The Power of Representation: Patsy Takemoto Mink, Shirley Chisholm, and Kamala Harris

Last Updated: May 19, 2021

In 2020, Kamala Harris made history as the first woman, the first American of Asian descent, and the first Black American 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. Two of those women were Patsy Takemoto Mink and Shirley Chisholm; both were political trailblazers. In 1965, Mink became the first Asian American woman and the first woman of color to serve in the US Congress when she was elected to represent Hawaii. Chisholm was the first Black woman in Congress, representing New York beginning in 1969. Both Mink and Chisholm competed in the 1972 presidential election, and both were later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor. 

In this Teaching Idea, students learn about the groundbreaking careers of Patsy Takemoto Mink and Shirley Chisholm, consider the significance of Vice President Kamala Harris’s election, and explore the power of representation.

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

  1. Introduce Patsy Takemoto Mink and Shirley Chisholm

    Introduce Patsy Takemoto Mink and Shirley Chisholm using the Google Slides provided with this Teaching Idea and information from the introduction. 

    Then, view two short videos: 

    As students view the two videos, ask them to sketch an identity chart for each woman, capturing key elements of their personal and social identities and experiences. Students can also add quotes from the videos to their charts. (See step 2 of the Identity Charts teaching strategy for more suggestions.)  

    Then, discuss as a class: 

    • What motivated and prepared Patsy Takemoto Mink and Shirley Chisholm for civic and political engagement? 
    • Patsy Mink once said, “We have to build things that we want to see accomplished, in life and in our country, based on our own personal experiences . . . to make sure that others . . . do not have to suffer the same discrimination.” How do you think the personal stories of Mink and Chisholm connect to their choices and commitments as political leaders?2

    Remote Learning Note: During a synchronous session, share your screen with your class and play the videos Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority (2:25) and Before Obama And Maxine Waters There Was Shirley Chisholm (03:48). Ask your students to draw identity charts in their notebooks. You can discuss the suggested questions in the chat or aloud. 

  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?

    Remote Learning 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). 

    Using the student-facing slides for this Teaching Idea, share the quotes 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 questions (in the bulleted list above) for five minutes.

    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).

  3. Reflect on the Legacies of Patsy Takemoto Mink and Shirley Chisholm

    Shirley Chisholm famously said, “If they won’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.” 

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

    • What did Chisholm mean by “a seat at the table”? How does learning the stories of Shirley Chisholm and Patsy Takemoto Mink help you think about why it is important for more people—including women and people of color—to claim a seat at the table? 
    • Why do you think it took almost 50 years after Mink and Chisholm sought to be nominated as presidential candidates for a woman to become vice president of the United States?
    • Patsy Takemoto Mink and Shirley Chisholm made history, yet their stories are not always represented in history books, school curriculum,  and in popular culture. Mink, in particular, has often been overlooked as a forerunner of Harris. Are Mink and Chisholm included in your textbook, if your class uses one? Why might it be important for their stories to be learned and shared? 

    Remote Learning Note: Share Shirley Chisholm's statement with your students and ask them to respond to one or more of the prompts in their journals. They can finish their journal entries during class or asynchronously as homework.

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