When nine-year-old Liya Lyttle of Baldwin, New York, watched Kamala Harris take the oath of office to become the 49th vice president of the United States, she knew she had to write a letter.
Dear Ms. Harris,
I am just like you and your family. My dad is Jamaican, and my mom is Indian. I have a sister too. I can’t believe you are the first Black vice president. I love your speeches. I am glad you and Biden won. Have a wonderful day.
The now-iconic image of Kamala Harris, dressed in monochromatic majestic purple—a nod to women’s suffrage—was the moment the third grader and first-generation American felt the country could be different.
“It made me happy,” Liya says, “because she’s making a big deal of how she’s going to be a great vice president and do good for the United States.”
Kamala Harris is fast becoming a celebrity among schoolchildren still too young to vote and the subject of a political awakening happening at many dinner tables. But what is it about this woman who wears chucks with power suits? The first graduate of a historically Black college or university to ascend to the VP’s office? The first African American and first South Asian to hold keys to the second most powerful government office in the world?
Turns out, plenty. Children of all colors, boys and girls alike, are drawing inspiration from this unique vice president. Here’s what they had to say.
‘Makes me proud to be who I am’
First and foremost, many kids—especially girls of color—are excited to have someone in the White House who looks like them.
“A woman has never been vice president or president, but it’s a Black woman as vice president so I was just very excited,” beams Kenya Clark, a 13-year-old from New Rochelle, New York, who identifies as mixed-race. “I just think that was monumental.”
Having a person of color back in the White House is comforting to many children. Take Chase Gray, an African American eighth grader who had been attending a mostly Black school but now attends one in the predominantly white suburb of Harrison, New York.
“Back in 2008, it was super important to me to have Barack Obama as president,” he says.
“I feel like I stand out more as an African American. So now, having a vice president who’s African American makes me feel proud to be who I am.”
And the fact that Harris is biracial—her father is Jamaican and her mother Indian—is resonating with many children as well. That makes sense: According to the 2020 U.S. Census, the number of people who identify as biracial or multiracial has increased 36 percent since 2010.
“I think she kind of represents who most Americans are,” says 13-year-old Maya Clark (Kenya’s twin sister), whose dad is white and mom is African American. “I think people are finding more of a place in America and feel like this is their home, because they have people who are like them—blended families and multiple backgrounds.”
Although raised with a strong sense of identity, Maya sees the vice president reshaping how she sees herself.
“Wherever I go I’m usually the only mixed person,” she says. “Now I don’t necessarily feel like that, because there’s representation in high power. I feel like I’m not going to be the only person in the room who looks like me.”
For many children, Harris’s diverse background has simply made it easier to talk about race.
“Most of my friends are not people of color,” says 13-year-old Neena Wittemyer of Fort Collins, Colorado, who along with brother Korbin is second-generation South Asian and white. “They were always supportive, but I feel like now, with the vice president in office, it’s a lot easier to talk about topics like race.”
But it’s not just kids of color and girls who the new vice president is inspiring. For children like Joey Portocarrero, a fifth grader with Swedish and Peruvian roots, his thoughts are awakening something much deeper.
“[Kamala Harris] really makes me feel better, and it makes me respect Black people and women more,” says Joey, who lives in predominately white Harrison, New York. “It’s making me, like, almost want to be like her, to make everybody be equal.”
‘I can do something like that, too”
Having a woman of color as the second most powerful person in the United States is also making children hopeful that she can help fix racial and gender inequalities—and inspire kids to overcome whatever obstacles they might be encountering.
“Now that Kamala Harris is in office,” says Chase, the eighth grader from Harrison, New York, “I think we’re going to have a lot more opportunities to help [people of] all different cultures and different genders.”
CJ Williams, a fifth grader from Harrison, New York, is encouraged about the sweeping social change he wants for African Americans like himself. “With her being vice president, it will hopefully stop racial injustice, like [what happened to] George Floyd.”
Seven-year-old Allison Hernandez, a second-generation Mexican American from Dallas, agrees. “She can help stop discrimination, like Rosa Parks.”
Neena, the 13-year-old from Fort Collins, has lived in both Kenya and India. As a second generation South Asian / Caucasian female, she was especially inspired by an image she saw.
“The other day I saw this picture and it was all the vice presidents, and then there was Ms. Kamala Harris,” she says. “So, it had all of them as white males and then it was her, and that just really made me happy. I think she’s going to help with gender equality in the workplace.”
That “girl power” vibe—the ability to shake things up—is resonating with boys and girls alike.
“I feel awesome about it,” says Madison LaNier, a fourth grader from Missouri City, Texas, and an African American descendant of Thomas Jefferson. “I want to be the first African American on Mars. It’s an inspiration to show that I can do something like that, too—do something that hasn’t been done.”
Bailey Zimmerman, a white fourth grader from Danville, California, feels Harris’s election definitely thrusts girls further ahead. “We are in the front seat,” she says. “We’re not in the driver’s seat yet, but we do have control of the windows.”
‘Kamala all the way’
Race and gender aside, kids are seeing a strong, powerful person in charge who can get things done. And that makes them excited.
“Kamala is going to deal with the virus,” says fourth grader Noah Kim of Seattle, who—along with younger brother, Nathan—has been going to school remotely. “She’s going to pay attention to it, so I think it will end much faster,” and then the boys may finally go back to school.
The environment is also top of mind for many kids—and they hope that Harris can help protect the planet.
“Right now, I want to be a marine biologist,” says Neena of Fort Collins. “Kamala Harris supports a lot of environmental laws that makes me hopeful that the environment would be safe when I grow up.”
Seventh grader Ellie Zimmerman of Danville, California (and Bailey’s sister), agrees: “If we don’t act on that, there will be impending doom.”
But kids aren’t just looking at what Kamala Harris could do as vice president. Like Los Angeles fifth grader Coleman Armstrong, they’re playing the long game and thinking about who they’d vote for as president when they’re eligible.
“I feel like Joe Biden is going to go the full eight years, and when I get the opportunity, it’s Kamala all the way,” he says. “Kamala Harris could be president, and she might choose a person of color that’s the vice president, man or woman.
“Then there may be endless opportunities after that.”