When Vanessa Thomas Smith, 63, heard over KYW Newsradio that her sorority sister Kamala Harris would be headed to the White House, she pulled over in a Wawa parking lot to dance.
The Glenside resident cried with joy that Harris would make history, becoming the first woman, the first Black and South Asian person, and the first alumna of a historically Black college and university to reach the second-highest office in the nation.
“It felt like it was one of my sisters,” said Thomas Smith, who as a Temple student joined Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. — the same sorority the projected next vice president became part of at Howard University.
Many women across the Philadelphia region were also dancing in the streets, celebrating the victory of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris following days of ballot counting.
This Democratic win comes four years after Hillary Clinton, the only woman to win a major-party presidential nomination, was defeated by President Donald Trump. The loss was a blow for women appalled by the sexual-assault allegations against Trump, his misogynistic comments, and his racist birther lies about former President Barack Obama. The day after Trump’s inauguration, there were women’s marches across the world, with millions protesting.
In cities like Philadelphia, Black women were the ones who pushed Democratic turnout. Now, in the centennial year of suffrage and more than half a century after the Voting Rights Act, many Black women in the Philadelphia region said Saturday that this win means they can finally see themselves represented in the White House.
“She let the Black women in Philadelphia know we can do it,” said Renee Wilson, 49, of South Philadelphia. “They used to say that being a president is a man’s job. She’s the vice president of the United States. The first Black woman.”
Wilson was laid off from her job as a hotel worker during the pandemic and used her extra time to volunteer with UNITE HERE, the union that represents hospitality workers. She knocked on doors six days a week for a month to get out the vote for Biden and Harris.
“It was a half a century until Black women could vote after white women,” Wilson said. “And look at us now. Look at us now."
While eating dinner outside in Princeton on Saturday night, Ranjana Sanyal, 52, and Malini Banerjee, 47, celebrated Harris, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, by wearing blue saris.
As IndianAmericans and immigrants, Banerjee said the projected win “makes us hopeful." She lamented the anti-immigrant sentiment under the Trump administration while Sanyal said they’ve heard hateful comments like “Go back to the country you came from.”
Sanyal’s daughter, Atreyi, 19, a sophomore at Rutgers University, said she is inspired by Harris and wants to go into politics. When her mother said she hopes a Biden/Harris administration will bring a return to compassion and decency, the future policymaker chimed in, “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which became an impromptu gathering space for protesters and partiers over the course of the week as Philadelphia’s votes were counted inside, a crowd of hundreds of people chanted “Kam-a-la! Kam-a-la!”
“We’re gonna have a Black woman in the White House!” a woman yelled.
Liz Kramp, a midwife who lives in Havertown, wrapped her arms around her 10-year-old daughter, Vivienne. She brought her daughter to the Convention Center on Saturday to be amid the masses celebrating the first female vice president. In their home, “women’s health is everything,” Kramp said, making the election personal.
“We’re finally getting some ovaries in the Oval Office,” she said.
Keisha Brown, 48, explained with pride to her granddaughters that Biden and Harris had won. Her 8-year-old granddaughter, Shaniya Duell, didn’t know before Saturday that a woman had never been elected vice president.
“I think [Harris is] gonna make a change out there," said Danyha Brown, 13, and the grandchild of a friend of Brown’s, “so other women can get a chance to do what they like to do.”
Arielle Gedeon, a 21-year-old first-generation American and senior at Rowan University, where she is president of the Lambda Rho chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc, and the first Black female Student Government Association president, said her group chat was already buzzing Saturday afternoon with plans to travel to Washington in January for the Biden and Harris inauguration ceremony.
Chelsa Clofer, a 46-year-old Black woman, watched the celebration by Clark Park and said she cried “like five or six times today.”
Harris’ biracial background, she said, enabled her to represent “multitudes of women at once” in a way that the presidential bid of Clinton, a white woman, didn’t.
This win, she said, is an “opportunity to recognize that there’s been a shift of what we want as a people” — a more diverse, inclusive government.
Bouquet Harger, a 31-year-old law student who lives in Center City, stood at 12th and Arch Streets on Saturday holding a sign that read “Black Votes Matter."
“I love her story, and her parents' stories resonated with me,” said Harger, who was born in Thailand. “She is an amazing example of resilience. ... I’m happy she’s here and saying, ‘We are people, too.’”
As news of Biden’s victory spread through Center City, thousands of people also converged at City Hall, cheering, banging pots and pans, and of course, dancing in the street.
Nearby, Temple students Zayna McNeil, Lauren Jackson, Merissa Chase, and Rachelle Small posed for a picture, fists up.
It is “amazing to see myself represented in such a high power,” Jackson, 18, said, referring to Harris.
“Not only as Black people but as a woman and minority in the office,” added Small, 20, who was wearing a “Black votes count” button.
Natalia Guerrero, 15, traveled from Radnor to Center City with a sign that said “Glass ceiling cracked.”
With Harris in the White House, she said, “I feel like my voice is going to be heard."
Johnnie Peterson’s eyes crinkled behind her face mask as she watched the celebrations transpire from a distance at City Hall. She said that the Black women who influenced politics this election, from Harris to former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams' efforts to fight voter suppression and boost Democratic turnout in her traditionally red state, “is so good for the young people to see."
”It means we’re somebody," Peterson, 58, said. “You can’t just dust us up under the rug.”
Staff writers Astrid Rodrigues, Juliana Feliciano Reyes, and Erin McCarthy contributed to this report.