Kamala Harris and a 1986 snapshot of that Howard generation

By Cache McClay
BBC News, Washington

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  • US election 2020

image copyrightKaren Gibbs

There is a photograph of Kamala Harris, taken in 1986, while she was a student at Howard University.

She and two other friends, all shoulder pads and plaid, are smiling and laughing, a crowd behind them. It's a picture brimming with energy and hope.

It's been used a lot in telling the extraordinary story of her rise to become the first black and Asian American woman to be vice-president and the first person who attended one of America's HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) to get to such a position.

But this is the story of the other women in the photograph, her two best friends – Valarie Pippen and Karen Gibbs – as well as of others who might have been milling about in the background there.

This was the 1980s, when the children of America's civil rights generation came of age. Being at Howard University, an HBCU at a time when solidarity with the global anti-apartheid movement was reaching fever pitch and at the height of Reaganism, was a formative experience for many of them.

Now they are about to witness one of their own become vice-president. What have their journeys been like and what does this moment feel like?