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Meet Kamala Harris, the Second Black Woman Elected to the U.S. Senate

Kamala Harris, California’s 32nd Attorney General, made history tonight as only the second black woman to serve in the U.S. Senate.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks at the Center for American Progress' 2014 Making Progress Policy Conference in Washington November 19, 2014.  REUTERS/Gary Cameron    (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks at the Center for American Progress' 2014 Making Progress Policy Conference in Washington November 19, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)GARY CAMERON / Reuters
Image: Kamala Harris, Douglas Emhoff
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, Attorney General Kamala Harris with husband, Douglas Emhoff cast their ballots in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. Nick Ut / AP

Kamala Harris, California’s Attorney General, made history Tuesday night, becoming only the second black woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate.

Harris, 52, entered the Senate race after Barbara Boxer announced her intention to retire. The Democrat became an early front-runner in a crowded primary field.

While 20 African-American women currently serve in the House of Representatives, there hasn't been a black female senator since Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois served one term from 1993 to 1999.

Harris’s platform includes such issues as criminal justice and immigration reform, creating good-paying jobs, enacting family leave and equal pay policies, college affordability and universal pre-kindergarten for children and tackling climate change.

Journalist Donna Owens sat down with Harris early in her campaign for a wide-ranging interview. Here are a few factoids about the next woman to represent the Golden State on Capitol Hill.

Early roots

Born in Oakland, Kamala (it’s pronounced COMMA-la and means lotus flower) is the eldest of two daughters, born to an Indian mother and a Jamaican father. She has one younger sister, Maya Harris, an attorney and senior policy advisor for Hillary Clinton's campaign.

"My parents met at Berkeley," said Harris. "Mom was a scientist, and my father was a professor of economics.” Her folks were active in the Civil Rights movement. “We grew up always being told that you have a responsibility to serve.”

California Attorney General Kamala Harris Announces Lawsuit
California Attorney General Kamala Harris points to a map as she speaks during a news conference on October 10, 2013 in San Francisco, California.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The Education of Kamala

As an undergraduate, Harris attended Howard University, an historically black institution in the nation's capital. The political science/economics major was on the debate team, joined Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and got her first taste of campaigning.

“My first run for office was at Howard University, where I was elected freshman class representative of the liberal arts student council. Running a campaign at Howard was tough! I remember walking up to strangers,” she recalled “asking them to vote for me.” From there, Harris earned her juris doctorate at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

Post-graduation, she launched her career as a Deputy District Attorney in Alameda County, California. In 2003, she was elected District Attorney of San Francisco, serving two terms. In 2011, she was sworn in as Attorney General, becoming the first woman and person of color to hold the prestigious post.

Image: Kamala Harris
California Attorney Gen. Kamala Harris, left, greets with Stephanie Reyes, 10, as she arrives for a meet and greet, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016, at Building and Construction Trades Council in Los Angeles. Harris is candidate for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Barbara Boxer, who is retiring.Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP

Passionate about children’s causes

“I was blessed to have a really great childhood. In my family and extended family, children were nurtured and loved,” said Harris. “When I started my career as a prosecutor, I specialized in child abuse and I met so many children who were the victims of circumstances beyond their control.”

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“I’ve worked hard to protect and support children, and I’ve seen what happens when we don’t,” she said. “So I’ve developed this strong feeling that, as a community, we have a responsibility to make sure that every child is safe, is healthy and has access to a high quality education. We not only owe it to those children, but we owe it to the entire community.”

Finding Joy

Harris hails from a small, tight-knit clan. She married attorney, Doug Emhoff, in 2014.

Besides her roles as a wife, sister, stepmom, aunt and godmother, she’s a mentor to college students. She counts President Barack Obama among her circle of friends.

“I treasure spending quality time with my family. Whether it’s sitting down together to a home-cooked meal or watching my god-daughter’s debate competitions, being with family and friends is my greatest joy.”