A room full of leaders
Senator Harris Remarks to Young Women and Girls at Girls Build Leadership Summit
Hello Girls Build LA, Hello. Oh my God, the sight I see right now. My goodness, I am so incredibly happy and proud to look out at this sea of 10,000 incredible leaders. This is extraordinary, let’s give each other a hand.
And I can’t thank Mark Ridley-Thomas enough for being such an incredible leader. You know, he’s been talking with me about you all for a long time and he said, “Kamala, you have to come.” And I said, “Well I’m supposed to be in DC dealing with all these folks in Washington.” And he said, “Come on home and see our leaders.” And I said, “Yes, that’s what I’m going to do.” And that’s why I’m here.
So this is an incredible day and this has been an incredible event, and what a packed day you’ve had.
You’ve heard panelists who are extraordinary in terms of their leadership. You’ve heard from student teams who have tackled real world problems.
You’ve listened to Boz Saint John and Ibtihaj Muhammad about how to succeed.
You’ve watched some great dancing and you’ve done a guided mediation and you heard from the great Hillary Clinton.
What an incredible day. And I’ll tell you what I believe makes today so powerful is that you are all here in this room together. You are in this room together.
Under one roof, together. That is so powerful, and I couldn’t be more proud of you.
And as unique and special as each of you are, you are also part of an extraordinary community of young women and girls who share your passions and dreams. And I’m thrilled to see how you have been empowered by your energy today.
And I’m going to tell you, when I look out at you, I see the best of what California has to offer.
When I look at you, I see future scientists and CEOs and civic leaders, and I know I’m looking at a bright future.
When I look at you, I can’t help think about those Fifth Harmony lyrics: “You’re brave, you’re fearless, and you’re beautiful.”
So I am very proud to be with you as your United States Senator.
And I’m going to tell you, I’m the daughter of a mother who broke down all kinds of barriers. You know, my mother was not more than five feet tall, but if you ever met her, you would think she was seven feet tall.
She was one of the first women of color to have a position as a scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, and she had two goals in her life. My mother had two goals in her life, and her goals were to raise her two daughters and end breast cancer. That was it. Those were her goals.
And when I look at you, I look at women like my mother who will break and are breaking barriers, and standing ten feet tall in your role of leadership and with the confidence that you have every day knowing you will succeed.
And when I look at all of you, I know you will make incredible progress like the progress you’ve already made.
I look at you and I think of the barriers that you will break and the problems you will solve. And I’m confident that you will do amazing things not only because you are strong, and smart, and talented. Not only because you are brave, and fearless, and beautiful. But also because you are California kids.
Just think about it. California is where the Internet was born, right here in our backyard. California was the first state in the United States to send two women to the United States Senate at the same time, Senator Barbara Boxer and my colleague, Senator Dianne Feinstein.
And California is home to many of the world’s most renowned and emulated leaders in business, and medicine, and entertainment, and the arts, and social justice and civil rights.
And let’s be clear California kids, there is nothing you can’t do.
So it is my honor to be with you to officially welcome you to the Role Models Club. The Role Models Club.
Because all of you, by virtue of being here right now, are all role models. All of you.
This is a room full of leaders.
And whatever you choose to do, you must keep pushing to the front of the line.
You’ve got to continue to raise your hand.
And when you see others in need, you’ve got to keep going out of your way to lift them up.
And as my mother used to say, she would say, “Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you’re not the last.”
So it’s an incredible responsibility to be in the Role Model Club for us, as Role Models. It’s an incredible responsibility for us to be in the Role Models Club.
It means that people will watch what you do because they admire you. They will watch how you do it because you inspire them. That’s an incredible responsibility. It can sometimes be difficult to be in the Role Model Club.
And sometimes, you can feel kind of alone being in the Role Models Club. Sometimes you can think, “Who else is around me, and do I have to carry this burden by myself?”
But I’m going to tell you something that I really want you to remember. I want every girl and young woman in this hall, in this auditorium, to look around, look around here and hold this image in your brain and in your heart and in your soul and remember you will never be alone.
You will never be alone.
And I’m going to tell you from personal experience, I’ve been in many rooms where I was the only one like me in that room. I’ve been in many rooms, be they court rooms or boardrooms or meeting rooms where I was the only one who looked like me in that room.
And you’re going to have those experiences too. You will have those experiences.
And what I am here to tell you, based on my experience, is that you remember you are never in those rooms alone, and that we are all in those rooms with you. And so when you are in those rooms you stand up, you speak out, you express your feelings, you express your thoughts, and know that we’ve got your back.
