Meet the HBCU Graduates Working On The Biden-Harris Presidential Campaign
Posted By: Will Moss on September 23, 2020 |
By Brianne Garrett, Forbes
Carahna Magwood never thought she would end up in politics. When she enrolled at Howard University in 2012, the graphic design major wanted to become a visual storyteller. Eight years later, she’s doing just that—as the deputy design director for the Biden-Harris 2020 campaign.
“Did I think that would put [me on] one of the most consequential elections and presidential campaigns of all time?” she reflects. Definitely not, but it’s found the historically Black university graduate merging storytelling with politics, creating social media campaigns for Joe Biden’s Instagram. Her latest: “Democrats United,” featuring headlines, tweets and images of leaders to highlight collective support behind the Biden-Harris ticket.
It has also found her in good company: Magwood is one of many HBCU alumni on the campaign trail, including Kamala Harris. Like Magwood, Harris attended Howard, graduating in 1986.
When Biden announced in August that he had chosen Harris as his running mate, she became the first woman of color, and the first HBCU alumna, to be nominated for national office by a major political party. Her nomination has galvanized many communities, including that of her “HBCU brothers and sisters,” as she referred to them in her acceptance speech.
Kamala Harris takes the stage after being introduced by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as his running mate. The Washington Post via Getty Images
Carissa Smith, national women’s vote director and an alumna of Bowie State University, was on a call with Black Women for Biden the day Harris was announced as the vice-presidential nominee. “All of us were celebrating,” says Smith. “A lot of us on the call graduated from HBCUs.” Then someone said, “Let’s get to work.”
That moment, and what it means for the HBCU community, is something Smith will never stop celebrating. “Having Senator Harris at the top of the ticket just reaffirms that Black leadership and Black power comes about from our experience in the four years of being on those HBCU yards,” she says.
“Having her on the ticket brings a great awareness to HBCUs, what they do for people of color and why they're necessary.”
“When people go to HBCUs, they see themselves in a lens of success,” says Trey Baker, director of African American engagement and an alumnus of Tougaloo College. “There’s a nurturing that happens at HBCUs, where you’re empowered in your Blackness and you’re empowered in your professionalism to go and really succeed in this world.”
HBCU alum work across the Biden-Harris campaign in departments such as art, communications and public engagement. Graphic by Forbes, Photos courtesy of the Biden-Harris campaign
There’s also power in HBCU unity, notes Kamau Marshall, director of strategic communications and an alumnus of Texas Southern University, debunking assumptions that alumni of different HBCUs are in competition with one another. “That united front is very powerful,” he says. “People are scared of that.”
Amijah Townsend-Holmes, a press assistant for Harris and a 2019 graduate of Spelman College, is aware of the value an HBCU education provides.
Studying abroad in China and Nicaragua and volunteering at an Atlanta food bank as part of Spelman’s community service requirement helped her develop the grit she applies to her new role. She believes the exposure Harris’ nomination brings to these institutions is undeniable.
“Having her on the ticket brings a great awareness to HBCUs, what they do for people of color and why they're necessary,” says Townsend-Holmes. “Not only is it important for the schools themselves to gain more funding, but for people to recognize that these schools produce greatness. We need to see ourselves in these spaces to become all we can be.”
In Harris, Townsend-Holmes sees “an amazing mixture of passion, intensity and empathy,” adding, “That’s how you're going to get your point across and how you're going to bring folks with you to where you want to go.” It’s a strategy Townsend-Holmes keeps in mind as she educates others, including her family in West Philadelphia, about the importance of voting.
Harris’ HBCU background has also helped her earn trust in Black communities, notes Ramzey Smith, African American media director for the campaign. That includes the Black local and national outlets with which Smith works closely in his role. He studied broadcast journalism at Florida A&M University, where he says an emphasis was placed on the history of Black press. This foundation has proved helpful in working with Black organizations to publicize updates out of the Biden-Harris campaign. “Knowing the importance of Black storytelling is ingrained,” he says. “She’s expanded our reach even further into pockets that we might not have been able to reach.”
Evidence of this can already be seen in the makeup of the Biden-Harris campaign team. Some 46% of full-time staffers, and 40% of senior staffers, are people of color. On Magwood’s 15-person design team, women and men of various identifications, including Black, white, Asian/Pacific Islander and LGBTQ+, are represented. “I also have a duty to build a diverse coalition of people who have different stories and different walks of life,” she says. Such diversity will prove valuable to Biden as he continues his efforts to attract Black and Latinx voters, a tactic that has, at times, backfired.
Galvanizing voters is a big part of Cameron Trimble’s job. The campaign’s African American paid media director helps lead what Biden has referred to as “the largest general election investment in African American paid media by a presidential campaign.” Among the campaign’s latest ads is “We’re Listening,” focused on racial injustice and police ****.
As a student at Howard, Trimble says, “I could be Cameron Trimble first.” He feels the same way as an employee of the Biden-Harris campaign. “On the street, I’m a 6-foot-2 Black man, and I'm very aware of how I project to the outside world,” he says, nodding to the personal nature of the work he spearheads. “The vastness of the Black community, the depth—I got to see it at Howard. Black people aren’t monolithic. We use that as inspiration, that we need to speak to all aspects of the Black community.”
Full Article: https://www.forbes.com/sites/briannegarret...
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