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A joyous celebration springs up at the Berkeley house where Kamala Harris grew up

Saniyyah Smith, Sharon McGaffie and Judy Robinson stand on the steps of McGaffie's and Robinson's mother's home.
From left, Saniyyah Smith, Sharon McGaffie and Judy Robinson stand on the steps of McGaffie’s and Robinson’s mother’s home. They grew up two doors down from vice president-elect Kamala Harris.
(Susanne Rust)

On a block along Berkeley’s Bancroft Way, in front of the small, yellow house where Sen. Kamala Harris, the vice president-elect, grew up, there was a small but festive celebration Saturday afternoon.

As feel-good songs such as “I Gotta Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas and “Happy” by Pharrell Williams played, people danced, waved streamers and flags and blew giant bubbles.

Sisters Sharon McGaffie and Judy Robinson stood on their front porch, two houses away, watching the joyous party that formed spontaneously mid-morning.

“I’m thrilled,” said McGaffie, who recalled a young Harris sleeping at her house and the two families spending time together. Their mothers, said McGaffie, were close friends.

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Kamala Harris grew up in Berkeley, but she was born in Oakland, which also took pride in their native daughter on Saturday.

“From Oaktown to the Oval, y’all,” tweeted Maya Harris, a lawyer who is the sister of the vice president-elect.

But it was Berkeley who knew Kamala Harris in her formative years.

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Asked if she could have predicted that the young Harris would be in the White House, McGaffie laughed and said no — adding that it never would have occurred to her back then that such an opportunity would be available: Presidents and vice presidents were always white and male.

The pride she has for her childhood neighbor is enormous.

“For black women, this moment is huge. Kamala shows the strength and power we have, and it’s so big to have her there,” she said.

In her new book, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey,” Kamala Harris tells the story of her rise from a young girl growing up in Oakland to her 2016 election as U.S. senator from California.

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Robinson agreed.

“After that George Floyd murder this summer, I felt like I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “Remember how we all talked about that? How we couldn’t breathe?”

She sighed audibly.

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“I woke up this morning and felt like I was finally able to take a breath,” she said.

McGaffie’s daughter, Saniyyah Smith, soon joined the women on the steps. They reminisced about the friendship between McGaffie and Robinson’s mother, Regina Shelton, and Harris’ mother, Shyamala Harris.

Smith said the vice president-elect has always used the Shelton family’s Bible when she has been sworn in for public office. The thought that it will be used again for such a momentous occasion was unbelievable, she said.

“And I look at my own daughter, and I know that she now has the opportunity to dream of reaching the top,” she said of her 12-year-old. “She can be anything she wants to be.”


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