“Same Kamala”: Harris friends say vice president has always been fearless

CBS NEWS

Stacey Johnson-Batiste and Vice President Kamala Harris have been best friends since they were 5 years old. They went to the same kindergarten in Oakland, California. 

“I remember us running around a lot, swinging on swings, slides” Johnson-Batiste told “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King.

Harris, who was sworn in as the first female, Black and South Asian American vice president on Wednesday, exudes confidence. That’s the way she’s always been, Johnson-Batiste said. 

“She’s never been shy. She has always been kind. She would stand up for what’s right,” Johnson-Batiste said. “She’s always had a certain magnetism, a certain charisma. She is down to earth, she’s humble. She still loves to laugh. She’s the same Kamala I’ve always known.” 

An example of Harris standing up for what’s right, Johnson-Batiste said, is when the two were working on a clay project in school. A boy threw Johnson-Batiste’s project on the ground and it broke. 

“Kamala got so mad that she got in between him and me, said some words, and he got so mad that he picked up either a piece of a rock or a brick and hit her on the head,” Johnson-Batiste recalled. “To this day she still has a small scar from that.” 

Harris took that fearlessness to Howard University in Washington, D.C. As a freshman, she challenged tradition by running for class president — a position typically held by men. 

“I thought it was the craziest thing I’d ever heard,” former classmate Melanie Wilcox Miles said. “I mean, it’s all the guys that are, you know, running for office. And she said, ‘So what? You know, I’m not going to allow someone else to define who I am.’ I’ll never forget that.” 

Wilcox Miles met Harris her first week on campus. It was the beginning of a 40-year-long friendship. Harris was a bridesmaid at her wedding and is her son’s godmother. 

“Kamala is just so full of life,” she said. “She cracks a great joke. There was an immediate connection.” 

Wilcox Miles invited Harris to join Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first sorority established by African American women. 

“We used to have this saying: We’re not looking to make stars out of girls, we want them to already be stars,” she said. “Kamala was one of those.” 

Harris’ star kept rising, from San Francisco district attorney to attorney general of California to U.S. senator. “I did not run because I wanted to be the first woman. I ran because I believed I could do a job better,” she said. 

She met her future husband Doug Emhoff when she was attorney general. Emhoff, who is also making history as second gentleman, tells the story of the first time Harris met his children, Cole and Ella, at a restaurant. 

“I kind of took extended leave to the restroom to let them spend some time together,” Emhoff said. “And I came back and they’re just whooping it up and laughing. And I said, OK.” 

He’s been by Harris’ side ever since, standing next to her as she took her oath of office at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. 

Joe Biden Sworn In As 46th President Of The United States At U.S. Capitol Inauguration Ceremony
Kamala Harris is sworn as vice president as her husband Doug Emhoff holds the Bible at the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021.

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Her longtime friend Johnson-Batiste said it wasn’t a question that she would attend inauguration. “She and I have been there for each other every step of the way of our lives,” Johnson-Batiste said. “So I have to be there.” 

The weeks leading up to the inauguration were among the most divided in the country’s history, with hundreds of Trump supporters storming the Capitol seeking to overturn the election and President Trump being impeached for a second time. 

“I believe Kamala is the key to uniting us,” Wilcox Miles said. “I believe that being a woman — being a woman of color — I believe that the diversity that she brings to this office is what we need as a country.” 

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