By Elias (Eli) Valentin
The first time I met Kamala Devi Harris, affectionately known as KDH inside the campaign trail, was on October 19, 2018 when she came to stump for our Greenville slate for the midterms. This experience would be a precursor of one of the most rewarding, fun, challenging, and demanding experiences of my life.
Later that evening I printed out a picture of Sen. Harris, put it on my vision board and wrote the word BOSS over the top. I was putting it into existence.
I became familiar with Sen. Harris as a college student, as she was an up-and-coming district attorney on the forefront of marriage equality from San Francisco. This was an interesting time for me as I was at an inflection point in my life. I was balancing being a full-time college student-athlete, working full-time, struggling with my sexual identity, and working on my personal faith journey. Kamala was a decade ahead of the pack on marriage equality and I vividly remember watching love win on Valentine’s Day 2004 as hundreds of same-sex couples gathered at the San Francisco court house to get marriage licenses. Kamala was leading.
Kamala cared for Greenville. She came here when no one else would, a fact many quickly forgot as the Presidential primary came into full swing. She didn’t just show up for us in 2018, when he had a historic opportunity to elect an African-American leader to Congress in the 4th, she showed up for us (and me) with Tina Belge’s race.
She was among the first to step up, using her network to help us fundraise, sending her staff (and some of my future colleagues) to canvass in our communities, and tweeting about our run. What moved me the most was the personal time she took to speak with Tina directly. She didn’t have to do this – and it moved me. This was the first and only time I ever wanted to be the candidate. She was a candidate who actually championed Tina and our campaign. Her support was early and made others take notice. Kamala was leading.
I had the honor and privilege of serving as the South Carolina Political Director for Senator Harris’ For the People Campaign. This position provided me with an intimate view of the candidate, the way her mind worked, the level of preparedness she brought to our work together, and the fight she brings into the political arena.
This job provided me something else beyond the professional, a glimpse of those closest to her. As my wise abuela always told us, “Show me who your friends are and I show you who you are.” Who you surround yourself with speaks volumes about who you are as a person. One of the things that cemented our professional and personal relationship was our mutual love of family. It’s who we both surrounded ourselves with. As she emphatically stated in her first speech as the Vice Presidential pick, “Family means everything to me.”
I got to work with her sister, Maya, who was chairwoman of the presidential campaign. I saw her loyalty, her commitment to lifting up women of color on our team, and the love she had for Kamala as a sister. She was a force for our campaign and her presence was something that inspired us to step our games up.
We saw her commitment to the senator and we wanted to do it for both of them. She also gave the world Meena, her daughter, who I loved getting to spend time with and getting to know. You can instantly feel her energy and genuine spirit as soon as you meet her. She recruited friends to take part in our Black Women’s Weekend of Action and they rolled up their sleeves and got to work.
We had been dialoguing via social media, but Meena is a star and her voice is going to be leading my generation for decades to come.
I spent time with her husband Doug Emhoff, a dynamic litigator who traveled the Upstate with me. We visited Clemson University, met with our amazing elected officials, and he addressed our GCDP breakfast. He was funny, approachable, and in love with his wife.
He talked about her work ethic, brilliance, and the joy she took as “Momala”. The morning before he flew out, he could have slept-in or taken a break from the grueling pace that is campaign living, but he asked me to bring the people who were closest to me to meet him for breakfast.
I brought my family and my dear friend (an amazing Democrat, of course) and her family. This is my family in Greenville. We laughed, told stories, shared lived experiences and got an awesome perspective into the relationship KDH had in the Senate. We all enjoyed our meal and felt we were dining with a friend we had known for years. My sisters and I still talk about that day.
I spent time with Tony West, her brother-in-law, as he came out to stump for her. As soon as he stepped in the car we were connected. We talked about ‘90s music, his wife Maya, and his family. He was impressed by my Uber rating – 4.95, which was higher than his, as he serves as the General Counsel for Uber and loved that I knew it without having to look it up. He was so gracious as he spoke to the local Democratic Party event.
He shared how great his world was because of AMBITIOUS women. One of our political endorsers just showed up for the event and I gave up my chair so our organizers and our deputy director could sit at the featured table. After standing for over two hours and walking to our car at 10:30 pm, he looked over and asked. “What time did you get up this morning?” I told him I left Greenville at 5:15 am that morning and we were now in Dorchester County. He offered to drive back to Columbia, his destination so I could rest. This was unreal to me. I am supposed to be taking care of him, yet he was thoughtful enough to think of me.
This is who Kamala surrounds herself with and now she has joined the Biden family. As we all continue to walk with the Biden-Harris let’s make sure we are going all the way through the finish line. I know Kamala and I would walk with her into any battle at any time.
In Solidarity, Elias