Then-candidate, Kamala Harris kicking off her presidential candidacy in Oakland on Jan. 27, 2019. Credit: Katherine Bricceti

When Vice President Kamala Harris was sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Jan. 20, it marked several firsts in U.S. history. Harris, Oakland-born and Berkeley-raised, is the first Black and South Asian woman to be elected Vice President. She was also sworn in by the first Latina U.S. Supreme Court Justice. 

This moment will be in the history books for generations to come, signifying hope and change for women of color across the country. It was a moment that was acknowledged in real time by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, who recited a poem during the ceremony that included the following lines: 

We the successors of a country and a time 
Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one
And yes, we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn't mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose

Dorothy Lazard, the head librarian of the Oakland Public Library’s History Center, attentively watched the inauguration and Gorman’s performance.

“Amanda Gorman. Oh my god. My heart was flooded with emotions,” Lazard told The Oaklandside. “She hit all of the things that the moment required. She alluded to how divided we are as a country.”

On Wednesday, Feb. 3, at 6 p.m., Lazard will host “Black Women and Political Leadership” an in-depth discussion into the issues raised by Gorman’s poem and the historical times we’re living through. Lazard will be joined by Alicia Garza, principal of the Black Futures Lab and co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Linda Burnham, co-founder of the Women of Color Resource Center, and local author and former Black Panther Party newspaper editor Judy Juanita. 

“I’m thinking of the debt [Biden] owes Black women. This definitely was a big motivator for me to have this event,” said Lazard. “Never before in my life do I remember a time when so many Black women, both activist, and career politicians, have risen to this kind of national prominence.”

Harris was among several other prominent Black women who were considered to join Biden’s ticket in the 2020 presidential election.

Lazard said she isn’t sure if this political moment will have a transformative effect on society long-term. Still, she is hopeful, with some reservations. “I was thinking about the perils that democracy is in, and has always been in. January, 6, really showed us how vulnerable we can be,” she said. “Despite all of our claims to American exceptionalism, January 6 actually showed us how much we were like other countries when an autocratic person takes power.”

If you want to hear more from Dorothy Lazard and her guests, you can tune in through Zoom by RSVPing on Eventbrite. The event is free.

Azucena Rasilla is a bilingual journalist from East Oakland reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.