Tamia Mickens was just a little girl when Barack Obama became president in 2009, breaking a racial barrier as the first Black person to ever hold the office. While she knew it was important, she didn’t quiet know how historically significant it was at the time.
“I definitely feel like I was too young,” said Mickens, who was 9 years old at the time. “You could definitely feel like it as a kid knowing someone in the office looked like you.”
A dozen years later, Mickens had more appreciation of the moment when Kamala Harris was sworn-in as vice president Wednesday. In doing so, Harris broke many barriers, becoming the first woman and biracial person to attain the second highest office in the country.
Mickens, 21, of Pittsburgh, is a senior at Washington & Jefferson College majoring in gender and women’s studies and also president of the school’s Black Student Union. She and her suitemates at the college celebrated Wednesday’s inauguration by making a big meal and getting dressed up while watching the broadcast on a projector screen.
For Mickens, there isn’t any one thing that stands out about the “monumental” significance of Harris, who is the daughter of a Jamaican father and Indian mother.
“I think it’s the combination of everything. We’ve never seen someone who has had all these different interactions with themselves,” Mickens said. “You can’t just say it’s because she’s biracial or because she’s a woman. It’s a combination of everything that makes it so significant.”
Mickens, who is working on her capstone focusing on Black women in America, thinks such a moment should have come sooner, but she’s appreciative that it came now as she looks forward to making her own impact upon graduating this year.
“Just to be a woman, being young, someone who looks like me in the office. Someone older than me being in a position,” Mickens said. “A lot of times, Black women don’t get that highlight, but you can’t miss (Harris) in the White House.
“To see people who actually look like you, they can change things,” she added.
She was equally excited about the inauguration of President Joe Biden, who she thinks will help improve the lives of Black people and hopefully ease racial tensions that hit a boiling point last year after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
“I don’t want to say it’s a relief, but (I’m) optimistic,” she said. “He stands for something, and wants to be president for all Americans. Hopefully we’re walking into something new and it’s a positive for the American people as a whole.”
Andrew Goudy, president of the Washington Branch of the NAACP, is also optimistic about the Biden-Harris Administration, hoping it will “help ease some of the racial tensions” in the country.
“New leadership at the top should improve relations between whites and Blacks at all levels, including here in Washington County,” Goudy said. “Joe Biden is the type of person who will bring people together instead of pitting one group of people against another. After the horror of the last four years, the NAACP is optimistic that now we’ll be all right.”
But beyond policy or governing, Mickens views Wednesday’s inauguration as showing people like her that anything is possible.
“Especially for women. Women will feel inspired to do whatever they want. To see people who actually look like you, they can change things,” Mickens said.
“It shows we’re making progress, but we’re not where we need to be,” she added.