VALDOSTA — “We are excited to wear our pearls and pink and green.”
Athena Smith, a Valdosta State University senior, said Wednesday, speaking of her wardrobe for watching fellow Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sister Kamala Harris inaugurated as the first Vice President of the United States who is female, Black and of South Asian descent.
“I feel very honored to see someone who looks like me in such a high authoritative place in the government,” Smith said. “It just makes me feel very special. It makes me think I can do anything I put my mind to. Every woman is looking at this and saying ‘Wow there’s a woman in the White House.' Who would have ever thought that could happen? Back in the day, women were out fighting for our right alone to vote and now to see we are in the White House."
Harris is famously a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, recently posing in front of the sorority’s colors, pink and green, during a Vogue magazine photo shoot.
Valdosta City Councilwomen Vivian Miller-Cody and Sandra Tooley both expressed triumph as they saw their sister sworn in.
"I feel elated being able to witness the first African American female vice president of these United States,” Miller-Cody, a fellow member of the AKA sorority, said. “This is truly a day of celebration and of dreams becoming a reality for all American citizens from all backgrounds and nationalities. This day sends a message that if you stay focused and believe your dreams, they can come true. My dreams for our city/community can come true.”
Tooley is a member of Sigma Gamma Rho, which is a part of the National Pan-Hellenic Council along with AKA.
“I am very much inspired by Vice President Kamala Harris in her position. As a community leader surrounded by much politics on a smaller level than that of the vice president, I gave her the utmost admiration," Tooley said.
"Just being a woman of color in that position can only inspire hope in so many other young women of any race. I have read her accolades. She has so many and I know the journey to her position was not easy but she completed it this far. Thank you, Vice President Kamala Harris for giving me and many others the courage to keep the spirit and hope as we continue our journey."
Filling a Need
Lowndes County Commissioner Joyce Evans said there is "no shortage of females in the local, county, state and national levels of government but I really think more females should take the opportunity to look at getting past that barrier of politics because it’s needed.
“I think it’s past time.”
Evans said Harris has always been a person who excels, no matter the job and she will do the same as vice president.
"I think whatever is handed to her, she’ll be able to take care of it," Evans said. "She’s a woman of great character, great admiration and also, I think she’s a very, very smart person.
“She’s going to have many challenges, but I think she’s going to be able to handle it. I hope that by her being there, it will encourage more females to take an active role (especially) those who are serious about it."
Melissa Hughes, Tift County District 2 commissioner, said she felt chills during the inauguration of Vice President Kamala Harris.
Hughes said she thought of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress to represent New York’s 12th congressional district.
"Somebody had to set the path for her,” Hughes said. “It is all right to be first, but more importantly, it is about who is coming behind you. Shirley Chisholm set the path for Vice President Harris."
Hughes said she thinks the vice president will inspire young women for their futures.
“They will think ‘I can do it’ when they see Harris take the stage as vice president.”
Hughes said she wants to set a similar example for young women. She is the only woman on the Tift County Commission and she hopes to see more women run for local office.
“Growing up, I never saw a woman or a black woman on the board of commissioners,” Hughes said. “I hope and I pray that I can do something that will spark a young lady that says ‘I remember when I saw Commissioner Hughes stand up for her community.'”
Hughes said diversity is important in local, state and national government.
“I believe a lack of diversity in politics is a leading example of why minorities still live in poverty,” Hughes said. “Women and minorities are not represented equally in America."
Tifton Mayor Julie Smith said having a woman as vice president will encourage more young women to not only vote but to get out and run for office.
“When you are the first at something, it brings a little extra pressure to be even better because you are the first,” Smith said.
Six years ago when Smith was campaigning going door to door telling voters why she deserves their vote, she was told by a nice and cordial man, “I like what you are doing but I can’t vote for you because you are a woman.”
Smith said she was taken back and shocked by the statement. Smith is the first woman to be elected mayor of Tifton.
“I think it is so wonderful we have a woman vice president but it is kind of funny to me that it is 2021 and we just now finally got there,” Smith said. “What took so long because it really shouldn’t matter if you are male or female or what your ethnicity and religion is.
“Our country needs young women who have their whole futures ahead of them to be involved and ones who have ideas and dreams, willing to make that commitment to making our communities better,” Smith said.