Vice President Kamala Harris highlights impact of abortion bans and HBCU investments at ESSENCE Festival

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NEW ORLEANS – Vice President Kamala Harris is keeping up a busy schedule these days. Before traveling to her sorority’s annual conference, Alpha Kappa Alpha’s Boule, in Dallas, she made a stop in the Crescent City to speak at the 30th Annual ESSENCE Festival of Culture. 

Harris’s visit to the Global Black Economic Forum comes at a time after President Joe Biden faces questions regarding his age and mental acuity. While Harris was not asked from the age debate during her conversation with Caroline Wanga, CEO of ESSENCE Ventures. The Vice President did point out the ramifications of another President Trump administration and its threats on Democracy. 

“Who has talked about being proud of taking from the women of America a most fundamental right to make decisions about your own body,” Harris asked the audience.  “And then last week, understand, sadly, the press has not been covering it as much as they should, in proportion to the seriousness of what just happened when the United States Supreme Court. Essentially telling this individual who has been convicted of 34 felonies that he will be immune. Essentially the Activity he has told us he is prepared to engage in if he gets back into the White House. Understand we all know: 122 days, we each have the power to decide what kind of country we want to live in.”

The Vice President of the United States, Kamala D. Harris, speaks with Caroline Wanga, CEO of ESSENCE Ventures, during a roundtable discussion inside the Global Black Economic Forum at the 2024 ESSENCE Festival of Culture on Saturday, July 6, 2024 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

However, during the lead-in fireside chat, U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, D-Ca., laid out why she’s not having any of the ageist debate. 

“But we’re now at a point in time where people are talking about how Biden is too old. Hell, I’m older than Biden,” exclaims Waters. 

Harris also pointed out the hypocrisy among those on the right. She said there is a direct connection between strict abortion bans in southern States  and the high Black maternal mortality rates. 

“And what I find is the hypocrisy by some of these extremists who are saying they’re passing these abortion bans because they care about women and children,” Harris explained. “So don’t come to us gaslighting us about where you’ve been and where you haven’t been on important issues that relate to what we know every day affects our sisters, our mothers, our aunties, our grandmothers, and could affect our daughters.”

The ESSENCE Festival’s importance in Black Culture

The ESSENCE Festival has been a place for African-Americans to have frank and honest conversations regarding issues in the community. The crowd was filled with mostly Black women, a group that has been the moral backbone of the Democratic Party.  Saturday, Harris discussed to a standing room audience that her background has prepared her for this moment. 

“When I talk about the family that raised me: yes, they took me in a stroller as they were marching and shouting for justice,” Harris said. “Knowing that justice will not be achieved unless we are prepared to march and shout and fight for it. And one of the ways we do that is through our vote.”

Actress Jenifer Lewis took the microphone during the lead-in conversation and instructed the crowd to do one thing: vote.

“So repeat this: I will vote because I love my children,” Lewis instructed. “Now, get your ass out and vote.”

The Vice President of the United States, Kamala D. Harris, speaks during a roundtable discussion inside the Global Black Economic Forum at the 2024 ESSENCE Festival of Culture on Saturday, July 6, 2024 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

The Biden Campaign goes after undecided and Trump-leaning Black voters

The Biden-Harris administration successfully capped the cost of insulin for $35 for seniors. They expanded the child tax credit to $300 per child, per month, and $1,400 in-person checks to Black families. Moreover, According to PolitiFact and The Poynter Institute, the Biden administration invested more than $7 billion in HBCUs. 

“Our Vice President has shown up talking about the issues that matter to us,” said U.S. Congresswoman Nikema Williams, D-Ga. “She reminds us who has been at the forefront of defending our freedoms every day and that is the Biden-Harris administration. I could not be more grateful to call her my Vice President, my Soror and my friend.”

Included is $1.7 billion for grants to support low-income students and make HBCUs more affordable. By comparison, former President Trump did reauthorize the $250 million funding stream that lapsed under his watch. 

The Biden-Harris campaign will continue to speak directly African-Americans who are on the fence during election season. The campaign is highlighting the clear differences between theirs and the Trump campaign. Representative Waters, the former leader of the House Financial Services Committee, supported more African-Americans to enter financial services. Also, she pushed for equal representation in lending and funding, which will allow more African-Americans to own homes and businesses. 

What’s next?

According to a 2021 study by the National Association of Realtors, the Black American homeownership rate is 44%. It lags far behind Hispanic Americans (50.6%), Asian Americans (62.8%) and White Americans (72.7%). Waters believes there is a solution. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, we can do all of this,” exclaimed Waters. “If you don’t vote, you don’t understand your power. If you don’t vote, you don’t understand your influence. And don’t tell me when you see me in the street, ‘you got my back,’ if you ain’t voting!”