. The kids would be in the back seat of the car, trying to do their homework.
We know what an education means in terms of what it allows for the future of one's ability to grow and succeed. However, so many of the children in our country will be impaired in that ability if they don't have the basic tools, like access to high-speed Internet.
So we've invested billions of dollars to provide what we know needs to be access to high-speed Internet -- (applause) -- across the country, including subsidies for low-income and working families so that they can afford it, even if they have access.
We have talked about the fact that so many of our children and, therefore, their families and their parents, are in need -- in dire need of support when it comes to those children who have disabilities -- (applause) -- and what we need to do to ensure that the families have resources they need. So we are fighting together for home health care work, that it is affordable.
We are fighting to say that if we want to have a nation that can compete around this world -- Dr. Glover talked about it -- I have been traveling all of this world as Vice President. I have met with, I'm told, at least 80 prime ministers and presidents, talking with them about the challenges that face our world.
One of the common themes, everyone knows, is you invest in the children of a nation, you are investing in the future of a nation. (Applause.) And when we invest in the education of the children of a nation, we are doing the best -- (applause) -- in terms of ensuring certain outcomes.
So, together, for example, we all said: Let's support some of the most excellent academic institutions in the United States of America, which are referred to as HBCUs. (Applause.)
And so, under Dr. Glover's leadership, our sorority raised millions of dollars for HBCUs -- (applause) -- and our administration invested an historic $5.8 billion in our HBCUs. (Applause.)
And as a point of personal privilege, as the first Vice President to be a graduate of an HBCU, I'm particularly proud of that fact. (Laughs.) (Applause.)
So, as we move forward, we know that there is more work to do. And that means to ensure that we have invested in the success of all of the people of our nation. And, Dr. Glover, again, I want to thank you for being the Vice Chair of the White House HBCU Initiative, which we can ensure will lead to its success. (Applause.)
So, Sorors, together, we said that our country must build more wealth and opportunity for all communities. That is part of what we fight for.
And our administration then invested billions of dollars in minority and women entrepreneurs, knowing there is nothing more important than building the wealth for most Americans, and that means investing in home ownership. This is something the sorority has worked on through the years.
We know, historically, that one of the impediments to economic health, growth, and wealth for the Black community has been biases in the system that allows for homeownership. And that continues to today.
So I've met with many of the leaders here and around the country to talk about the fact that one of the remaining issues in terms of the bias and the system is the bias in home appraisals. (Applause.) You (inaudible). Right? You've heard the stories.
The stories of how a Black family wants to sell their home or learn the value of their home because maybe it is then the assets of that home that will be the basis of sending their child off to college or helping their child grow a business. And then the appraisers come in and the family knows, "No, that sounds like a low estimate of the value of our home."
And there are stories, which I'm sure we've all heard, about that family then having -- friends of the family and other family who are white and inviting them to come in and put up their family pictures -- (laughter) -- and the Black family takes down their own, leaves the house for a couple of days and the appraiser comes in and, lo and behold, the same house appraises for a higher amount.
So, one of the issues we've been dealing with is speaking that truth and dealing with it around what we need to do to eliminate racial bias in home appraisals, understanding when we have an economic agenda, the value of a home for so many of our families is the greatest source of their wealth and intergenerational wealth. (Applause.)
So, moving forward, that is part of the work that we have done so that we can make sure that folks can realize the full and actual value of their home.
When we look at then where we are, we also know that, together, we said, "Police reform is long overdue." We cannot stop having that discussion. (Applause.) And President Biden issued an executive order to increase accountability in policing, including a ban on chokeholds in federal law enforcement. (Applause.) And there is still more work to do.
And last but not least: Together, we said we needed better representation on the federal courts. (Applause.) You know where I'm going. (Laughs.)
So, first, I will tell you and share with you, we have appointed the most diverse group of judges in the history of the United States -- (applause) -- including, of course, the first Black woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court: Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. (Applause.)
And I was so proud to be a part of that process. And when we look at where she sits and think about our founders and think about everything that is the spirit behind who we are and why we serve, it's such a perfect example of what makes all that work worthwhile.
So, I say all of this and I went through that list of accomplishments because all of this was possible because of your work. And I just want to remind you of that. Because this is a group of leaders that is so invested in fighting for the best of our country.
This is a group of leaders who know the power of service and the need in the power of service to create needed social and legal change. And so all of that to say: Thank you, Sorors. Thank you.
Because this is the progress that you fought for. And I've not had a chance before today to thank you all in one place for what you have done for the lives of people you may not ever meet and people who may never know your name. This progress is what you stood in line for.
And so I'm also here to say: We must do it again this November. (Applause.) Because there is still more work to do. To have a strong workforce, we have to do more to support working parents. We must continue the fight to make sure that parents don't have to pay more than 7 percent of their income in childcare. That's the work we still have yet to complete. (Applause.)
