I think it’s fair to say that the country is in a bit of disarray at the moment. Still, tomorrow there is definite cause for celebration. Not only will Donald Trump no longer be president of these United States, Kamala Harris will become the first woman and first Black woman to ascend to the second highest office in the land, that of Vice President. In order to commemorate the occasion, Dr. Peggy Brooks Bertram, Historian, community activist and self-proclaimed busy body compiled and edited Dear Kamala: Women Write to the New Vice President.
The book features 120 letters from women and girls all around the world expressing their love, adoration and their desire to hold Vice President Harris accountable in this new position.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Brooks-Bertram about the project, how she collected the letters and what the women had to say to Ms. Harris. Check out her responses below.
MadameNoire: The election of Kamala Harris as Vice President of the United States is being overshadowed by all this mess that’s going on. So this historic moment has taken a backseat to the Capitol riots, impeachment proceedings, the pandemic. So why do you think it’s important for Black women to take time out to acknowledge this moment?
Dr. Peggy Brooks Bertram: This is such a special moment because what it does, in my mind is it reveals bridges between people. The fact that these women from all over the world—women from Nepal, another one lived near the village where Kamala Harris’ mother was born. And to see that all of their responses in the middle of all these things that are going on and how they expressed this great love for Kamala and wanted to do it in the form of a letter.
MN: Can you take me through your process? When did you begin collecting letters for this book?
Dr. Brooks-Bertram: I think the whole thing was really done in 90 days. We started at the end of September, when the big stuff started happening. I was looking for maybe 100 letters. I think we maybe got 120. The process of doing it was a major social media campaign that I wasn’t familiar with. A colleague of mine used Facebook and Instagram as a way to communicate with people. And they responded very, very quickly. Fortunately, there were a lot of Black women’s groups that had gotten together, had their own Facebook page and let me place a call for letter on their platforms.
There are letters from over five different continents, so many different cities. From the top of Africa to the bottom in Madagascar.
MN: You said you began this in September, so did you have a sense that Biden and Harris would win the election? There were some of us who were very worried.
Dr. Brooks-Bertram: I had a sense that they would win but it was weak sense. It was like, ‘Oh, holy Jesus, what’s going to go down now?’ I was watching on pins, needles and anything else that could stick a person. Because it was always something that could come up. And you watch Donald Trump and he got more and more vicious. And because I’m a historian, I really had my ideas about what some of this was all about. I kept saying to myself, ‘Remember Peggy, Kamala Harris is one breath away from the presidency.’ Just one breath.
In my mind this is what contributed to all of this recent flair up, a Black woman a breath away from the presidency, a talented woman and a prosecutor, of mixed race who all kinds of people from all over could be influenced by her.
I wasn’t sure they would win or not but I had to do this because and a lot of people felt the same way, hoping beyond hope that this would turn out in a positive way but never sure, never taking it for granted that it would.
MN: You mentioned some of the letters you received, which ones stuck out to you?
Dr. Brooks-Bertram: One was a letter from an Indian woman and the fact that at least two of them spoke about the patriarchal machine in their own country. It helped me to know that there were women all over the world who thought it was high time that a woman should be in such a position as this. It wasn’t like somebody getting elected to the Congress but this Black woman had the opportunity to be in the most important position not only in the US but in the entire world.
I was also struck by the women who involved their families in telling their stories. There were women who spoke other languages who would use their family members to communicate with me and send photographs of their family. It was phenomenal how they embraced it.
Early on, I noticed there was an absence of letters from women in the LGBTQ community. They weren’t responding. So I wrote a piece and I asked them, ‘What’s up? Why are your voices so silent? You have something to say.’ And so they responded. I thought that was great. It was so important for me that Kamala know that these young people are concerned about where Kamala was with their issues.
MN: It would be very easy for these letters to be congratulatory and flowery but I believe I read that a lot of these women are also writing to hold her accountable in this new position. Why did you feel it was important that women share their concerns and what they would like for her to do in this position?
Dr. Brooks-Bertram: It’s important for her to know that everyone who voted for her and made a trip to the voting booth wasn’t necessarily in agreement with everything about her. But they did recognize that this was such an historic moment that they would have to vote for her. But at the same time, they would have to hold her accountable. You just can’t reject somebody and walk away. Look at the horse that she rode in on and see what you can do with that. You’re not going to be able to change very much but don’t stay home and not vote!
You got to be in on this. So many of the young people who voted four years ago, set themselves up as people who we could depend on to vote for critical issues. And they needed to write to her to hold her accountable.
Young girls in California Girl Scout Troops wrote, ‘Look, the polar bear needs ice floats. The climate Is dying. California is burning. Go back to the Paris Accord.’
These are fifth and sixth graders who are saying we’re looking at you, what are you going to do with this.
The thing I really like is that the foreword takes us back to how Black women gathered, came together, to make something right. The take off was on The Color Purple when the church women went to Celie’s house. This is what these women did in my mind, to say we’re here. We may not like everything you’ve done. Some of the women questioned her prosecutorial duties and how she may have failed Black men. Others were saying, ‘Oh my God, why did you have to marry a white man?’ And my response to all of that in a blog was, ‘Hey, that’s the horse she rode in on!’ The question is support her and work that stuff out. That’s what everybody else does. Nobody is perfect. So many people are essentially saying, ‘Do not do any harm we are behind you and we love you.’
If you ask me what do I hope for this, I want Kamala Harris to read this book. I may never see her, I may never shake her hand. I may never be in the same room where she is; but for God’s sake, we’re going to do everything we can to get this book to her. I would like her to read these letters and her staff. Because Black, Indian, French people wrote to her. The fact that Kamala Harris was elected to this position has really gotten Black women to think about the role they have in communicating with one another. My life will never be the same.
Dear Kamala will be released on February 2, 2021 with Indiana University Press/Red Lightning Books.