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Why I Put In That Work for Kamala Harris

Sallia Wilkins is a volunteer with the Kamala Harris campaign.

Growing up in the inner city as a minority and in the foster care system did not make life easy for me. But I was determined to not allow my circumstances to dictate my future and what I would ultimately do with my life. Ever since I was a little girl I knew I wanted to be an attorney. After witnessing the incarceration of my parents, several family members, and classmates, I knew I had to do something to help change the justice system and how it affected the lives of juveniles from inner city communities.

I was a sophomore at Loyola Marymount University taking Comparative Politics during the height of the 2012 general election. My political science professor used the election as a teaching tool during the entire course. During the Democratic National Convention, my attention was caught by one of the speakers – a charismatic, powerful, African American woman. I was intrigued and amazed to see that someone who looked like me had a platform that reached millions of people. I soon found out that she was Kamala Harris, the Attorney General of California, and I immediately wanted to learn everything about her. I discovered that she was from Oakland, that she went to Howard University and UC Hastings College of the Law, what motivated her to become an attorney, what prominent issues she focused on, and how she responded to people who told her “you can’t.”

I was excited to learn that she had a passion for children and youth, and the desire to make a positive impact in their lives. She understood that juvenile delinquency, student truancy, repeated offenses, and illiteracy were all symptoms of something deeper happening to many children in disadvantaged inner city communities. After I did my research, I added her to the top of my list of people I wanted to meet – along with First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah, and Alicia Keys!

I eagerly stayed up-to-date on Kamala’s events, interviews, and speeches. After learning that she was visiting many churches in black communities, I realized she’s accessible and really takes the time to come to the same streets I grew up on. I felt she really cared about “the people” and was willing to serve. I began to research future events she would be present at and came across a rally she was having in Los Angeles. I was excited and grateful to attend. I knew it would be my mission to introduce myself to her and let her know who I was. I appreciated every topic she addressed in her speech and was fascinated by how powerful her delivery was. Her presence was very strong yet humble. After she spoke, I finally met her and told her that I wanted to go to law school and become an Attorney General too. I told her that since I had grown up with disadvantages but was able to overcome those obstacles, I had many ideas and insights for her.

IMG_6008I couldn’t believe it when she said, “What are you doing? You need to be working in my office!” I knew I wouldn’t in a millions years pass up that opportunity. I used every ounce of courage in me to quit my full time job at a prestigious law firm to make myself available. I was determined to work in her office and learn as much as possible about her, her position, her team, and what it is like for the Attorney General behind the scenes, off the stage, and away from the podium. She is one of the most humble individuals I have encountered, despite her title.

It was even more inspiring to know that she was proactive and creating programs to address issues that are affecting youth who are getting wrapped up in the criminal justice system. She is addressing recidivism and improving public safety with programs at the California Department of Justice’s Division of Recidivism Reduction and Re-entry. The division works with state and local government agencies, the courts, and communities across the state to promote anti-recidivism programs and efforts. In the Senate, Kamala will champion reform of U.S. Department of Justice grant programs to encourage state and local law enforcement agencies to focus on crime prevention by making smart investments in anti-recidivism programs, like Back On Track – a successful model she created as San Francisco District Attorney, and something that I wish had been available to my family members.

Since finishing undergrad, I have had to take time off from my law school plans to deal with some health challenges and get some work experience. But I’m really learning what my purpose is and how I can begin to walk in it. Dedicating my time to this internship was one of the best decisions I’ve made. After I obtain my J.D. and begin my law career, I will stay humble and remember where I came from. And I will be sure to reach back and help others who come behind me – just like Attorney General Kamala Harris has done for me.