EXCLUSIVE: Stacey Johnson-Batiste told Le Grio that Vice President Harris “has always been a leader.”
No one knows you as a childhood best friend. Vice president Kamala harris‘ best friend Stacey Johnson-Batiste wrote a heartfelt tribute to her friend who traces the origins and development of two women and a friendship still strong after five decades.
Now politicians are no strangers to the scrutiny, and black women in the public eye arguably get more than their fair share. The 2020 election proved that Harris is no exception. She has not had it easy in the press and with certain members of black communities who have questioned her roots, her values and her commitment alongside her record.
Johnson-Batiste’s book, Friends from the start: the village of Berkeley that raised Kamala and me, provides what almost no one else can: the inner perspective of someone who knew her from the start.
The story begins in Berkeley, California. Stacey Johnson met Kamala Harris at the age of 5 and the woman who would break down barriers to become America’s first woman, first black, and Asian first vice president was just four, on the cusp of be five years old. The girls met through their mothers and then went to a progressive and multiracial preschool together, Berkwood Hedge School, where both thrived. A sense of community, care and love was cultivated in them during the Berkeley days. It permeates this book, which is in large part a heartfelt testament to the importance and sustaining power of friendship.
Beyond that, what may surprise skeptics is that with this VP, what you see is what you get. This is the most important theme of the book: Kamala Harris is who she always has been. The fiery debate stage Kamala is the Kamala who showed up in kindergarten. In fact, this continuity of character and spirit is what inspired the book, which is organized around the twelve core values that shaped Kamala and Stacey as girls and remain with them to this day.
Guiding principles such as passion and purpose remain constant watchwords in the vice president’s communication and action, to the underlying courage and determination of their ambitious and loving mothers and propel them from strength to strength. before whatever happens.
When she attended the inauguration, Johnson-Batiste found that despite the grandeur of the setting, the atmosphere around the Vice President, one she helped create and nurture with care, felt the same to her. than during the previous stages of his life. a friend’s career. She has been there for everyone.
This led Johnson-Batiste to contemplate the commonalities between those moments and childhood, and how the girl she knew became the woman on the world stage. And for the author, it was about the values and priorities Harris carries with her.
This became the foundation of the book and its guiding principle: “The more I thought about the characteristics that I admired most in my friend, that I had just seen go down in history, the more I realized that they were the same ones that I had seen go down in history. had drawn me to her throughout our childhood and had sustained our friendship. From the beginning.”
leGrio recently had the privilege of reading a first copy of the book and speaking with Johnson-Batiste one-on-one. Here is what we learned.
[The transcript has been edited for brevity]
theGrio: The main inspiration for the book came on the opening night?
Stacey Johnson-Batiste: If you imagine, I was standing with this huge Lincoln statue to my right, the reflection pool to my left, Kamala was right in front of me, John legend was to my right. The reflection pool was lined with 400 lanterns, each representing 1,000 of our fellow Americans who died of COVID at the time. It was very, very moving, overwhelming, and I could almost imagine, as in the heavens hovering above, his mother Shyamala [Gopalan], my father, Robert, our uncle Sherman, and our Aunt marie, a little contemptuous of all that.
The dedication ceremony, it was so familiar – the feeling, the ambiance, the color [and] the diversity…. There was a feeling even with a much smaller crowd, a very good feeling of joy as it did with each of his swearing-in ceremonies.
I thought I was going to start aligning these characteristics, these qualities that I saw in her throughout our childhood and teenage years and our 20s and 30s, and certainly throughout her career., Map that to those people who were influential and important to both of our lives… This is how I framed the chapters and the thoughts behind the book.
theGrio: Let’s talk about how you met. Were your mothers first friends?
Johnson-Batiste: Absoutely. Now my mother can’t remember exactly how she met Shyamala. She assumes that she was introduced to her by Uncle Sherman and Aunt Mary… while they were both looking for a kindergarten to send their daughters to… It seemed like we became friends instantly. Our mothers became very close, so we were together every day at school, but also sometimes after school and on weekends.
Our mothers would crowd Kamala, Maya, and myself, either in my mom’s Mustang 66, and off we went, either to the park or to Fairyland or to the Grand Lake Theater. etc. And we’ve been friends ever since.
theGrio: You wrote that it was in Berkwood that you first realized that “Kamala doesn’t have time for bullies”. What happened?
Johnson-Batiste: Berkwood hedge. Well I mean she always asserted herself, but she also loved playing with everyone. So that day in our school, which was rich in arts and crafts, we had made a small work of art. We had to mold it, put it in the oven for a few minutes and then let it sit outside. And this boy, who will remain nameless [She still remembers his name.] … Took mine and threw it on the ground. And knowing myself, I was probably shocked and my eyes filled with tears, but Kamala stood in front of me and said something to him, and he got mad enough to pick up a stone or a piece of clay. and hit her in the lead.
Her mom had to come home from work, take her to the hospital, she needed stitches! It was just a testament to the kind of person she was and always has been. She will defend the underdog and protect her friends and family.
theGrio: I think a lot about the fact that there is often a mismatch between someone’s media image and their reality. What is your reaction when Kamala’s identity, her darkness is challenged? And what would you say to people who aren’t sure she’s one of them?
Johnson-Batiste: OK, well, she grew up black. And her mother was keen to make sure her daughters had a very good foundation in African American history and culture. As well as their East Indian culture. So there was never any confusion, you know, that I could say from that point of view.
But in terms of my personal image compared to you know, on stage or in front of the camera, I really see the same person. I think people want it to be more complicated than that. But… she has a good sense of humor. She is very intelligent and cares about people. She gets things done. And she keeps it real. She has her feet on the ground. So no, it’s really the same person.
theGrio: Were you surprised when she met Doug [Emhoff] and decided to take the plunge?
Johnson-Batiste: Oh, I was overjoyed. I mean, it still gives me chills, I was so happy. When she first told me about him, we were having dinner in San Francisco. And I could tell there was something different, something very, very special.
And when I met him, I could see him: he just adores him. It was clear. He looked like he had a really, really good heart. They were both lawyers, so they had that in common. Cole and Ella, his son and daughter, are just wonderful. You know, very, very sweet, kind, caring.
So I was so happy for her. And at the wedding, I had never seen her so happy. It gave me hope because I was single… It was encouraging to be able to find true love at any age and at any stage.
theGrio: What has been the best moment you’ve witnessed in Kamala’s public life?
Johnson-Batiste: Well, first of all, it was extremely important, you know, to be the first black woman and vice president of the United States. It is extremely important. But I also go back to election night when she ran for the district attorney in San Francisco. I knew it was very, very special to her, very, important. I had appointments in San Francisco that day and drove pretty much nonstop, because I wanted to be there.
I think that’s when I realized what the potential was, and I was so proud of her. And since then I’ve seen her do what she said she was going to do and take care of business. And she has the same consideration and concern for people, the environment and justice that she always had.
theGrio: Was that when you knew Kamala was a leader?
Johnson-Batiste: I mean, she was always a leader, even when we were teenagers. I admired him. She had her own style of fashion. She was determined to go see Howard. She was her own person from the start. And people have always been drawn to her. But I think it was also then, during this San Francisco District Attorney’s campaign, that I realized how much of a strong leader she was.
Friends from the start: the village of Berkeley that raised Kamala and me is now available for purchase.
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The post office Kamala Harris’ lifelong friend shares link in “Friends From the Beginning” book appeared first on The Grio.