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For the Harris women, social change and female empowerment is a family affair. It started with the late Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a prominent breast cancer researcher, civil rights activist, and single mother of two daughters, Kamala and Maya. Then, there's Vice President Kamala Harris, who, among many other firsts, will be the first female vice president; and there's her younger sister, Maya Harris, a civil rights lawyer and public policy advocate, who once led the nation's largest ACLU affiliate.
So it should come as no surprise that Maya's daughter, Meena Harris, is carrying on that legacy—with a list of achievements that are equally impressive. "I grew up surrounded by these strong, brilliant women who showed me what it meant to show up in the world with purpose and intention," Meena told Glamour earlier this year. "I just idolized them—these incredible women who were all around me." At just 36 years old, the Harvard-educated lawyer is the founder and CEO of Phenomenal (a female-powered organization that brings awareness to various social causes), a best-selling children's book author (she published Ambitious Girl on January 19 and Kamala and Maya's Big Idea last year), and is the mother of two young daughters herself.
With that remarkable résumé in mind, we found out a little bit more about Kamala Harris's niece, Meena Harris.
Meena Haris shares the same birthday as her aunt, Kamala.
In 1984, during her senior year of high school, Maya Harris became pregnant—a part of her life that she’s private about. On October 20, which also happens to be her older sister's birthday, she gave birth to her daughter, Meena.
Happy Birthday to my favorite birthday twin ❤️ pic.twitter.com/mDihO66oWK
— Meena Harris (@meenaharris) October 20, 2020
A single mom, Maya stayed home while getting her undergraduate degree at the University of California-Berkeley and putting herself through Stanford Law School—which allowed Meena to spend lots of quality time with her grandmother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who taught her many of the same lessons that she previously instilled in Maya and Kamala. (One example: You may be the first, but don't be the last.) "She was deliberate, and I know this may seem cliché, but she was deliberate about teaching us that we could be anything, that we could do anything," Maya told Glamour. "And we were really made to believe that."
It also helped that Meena got to witness the impact of those words firsthand: "I had a 17-year-old single mom," she told Harper's Bazaar. "So I got to see her go to law school. I got to see her go through her first law firm job. And same [with] Kamala. I saw so much of my mother and my aunt, and them becoming powerful women in the world starting in their 20s. I had a front-row seat for all of it."
She introduced her mom, Maya Harris, to her father, Tony West.
On her first day of classes at Stanford Law School, Maya's then four-year-old daughter Meena introduced her mom to fellow law student Tony West after engaging him in a game of hide-and-seek on the campus's Arthur E. Cooley Courtyard. Maya and Tony quickly became close friends, but it wasn’t until a few years after graduation that they started dating. “We waited for the most inconvenient time to actually get together—he was in D.C. and I was in the Bay Area,” Maya told Stanford Lawyer. “It’s a family joke that Meena knew we should be together long before we did.”
Nearly a decade after they first met, the pair got married in 1998, and today, the two are very proud parents—and grandparents. (Case in point: West, a former official in the Obama Justice Department and now the Chief Legal Officer at Uber, even uses the Instagram handle @meenasdad.)
Meena followed in her mother and aunt’s footsteps—sort of.
"If you were going to actually be in the conversation and state a point of view, then you ought to be able to either explain that point of view or defend that point of view," Maya said in an interview with Glamour. "That’s very much how my mom was, and I think Meena would probably attest that’s how I was as a mom too, and still am." So it's no surprise that Meena—like her mom and aunt—went into law, graduating from Harvard Law School after getting her bachelor's degree at Stanford.
However after a brief legal career (in which she was a data privacy and cybersecurity attorney at a major global law firm), Meena realized that a traditional legal career might not be for her. “When Aunt Kamala and mom were young and would come home from school complaining about something they felt was unfair, my grandma would reply, ‘Well, what are you going to do about it? Don’t sit around and complain about things, do something,’” Meena told NBC News. "Aunt Kamala always emphasized this lesson to me by urging me to make my own unique contributions to issues I care about. Sure, she’s always encouraged me to run for office, but she never pressured me, and she also let me know that I could make an impact in other ways."
She's the founder and CEO of Phenomenal.
