Kamala Harris, Shirley Chisholm, and the Power of Representation

Last Updated: February 12, 2021

In 2020, Kamala Harris made history as the first woman, the first Black American, and the first American of Asian descent to be elected vice president of the United States of America. Her election inspired Ashton Mayo-Beavers, a freshman at Mercer University in Georgia, to say:

There already are so many great local leaders that are women of color, and that’s amazing. But the fact is, we will have a woman vice president who is a person of color that’s going to open the doors for so many people to envision themselves as our nation’s future.1

Kamala Harris is an inspiring “first” in many ways, but the path to her election was paved by many other women and people of color. One such woman was Shirley Chisholm, who—in 1972—became the first woman to seek a major party’s nomination to run for president of the United States. 

In this Teaching Idea, students learn about Shirley Chisholm’s ground-breaking career, her legacy, and the significance of Vice President Kamala Harris’s election.

Note: What follows are teacher-facing instructions for the activities. Find student-facing instructions in the Google Slides for this Teaching Idea.

If you have 15 minutes:

  1. Introduce Shirley Chisholm

    View the short video Before Obama And Maxine Waters There Was Shirley Chisholm (03:48) from The Root.

    After watching the video, allow students to share their impressions of Rep. Shirley Chisholm using the Wraparound teaching strategy. Ask students to choose one word to complete the sentence,  “Shirley Chisholm was . . . ”

  2. Discuss Shirley Chisholm’s Legacy

    Note: Depending on your students background knowledge about Vice President Kamala Harris, you may want to play the ABC video Kamala Harris: Everything you need to know about the new vice president (01:30) for your students before completing this activity.

    Ask your students:

    • How do you think Shirley Chisholm helped pave the way for Kamala Harris’s election?
    • Why do you think it took almost 50 years after Shirley Chisholm sought to be nominated as a presidential candidate for a woman to become vice president of the United States?
  3. Reflect on the Significance of Kamala Harris’s Election

    Read the following quote with your students.

    Ashton Mayo-Beavers, a freshman at Mercer University in Georgia, said after Kamala Harris was elected vice president of the United States:

    There already are so many great local leaders that are women of color, and that’s amazing. But the fact is, we will have a woman vice president who is a person of color that’s going to open the doors for so many people to envision themselves as our nation’s future.2

    Then, ask your students to respond to the following prompts in their journals:

    • How do you think patterns from the past can shape how we imagine what is possible in the future?
    • How do you think Kamala Harris’s choice to run first for president and then for vice president helped to  promote a vision for the future that breaks with the past? What choices did other people make that helped her to get where she is today?

Remote Learning Note: During a synchronous session, share your screen with your class and play the video Before Obama And Maxine Waters There Was Shirley Chisholm (03:48). Then, ask your students to complete the sentence, “Shirley Chisholm was . . . ” using the strategy Wraparound (Remote Learning).

Then, depending on your students background knowledge about Vice President Kamala Harris, you may want to play the ABC video Kamala Harris: Everything you need to know about the new vice president (01:30). Place your students into virtual breakout rooms in small groups and ask them to discuss the following questions for five minutes:

  • How do you think Shirley Chisholm helped pave the way for Kamala Harris’s election?
  • Why do you think it took almost 50 years after Shirley Chisholm sought to be nominated as a presidential candidate for a woman to become vice president of the United States?

After you bring students back together, ask a few volunteers to unmute themselves and share what they discussed with their small groups (or type a takeaway from their discussion in the chat).

Finally, share Ashton Mayo-Beavers’s quote (located at the start of this activity) with your students and ask them to respond to the prompts in their journals. They can finish their journal entries during class or asynchronously as homework.

If you have 30 minutes:

  1. Introduce Shirley Chisholm

    View the short video Before Obama And Maxine Waters There Was Shirley Chisholm (03:48) from The Root.