We cannot let up our fight to lower the cost of home healthcare, including eldercare. And we must continue the fight to lower the cost of prescription drugs, including insulin -- (applause) -- so that it is no more than $35 a month and not causing people to look at bankruptcy just to take care of their basic health needs.
There is more work to do. If we want as a nation to keep our communities safe from gun violence, well, we must demand that Congress has the courage to repeal the liability shield that protects gun manufacturers, and we must demand they have the courage to renew the assault weapons ban. (Applause.)
We have lost too many precious lives. I attended the funeral in Buffalo of an 86-year-old grandmother. And you know her story, and if not, I will share with you. She was going to the grocery store after having left her husband who she'd been caring for, who's in a nursing home. She was just going to buy some groceries. A matriarch of a family.
So, in Buffalo. In Uvalde, those babies and their teachers. In Highland Park, I went there within 24 hours of that massacre that was supposed to be a parade route. And in communities and cities across our country.
Listen, as we applaud -- and we must applaud -- our President, Joe Biden, for signing the first federal gun safety bill in 30 years -- (applause) -- he signed it.
And there is still more work to do to see it through, especially when, in America today, while Black people are 13 percent of America's population, Black people are 62 percent of gun homicide victims.
This is our issue. This is our issue in terms of our leadership on this issue of the need for reasonable gun safety laws. It is an issue on which we lead because we know we have so much at stake as leaders in our country. When young Black men are 18 times more likely to be victims of gun homicides, we will lead on this issue.
And we have more work to do. (Applause.)
But I'm here to, obviously, speak a little truth -- a lot of truth. And so, in that spirit, the road to get there, to see it through, it's not going to be easy. It's never been easy.
And there are, as there have always been, forces that stand in our way. Forces that oppose even the most -- on this issue of gun safety -- even the most commonsense gun safety proposals. Forces that include extremist so-called leaders who, instead of expanding rights, work to restrict rights; these so-called leaders who, after we fought and marched -- members of our sorority being among the greatest leaders, fought for the right to vote -- these so-called leaders, right here in this state and in other places in the country, making it more difficult for people to vote! (Applause.)
So-called leaders: In neighboring states, making it even illegal to give folks food and water as they're standing in line to vote. (Applause.)
And we know what we need to do. One of the things we need to do is pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. (Applause.) So-called leaders.
So-called leaders who are in the process of criminalizing doctors and punishing women who want to make health decisions for themselves. (Applause.)
So we know what we need to do. We need to continue to fight for a woman's right to make the most intimate, personal decisions for herself, with her doctor, with her pastor, with her priest, with her loved ones, but not her government telling her what she's supposed to do. (Applause.)
So, all of this to say that we have a legacy of fighting for social and legal change in our country. And when we have done that, everyone has benefitted. When we have fought for social and legal change, it has never been about fighting against something, it's about fighting for something for the benefit of all mankind. (Applause.)
And so much of what we have fought for is on the line again. And so we know what we need to do.
In particular -- because I'm going to leave you with a couple specifics -- (laughter) -- we need two additional United States senators to protect voting rights. (Applause.) We need two additional United States senators to protect a woman's right to make decisions about her own body. (Applause.) And we need to elect people who will defend these rights up and down the ballot -- from district attorneys to state attorneys general to local sheriffs to governors. (Applause.)
And to make this happen, let us do what we do best: We build coalitions. We know how to do that. We got the meanest, baddest phone trees in the world. (Laughter.) We know how to network. We are fueled in the deeply held belief that we all have so much more in common than what separates us.
So let's do the kind of work that we have done, because we do it so well, and continue to activate and organize our communities. Let's continue to be on the frontlines of the greatest movement for progress in our country.
And I'll close with this: Our soror, the great Coretta Scott King, once said that freedom must be earned and won in each generation.
I look out at this group, and I see among the folks here a young woman who is still making her way through college, sitting next to a woman who has served her community in pink and green with pride for over 75 years. (Applause.)
Ours is an intergenerational sisterhood. (Applause.) And we live with that knowledge, with the knowledge that we stand on great and broad soldiers, like Norma E. Boyd. We live knowing that we are their legacy, that we learn from each other, that we teach each other, and that we have always been about fighting for the best of our country.
Because the women of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated have always been unburdened by what has been, unburdened by what society may say we can or cannot be.
And through our sisterhood, we teach that there is no barrier we cannot break and there is no obstacle we cannot overcome.
We are built for leadership. And every day, we see it through. We strive. And we do. (Applause.)
And so, I celebrate the many. And today, I'll honor the first: Alpha Kappa Alpha. Thank you all very much. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you.
Kamala Harris, Remarks By the Vice President at Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority's 70th Boule in Orlando, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/356846