Is Vice President Kamala Harris having a moment with Black voters?

In recent weeks, Harris has delivered significant speeches before Black Americans and abroad, from Africa to Nashville to New York, the clear proxy for the administration on key issues like racial justice.

The role of Vice President Kamala Harris has been the subject of political fodder since the day she took office. 

Many praise Harris for her historic role as the first Black, first woman and first South Asian vice president in the United States and her work to date. Others are critical in dissecting the former California U.S. senator’s role and whether or not she is an effective enough vice president.

Vice President Kamala Harris listens during the start of an April 12 meeting with the Biden administration’s Task Force on Reproductive Health Care Access in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. She is representing the administration in Black spaces on racial justice and other key issues. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Examining Harris’ role as it relates to the White House’s ability to reach Black communities, political scientist and Fordham University professor Christina M. Greer noted in a previous interview with theGrio: “Kamala Harris was missing for a lot of Black people for a very long time, and they were wondering what she was doing, what she was being utilized to do.”

While Harris is leading the White House’s response on broader issues like reproductive rights, abortion and clean energy, the vice president is also a clear proxy for the Biden-Harris administration in Black spaces and on key issues like racial justice — something of particular notice in recent months.

On Friday, the vice president delivered a speech at Al Sharpton’s annual National Action Network Convention in New York City, where Harris condemned Republican “extremists” for attacking “hard-won freedoms” like voting and LGBTQ+ rights and banning Black history books as an “attempt to erase America’s full history.”

During her remarks, she notably garnered applause and laughter from the mostly Black audience when she used a phrase known well in the Black community: “Don’t fall for the ‘okey-doke.’” 

Harris’ speech at NAN comes after back-to-back outreach efforts by the White House to Black communities, who played a crucial role in the election of President Joe Biden and his vice president — and will be just as crucial as the administration gears up for a soon-to-be-announced 2024 reelection campaign. 

Vice President Kamala Harris delivers the keynote address April 14 at the 2023 National Action Network Convention at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel. She garnered applause and laughter when she used the phrase “Don’t fall for the ‘okey-doke.’” (Photo: Johnny Nunez/WireImage)

Political commentator Reecie Colbert told theGrio that while Harris “doesn’t always win the day on Twitter or on Instagram” among critics on social media, “when it comes to the voters, I think her presence is undeniably an asset to the ticket.”

Colbert praised the vice president’s recent and unexpected trip to Nashville, Tennessee, just hours after Republicans expelled two young, Black state lawmakers for joining thousands of demonstrators inside the state capitol to protest gun violence.

While on the ground, Harris met with Tennessee leaders and delivered a fiery speech at Fisk University, an HBCU, condemning “so-called” Republican state lawmakers for attempting to silence the Tennessee Three and the “voices they were channeling.”

“That,” she declared, “is not a democracy.”

Colbert, who hosts “The Reecie Colbert Show” on Sirius XM, said it was “excellent agility on the part of [Harris] and her office” to quickly travel to Nashville. 

“The gravity of the situation with what we saw — fascist, racist behavior from the Republicans —really demanded such a quick turnaround in a response,” she said.

As for the speech itself, Harris did not read from a teleprompter, something Colbert contended made the vice president’s remarks appear “incredibly authentic.” She said it reminded her of Harris’ stand-out moments as a U.S. senator.

“She didn’t take it as slow as she has been doing as vice president. It was much more from the heart and much more forceful,” said Colbert, who noted Harris had “been a little toned down” and “muted in some of her responses over the past two years.”

President Joe Biden (center) delivers remarks on reproductive rights in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in July 2022 as Vice President Kamala Harris (left) and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra (right) listen in. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Activist Melanie Campbell also gave Harris high marks for her Tennessee speech, telling theGrio it “was a great utilization of the bully pulpit, so that America knows what’s going on in Tennessee could happen to a town near you.”

Campbell, who serves as head of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and its Black Women’s Roundtable, said the vice president’s speech appeared well received by young people, including those on her staff. 

Another Harris speech that garnered approval from Black leaders was her remarks at the funeral of Tyre Nichols in February. Nichols, a Black man, was beaten to death by Memphis police during a traffic stop. 

Harris passionately assailed the repeated occurrence of deadly police encounters with Black citizens and called on Congress to pass the long-sought George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

And in March, Harris garnered significant press on her trip to Africa after delivering an emotional speech in Accra, Ghana, about the impacts of the transatlantic slave trade. Before her remarks, she had toured a “slave castle,” where enslaved Africans were held before they were loaded onto ships and sold in the Americas.

Vice President Kamala Harris addresses young people gathered on Black Star Square during her March visit to Accra, Ghana. (Photo: Misper Apawu/Pool/ AFP via Getty Images)

“The horror of what happened here must always be remembered,” said Harris. “It cannot be denied. It must be taught. History must be learned.”

Campbell said that while it is not new hearing the vice president deliver such passionate speeches about race, racial justice and other issues important to Black communities, there is something significant about the sequence of these recent remarks and the current political battles that exist. 

“There are so many attacks coming our way that the role she’s playing … is really resonating,” she explained. “It was very beneficial for the administration as they move forward with moving their agenda and going into a presidential election cycle that starts any day now.”

Colbert said the timing could not be better for Harris as it’s “very important that she really gets her swagger going for 2024 because the daggers are out for her.” Still, she says, a lot of the negative commentary about the vice president and her absence over the years has been unwarranted.

“If you look at the historical lens of vice president, she is a lot more prominent,” said Colbert, who noted that, to date, Harris has done “hundreds of events.” 

“President Biden has made a point to call it the Biden-Harris administration,” she added. “I don’t recall any other administration making that kind of distinction.”

Campbell said the Biden-Harris White House shows they are “continuing to stay committed” to critical issues, including police reform, voting rights and abortion. She believes it will yield dividends in the 2024 presidential election.

“At the end of the day,” she said, “it is about whether we have a democracy or not.”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is the Managing Editor of Politics and White House Correspondent at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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