    After watching the video, allow students to share their impressions of Rep. Shirley Chisholm using the Wraparound teaching strategy. Ask students to choose one word to complete the sentence,  “Shirley Chisholm was . . . ”

    Then, discuss how Shirley Chisholm was a groundbreaking politician. Suggested questions include:

    • What was Shirley Chisholm’s path to running for president of the United States?
    • Why do you think Chisholm referred to herself as “unbossed and unbought”?
    • Shirley Chisholm famously said that “If they won’t give you a seat at the table,  bring in a folding chair.” What did she mean by “a seat at the table”? Why did she think it was important for more people—including women and people of color—to claim a seat at the table? 
  2. Discuss the Significance of Kamala Harris’s Election

    Note: Depending on your students background knowledge about Vice President Kamala Harris, you may want to play the ABC video Kamala Harris: Everything you need to know about the new vice president (01:30) for your students before completing this activity.

    Read the following two quotes with your students. (Note: You can use the student-facing slides for this Teaching Idea to project the quotes for your students.)

    Vice President Kamala Harris said in her acceptance speech after being elected vice president:

    [W]hile I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last. Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities. And to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourselves in a way that others may not, simply because they’ve never seen it before.3

    Ashton Mayo-Beavers, a freshman at Mercer University in Georgia, said after Kamala Harris was elected vice president of the United States:

    There already are so many great local leaders that are women of color, and that’s amazing. But the fact is, we will have a woman vice president who is a person of color that’s going to open the doors for so many people to envision themselves as our nation’s future.4

    Discuss with your students:

    • According to these two quotes, why is Kamala Harris’s election significant?
    • How do you think patterns from the past can shape how we imagine what is possible in the future?
    • How do you think Kamala Harris’s choice to run first for president and then for vice president helped to promote a vision for the future that breaks with the past? What choices did other people make that helped her to get where she is today?
  3. Reflect on Shirley Chisholm’s Legacy

    Shirley Chisholm said in an interview: 

    I want history to remember me, not that I was the first Black woman to be elected to the congress, not as the first Black woman to have made a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a Black woman who lived in the 20th century and who dared to be herself. I want to be remembered as a catalyst for change in America.5

    Note: You can share the text or play the video Shirley Chisholm : Greatest Achievement / Strongest Regret from 00:35- 01:13.

    Share Shirley Chisholm's statement with your students. Then, ask them to reflect on one or more of the following questions in their journals:

    • How do you think Shirley Chisholm was a “catalyst for change” in the United States?
    • Why do you think it took almost 50 years after Shirley Chisholm sought to be nominated as a presidential candidate for a woman to become vice president of the United States?
    • Why do you think Shirley Chisholm wanted to be remembered as a Black woman “who dared to be herself”? Why did being herself require bravery?

Remote Learning Note: During a synchronous session, share your screen with your class and play the video Before Obama And Maxine Waters There Was Shirley Chisholm (03:48). Then, ask your students to complete the sentence,  “Shirley Chisholm was . . . ” using the strategy Wraparound (Remote Learning). Ask students to share any additional reflections they have about Shirely Chisholm out loud or in the chat.

Then, depending on your students background knowledge about Vice President Kamala Harris, you may want to play the ABC video Kamala Harris: Everything you need to know about the new vice president (01:30). 

Using the student-facing slides for this Teaching Idea, share the quote from Vice President Kamala Harris and Ashton Mayo-Beavers with your students. Then, place them into virtual breakout rooms in small groups and ask them to discuss the following questions for five minutes:

  • According to these two quotes, why is Kamala Harris’s election significant?
  • How do you think patterns from the past can shape how we imagine what is possible in the future?
  • How do you think Kamala Harris’s choice to run first for president and then for vice president helped to  promote a vision for the future that breaks with the past? What choices did other people make that helped her to get where she is today?

After you bring students back together, ask a few volunteers to unmute themselves and share what they discussed with their small groups (or type a take away from their discussion in the chat).

Finally, share Shirley Chisholm's statement with your students and ask them to respond to the prompts in their journals. They can finish their journal entries during class or asynchronously as homework.

Citations

  

February 12, 2021
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