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Claremonters talk about election of Vice President Kamala Harris

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

On January 20, Vice President Kamala Harris became a triple threat of historic firsts: the first woman to hold that office, the first person of color and the first person of East Indian descent. 

Her glass ceiling shattering inauguration was still a day off when the COURIER spoke with a group of prominent Claremont women about what it meant to them to finally have female representation in the second highest office in the land.

Carol Curtis, 61, is the broker/manager of Claremont’s Curtis Real Estate. Her grandmother opened the doors in 1947, her father worked there (and was the city’s mayor pro tem in the 1980s), and Ms. Curtis has herself been on the job at the family firm for 39 years.

“Kamala Harris’s inauguration will be significant for many people, in many ways, both historically and personally,” Ms. Curtis said. “She will be a role model for girls and women and their aspirations. While our country still has work to be done in the area of racial inclusivity, as a multiracial woman, [Ms. Harris] becoming vice president marks a step toward that goal. I admire that Kamala Harris has never allowed obstacles of gender or racial bias to prevent her from achieving great success. She continues to push through glass ceilings, paving the way for current and future generations.”

Ellen Harper, 73, has been a fixture in Claremont since 1957, when her family arrived from Massachusetts. She is an author, songwriter, musician, and the proprietor of her family’s iconic store, the Folk Music Center on Yale Avenue.

“Kamala Harris is an accomplished politician and skillful politicians can get legislation passed,” Ms. Harper said. “To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr.,” who himself was paraphrasing 19th century American Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, “Harris has the potential to put the bend in the moral universe back on the track toward justice. I don’t think this will be easy given the current makeup of our legislators and the fractured and fractious political mood in this country, but she has the social and political wisdom, fortitude, confidence, determination and grace to stand her ground for the benefit of the American people. She leans somewhat conservative and that may make for an easier transition from where we are now to where we ideally need to be for our planet and its inhabitants. And, dang, I’m thrilled to have a woman like Kamala in the White House!”

Amanda Hollis-Brusky is an associate professor of politics at Pomona College, an author, columnist and political commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered, BBC World News, the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, Newsweek, KPCC’s AirTalk with Larry Mantel, and KCRW’s Press Play and California Edition.

“Political scientists are fond of reminding everyone that ‘representation matters,’” Ms. Hollis-Brusky said. “Electing Kamala Harris as the first woman VP, the first black VP, the first Asian VP and the first VP to have attended a historically black college, matters. It matters for all of these groups who have historically labored at the margins of power, fighting to have their voices heard. The election of Kamala Harris gives these groups a voice and a seat at the table. That’s huge. For me, personally, I can’t help but think about my first Women’s March in Washington, D.C. the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump; of being surrounded as far as the eye could see by thousands of women of every race, every age, every group, locking arms with one another, holding signs of hope and resistance, making our voices heard. Our work is not done, of course. But electing Kamala Harris as vice president—with everything that represents—is another step forward in our march towards justice and equality.”

Sue Keith, 77, has lived in Claremont since 1974. She spent 31 years in elected office, and had a career in public relations and fundraising.

“Kamala Harris is a strong person who can withstand the arrows that will be thrown at her and come away with a smile,” Ms. Keith said. “She is an independent thinker, a hard worker, an empathic listener and excellent questioner. I know because I spent a bit of time with her in a one-on-one conversation. No president or vice president can know it all, but the ability to discern the questions that need to be asked, form an opinion and make decisions that will significantly affect their fellow citizens is critical. I believe she will be an asset to President Biden, and he to her.”

Interim Superintendent of Claremont Unified School District Julie Olesniewicz, 49, has been on the job since the beginning of January.

“Obviously I would say it’s about time,” Ms. Olesniewicz said. “It’s been a long time coming in  the United States of America. I think females still only represent under 11 percent of heads of state, and only about a quarter of the seats in the Senate and slightly over that in the House, even though we still represent about 51 percent of the population. I think it’s about time and I think it’s a big step for women in leadership in the United States and I’m thrilled.”

Claremont Mayor Jennifer Stark, 51, was born and raised in the City of Trees, graduating from Claremont High in 1987.

“While our country faces many challenges in the years ahead, not the least of which involves healing fractured and broken bonds to become a nation proud of the unity within the United States of America, I believe that the significance of Kamala Harris being our vice president brings tremendous hope and promise.

“History is always being made and it frequently repeats itself. With the election of our new administration we have a Black Asian American woman as vice president, this to me this signifies that the vast majority of American voters are saying yes to representation. We are saying yes to increased equity. We are saying yes to amplifying the voices of people who have not previously been heard. As our new vice president said, this election is about redeeming the soul of America. I am hopeful, I am proud, I am excited and I believe that our nation can and will get better.”

Claremont United Church of Christ co-pastor Jen Strickland (with her husband Jacob Buchholz) is 37. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Miami University, a dual master’s from Chapman University, a master of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a doctor of ministry from Duke University.

“As young women in America, we are told that we can do anything and be anything—even the president of the country!” Rev. Strickland said. “However, up until this moment in history, that claim has never felt entirely true, because no woman has ever broken this ultimate glass ceiling in our society. Although Kamala will serve as the vice president, her presence in the White House speaks volumes to the women and little girls of our nation. I remember the first time I saw a woman preaching in a church—I suddenly could picture myself in a pulpit. And since I have donned my own clergy robe, I have heard from several parents how enthusiastic their daughters are about having a female pastor. It always brings me joy, because I understand the importance of having visual representation in leadership in order to cultivate our own dreams.

“I'm also thrilled that Kamala represents more than just the first woman in the White House. She brings with her a multi-racial heritage and the legacy of immigrant parents, both of which bring valuable American communities into the forefront. Kamala has been breaking barriers for years; she was the first female district attorney of San Francisco, the first female attorney general of California, the first Indian American in the U.S. Senate, and the first Indian American candidate of a major party to run for vice-president. Every time a woman steps up and achieves something new, it is a win for all women everywhere. My hope for the future is that one day I will see Kamala or another qualified woman sitting in the Oval Office. That dream has never felt so close to coming true as it does now.”

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