MICHIGAN — Kimberly Stokes will never forget the time she met Kamala Harris.
It was in 2019 in Detroit, and the NAACP hosted a dinner for the then Democratic presidential candidate. Stokes said she sat 50 feet away from Harris, and before she left for the evening, Stokes approached her. Then, Harris gave her advice she’ll always remember.
“As she’s walking out I told my dad, ‘This is the moment.’ So I walked over to her, and I literally just said our common call. I literally just said ‘H.U.,’ and she said right back, ‘You know.’ We grabbed hands and we had a laugh,” Stokes said with the biggest smile during a Zoom interview on Friday morning. “She literally told me, 'You can do anything.'”
Stokes earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Howard University in Washington D.C. back in 2014. She’s since returned home to Michigan and now helps run the Howard University Alumni Club of Detroit. However, when she saw Harris get sworn in as vice president of the United States on Wednesday, Inauguration Day, she knew Harris not only gave her solid advice but lived it.
“Just as a Black person, a Black woman in society, that pride that you [get] seeing someone from our community holding the second-highest office in the country is really incredible,” Stokes said. “Then on another level when you think about she’s an HBCU alum, she’s a Howard University alum, it really just hits you.”
Stokes said she was speechless. Harris not only became the first Black, South Asian American and woman Vice President of the United States, she also became the first VP to have graduated from a historically Black college and university, and it was Stokes’s alma mater.
“We always think of ourselves as like the Black Ivys, you know. We call ourselves the Mecca,” and Bison, after their mascot, said Stokes. “So for us it’s like the world is discovering, ‘Oh wow’ like HBCU grads like Stacey Abrams, there’s so many other people involved with this election that, like, look at how they prepare their students, and we’re like, ‘Yeah, we’ve known this from the second we stepped on campus.’”
Stacy Abrams, who once ran for governor in the state of Georgia and founded fairfight.com, to help protect Georgians' right to vote, also attended an HBCU, Spelman College in Atlanta.
Harris becoming the first HBCU alum to be vice president is a feat all HBCU grads and the entire Black community can celebrate, said Anthony Jones. He’s the associate provost of enrollment at Howard University, where they’ve been celebrating Harris all month long.
“It has been absolutely incredible to think that one of our own has ascended to one of the highest offices in the land and, in fact, the world,” Jones said during a Zoom interview Friday afternoon.
Since Harris was named Joe Biden’s running mate in 2020, enrollment jumped, he said. Typically Howard gets about 30,000 applicants for only 2,000 seats. However, it’s been spiking.
Jones added that they’re getting a lot of global attention as well.
“Thankfully throughout history with notables like Thurgood Marshall and Toni Morrison and Chadwick Boseman, our name gets talked about a lot. But never have we had this kind of attention,” Jones said with a smile. “I’m most happy for our students. Could you imagine being at Howard at a time when an alumnus from your institution gets selected to be vice president of the United States? No one will have had that experience in Howard’s history since 1867.”
Stokes still can’t believe it either. However, she knows Harris will make a great vice president, not just because she’s qualified but because she’s a Bison.
“Howard sets very high expectations for all of us, and then it helped us reached those expectations,” Stokes said. “I know Vice President Harris has talked about she eats ‘no’ for breakfast. Like, that is definitely a Howard thing. The world is constantly going to try to tell us ‘no’ for many reasons about our identities. But we just eat it and we keep going.”