This Black History Month, we wanted to learn about the personal histories of women we admire — so we asked changemakers to tell us about a Black woman in their life who has been crucial in shaping who they are today.
In this installment, Vice President Kamala Harris tells us how her “second mother” growing up, Mrs. Regina Shelton, influenced how she advocates for the lives of children and families today.
As a breast-cancer researcher, my mother often worked late nights and sometimes weekends. On those days, my sister and I spent a lot of time at the Sheltons’, who lived two doors down from us. Mrs. Regina Shelton was raised in Louisiana, and her husband, Rev. Arthur Shelton, was from Arkansas, but like so many Black families in that era from the South, they moved to California.
Mrs. Shelton came to be who we considered our second mother. She ran a nursery school, and we lived in the apartment upstairs. She not only took care of the children in the community — she took care of their parents. She was our community matriarch, offering advice, support, a home-cooked meal, and sometimes even just a hug. Often, I would notice her sitting in the corner of her nursery school, talking with a mother who was going through challenges. Mrs. Shelton hired her team from within our community. She mentored others. She was a civic leader and a community leader, although to us, she was just Mrs. Shelton.
At every step of the way, Mrs. Shelton is with me.
On Sundays, we would pile into the back of Mrs. Shelton’s station wagon to head to the 23rd Avenue Church of God. She was a woman of deep faith and lived her faith as a verb — it was displayed on a daily basis in her actions. As attorney general of California, as United States senator, and then as vice president of the United States, I laid my hand on her Bible as I took the oath of office. At every step of the way, Mrs. Shelton is with me.
Throughout my career, I have been motivated to help improve the lives of children and families, modeled on Mrs. Shelton’s approach. As attorney general of California, when I faced off against big banks to keep struggling homeowners in their homes, I thought about the Sheltons’ pride in their home and front yard, so lovingly watered and maintained. As a United States senator, I had Mrs. Shelton in mind when I fought for California families like those that dropped their children off at her day-care center. Now, as vice president of the United States, as our administration works to lower electric bills or make prescription medications more affordable, I think about how to create a stronger, healthier, and more prosperous future for all children, all families, and all communities — just as Mrs. Shelton taught me.
— As told to Lena Felton
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