Runako Allsopp made the promise as soon as the election was called for Joe Biden and Kamala D. Harris.
When the first female vice president takes her oath of office, she told her 11-year-old daughter, we will be there to see it.
A Black prosecutor who belongs to Alpha Kappa Alpha, Harris’s sorority, Allsopp planned every detail. They would travel from their home in Potomac, Md., to spend the night at the Willard InterContinental hotel, just blocks from the White House. Decked out in pink and green to honor AKA, they would pay tribute at Black Lives Matter plaza and sip hot chocolate at the Georgetown waterfront before making their way to the National Mall.
“She’s Black like you, she’s Caribbean like you, she’s smart like you,” Allsopp would have told her daughter, as they gazed up at Harris on a giant jumbotron.
“I wanted her to see the possibility right in front of her eyes.”
Like many Americans, Allsopp had to cancel her plans. Even before the Capitol riot, the event was expected to attract far smaller crowds than past inauguration ceremonies, with coronavirus numbers rising across the country. The National Mall was closed to the public during the Inauguration, while thousands of U.S. troops guarded the city against another violent attack.
It was a major loss, especially for women and people of color. The events of Jan. 6 “robbed” Americans of a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Allsopp said. Mothers in the D.C. region, and across the country, planned to take their daughters to the Capitol, to show them all they could be. Now they have had to find other ways to mark the historic inauguration of the first female vice president.
When Tabatha Spurlock was growing up, she said, her mother always told her she could achieve anything. But as a Black girl, Spurlock didn’t always believe her. She struggled to find images of high-achieving Black women.
“Until you can see yourself in those positions, it’s not a reality,” said Spurlock, who lives in Glen Allen, Va., and was the first person in her family to earn a doctorate.
In her family, Spurlock said, she offers proof to her own 9-year-old daughter, and her nieces and nephews: “You can become a doctor. That is not a false perception.” As vice president, Harris will fill the same role for little Black girls everywhere, she said.
Without a trip to Washington, Stefanie Borsari worried that the “momentousness” of the occasion might be lost on her daughter. Borsari had planned to pull her out of school for the week to celebrate the inauguration, which happens to fall on her daughter’s 13th birthday. They were supposed to drive down from Connecticut to be with two of Borsari’s “chosen sisters” and one of their daughters.
“I want her to feel this day and remember this day for the rest of her life.” Her daughter, LJ, might “feel it more,” Borsari said, if they were in D.C.
Borsari did what she could to make the inauguration special. She kept LJ home from school on Wednesday. She spent hours on Google, printing out pictures of Harris to tape around the room, along with quotes of famous things she has said. In Borsari’s favorite Harris quote, the vice president-elect tells young women that “your voice matters.”
Aparna Duggirala, who was also planning to attend the inauguration with her daughter, instead organized an outdoor tea party at her home in Potomac, Md. Her 12-year-old daughter and her friend will nibble on samosas and sip chai, made by Duggirala’s mother, an immigrant from India who became a citizen in the mid-1990s.
While her mother has long voted in U.S. elections, Duggirala said, she has never shown much interest in the candidates. That changed with Harris. Duggirala’s mother had also been planning to watch the ceremony in downtown D.C. The three generations of women would have attended the inauguration together.
“This was a pretty big deal for an immigrant Indian woman with a very similar background to Kamala D. Harris’s mother,” Duggirala said.
Before the Capitol riot, many women had already made alternative plans for the inauguration, wanting to avoid coronavirus exposure. In Ashburn, Va., Yolanda Latimer scheduled a photo shoot for her and her 3-year-old daughter, Savannah. They would dress up like Harris, in matching jeans, blazers and Chuck Taylors, Harris’s signature footwear. Though her daughter will likely be too young to remember this moment, Latimer said, she wants her to have “documentation” that she lived through history.
When she was little, Latimer, who is Black, remembers her father sharing stories of his life on the farm, picking cotton for $1.50 a day.
That was part of his history, Latimer said. This will be part of hers and her daughter’s.
In preparation for the inauguration, she said, they practiced Harris’s name. Repetition is key, Latimer said.
Latimer will say “Kamala” again and again, with Savannah parroting it back. They eventually move on to “Harris” — and then, finally, “vice president.” Savannah can now recognize Harris when she appears on the screen.
As a mother, Allsopp, the prosecutor who planned the night at the Willard, has always interrupted life’s regular programming to share a special experience with her daughter. Every once in a while, she said, her own mother used to take her out of school for a mother-daughter shopping trip or to go to a museum.
“We can’t get those moments back,” she said.
Allsopp and her daughter, Thandiwe, watched videos of Harris ahead of the inauguration.
“One thing my daughter is always known for is speaking up for herself and other people,” Allsopp said.
“Kamala D. Harris does that and it’s really inspiring,” Thandiwe said. “It shows that people should speak up when they see something going on. Their opinion matters and they count.”
On Wednesday, Allsopp made jerk chicken and passion fruit juice to toast the president and vice president-elect, a nod to the Caribbean roots they share with Harris.
The bakery down the street agreed to make custom cupcakes: vanilla, with green and pink frosting.