So you know, there’s an economist from Stanford University, his name is Raj Chetty, and he recently did a study on what he called “The Lost Einsteins.” “The Lost Einsteins”. And he said those are people who could have developed incredible innovations if only they’d had the opportunity.
And you know what this study found? It found that young people who are more likely to become innovators are the ones who are exposed to role models early on.
So not only am I here to say to you, welcome to the Role Model Club and remember you always have us having your back.
I’m also here to say to you — seek out role models. Seek out people who will be invested in your success, who cheer you on, who will lift you up when you fall and maybe have a good laugh with you if you know that you slipped on something along the way.
Surround yourself with people who care about you, and are invested in your success. That is critical. And I’m going to tell you something, anyone who actually can be a good role model and a mentor is usually the kind of person that when you ask them to be your mentor, they will say yes.
And mentors come in all different forms and sizes and shapes and colors.
So seek out mentors, because along the way, none of us, and myself included, has achieved success without people who invested in us and made us believe we could do anything and helped us along the way. It’s a sign of strength to seek out role models and mentors.
And as members of the Role Model Club, and as leaders, it is also my hope that you will all continue to identify the problems that you are passionate about trying to solve.
So for example, if you’re passionate about protecting us from these devastating wildfires by fighting against climate change, then take all the science classes you can.
Spend winter break volunteering at the local environmental organization.
Take advantage of LA Promise Fund’s Intern Project and get connected to technology internships.
And if you care, for example, about reforming our criminal justice system, that’s something I’ve worked on for years, then join the mock trial team or the debate team. And if your school doesn’t have one, start one.
Because that’s how you’re going to end up becoming the kind of people who will have a seat at the table inside the room where the decisions are being made. So you can help inform those decisions that have such a profound impact on so many people that will never be in that room. I want to see you guys in those rooms, at those tables, making those decisions about our communities and the people who cannot be there.
Another example, if you want to reduce homelessness, do what those young women from San Fernando High School did.
They didn’t know each other. They had never coded, or soldered, or sewed before but they looked things up on Google and YouTube and they worked 6 days a week, even over winter and spring break. And together, they invented that solar-powered tent that folds up into a backpack.
And I think their hashtag actually says it all: “#WeGetItDone”. Love that.
So another piece of advice for you is this. You may have had this experience already but I’m going to tell you, you will have this experience many times in your life. And it is the experience of people telling you no. People telling you it can’t be done.
People telling you, “No one like that has done that before.” People telling you, “Well if it’s such a good idea, it would have been done already.”
You will hear those words. If you’ve not already, you will.
And I’m here to tell you, do you listen.
In fact I like to say, “I eat ‘no’ for breakfast.”
And I know this from my own experiences. So for example, Mark Ridley-Thomas explained to you I ran for DA of San Francisco. So when I ran for DA of San Francisco many years ago, there had never been a woman to be DA of San Francisco and never in the history of the State of California had there been a women of color to be a DA in the State of California.
But you can imagine — and I decided I wanted to run because I thought I could do the job better than the dude who had the job.
But you can imagine when I decided to run, people were like, “Oh maybe it’s not your time.”
Other people said to me, “Maybe people aren’t prepared for someone like you to do that.”
Other people said, “Wait your turn.”
Other people even had the nerve to say, “Well you know, it’s going to be a lot of hard work,” as though that’s a reason we don’t do something.
And I heard “no” so many times. But I didn’t listen.
But it was interesting, because the reason they were saying that was because in that race not only had someone like me never done the work before, I was running against a guy whose nickname was “KO” because he was known as being a boxer who knocked people out.
I started out at 6 points in the polls, which is 6 out of 100. Nobody thought we could win.
But what we did is we pulled together a coalition of people, people who seemingly have nothing in common but because of our life experiences we know most people have the vast majority of things in their lives in common.
So we pulled people together, knowing people have so much more in common than what separates them, and we won. And we showed people, like you will continue to show people, who can do what and what that looks like.
So here’s the thing, just take it from me in closing. This is what I want you to remember.
If anyone ever steps in your way and tells you to not follow your dreams, don’t listen. But do not travel your path alone.
Make good friends. Choose wisely. Make good friends who you encourage them, and they encourage you.
Set challenges for yourself and each other. Challenge each other. Can you get an A in that class? Maybe you should try and apply for that internship. Maybe you should try and read that book and see what it’s about. Challenge each other, but be together. Hold onto each other, look out for each other, encourage each other.
And also know that — and always remember, you are young, you are gifted, you are special, you are so special, young ladies and girls. You are special. You are special.
And as you leave this place, you must remember that. And you must remember — and I’m going to close with where I started — you remember, you look around this room again, we are all in it together. And there are a lot of us, and we will stand together and we will show people who can do what and we will build LA and California and the United States and the world.