In the wake of the 2016 election, after working as a senior adviser on policy and communications for her aunt's U.S. Senate race, Meena started what was then considered a small side project: Inspired by the famous Maya Angelou poem, she printed tees that said "Phenomenal Woman." She thought she'd sell a couple hundred and donate the profits to organizations like Planned Parenthood and Girls Who Code. But on the first day, she sold 2,500. "Like a lot of people, in that moment I found myself wondering what I personally could do to lift up women, make my voice heard, and support issues I cared about," Meena told People in an interview this summer. "It was never supposed to be anything more than a side project...but it's really gratifying to pour your heart and soul into something, work your ass off, and see it in the world embraced by the communities it's intended for."
In the four years since, her T-shirt business has grown into the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign, which not only sells tees, but also sweatshirts, hats, leggings, socks, and bodysuits—all of which raise awareness around issues that affect underrepresented communities with celebratory sayings like "Phenomenally Latina," "Phenomenally Indigenous,""Phenomenally Human," "Phenomenal Mother," and "Black Lives Matter" to name a few. "A statement T-shirt can seem so small and insignificant, especially compared to the enormity of the social change that's happening before our eyes," Meena said in the same People interview. "But there is substance and meaning behind it. And the most basic meaning is people proclaiming to the world that they are worthy, deserving of dignity and proud. When we are talking about things like systemic racism and systematic oppression of underrepresented communities, it's a reminder that the world needs to see and hear over and over until there is full accountability, equality, and justice for all, not just a privileged few."
Meena is the author of two children's books: Kamala and Maya's Big Idea and Ambitious Girl.
Just like her aunt (who has somehow managed to write three books in her spare time), Meena is also an author. "Once I became a mom and we started looking through children’s literature for our girls, I felt it was great that in the last three to five years there’s been this burst of literature around historical women," she told Glamour. "I think that’s super important, but I also had this feeling like, Well, wouldn’t it be great if we had actual stories and real character development around girls—girls that look like mine, that were black and brown children?" In fact, according to School Library Justice, just 10% of the characters depicted in children's book were Black, 7% were asian, 5% were Latinx, and 1% were Native American.
So, in true Harris fashion, Meena took matters into her own hands and published Kamala and Maya's Big Idea last year. The children's book that tells the true story of how sisters Maya and Kamala turned an unused courtyard in their apartment building into an area for kids. "This book is focused on children, but I think that the overarching message is relevant to people of all ages," Maya told Glamour. "I can’t tell you how many young adults, how many grown adults have asked me over time, whether it was when I was an advocate or in politics, "What can I do? How can I help?" People are so busy with their daily lives, they’re often just trying to make it—going to work, taking kids to school, doing child care. The notion of activism or taking action is just something that’s foreign, and it seems specialized and unfamiliar and big."
...And she just released her second book, Ambitious Girl.
On January 19, Meena released her second children's book, Ambitious Girl, in which a pint-size protagonist decides to reject the labels of too-this or too-that and embarks on a journey where she learns to not only reclaim words meant to knock her down, but also to take up space and own her power—a lesson that’s been passed down through generations of Harris women. “I was raised to believe that ambition was a good thing. That it was something to be celebrated. It meant purpose, it meant power, it meant determination, it meant having a dream and going after it, even when other people tried to tell you it couldn't be done,” she tells OprahMag.com. “That’s all I knew, because my whole family was this little unit of me, my grandma, my mom, and my aunt, and it’s what I would see every day.”
Which is why the book is dedicated to the woman who taught not just Meena, but also Maya and Kamala the importance of ambition and grit: her grandmother, Shyamala. "I wanted to include her and memorialize the values that my grandmother taught me and doing it to kind of honor her in raising these two girls who became these incredible, powerful, ambitious women with big ideas," Meena told Harper's Bazaar. "It all goes back to her."
It's something she was undoubtedly thinking about when her aunt was sworn in as the Vice President. “'Too ambitious' succeeded, didn’t it?” Meena tells OprahMag.com. “That represents, in all of it and in every form and all its glory, what ambition means, and what happens when you dare to do something even though people all along would say it’s not possible simply because it’s never happened before. That’s the part that gets me sometimes—like, holy shit, it’s Kamala. She’s actually the first in our nation’s whole history.”
She's also the mother of two young daughters with her partner, Nikolas Ajagu.
Not only is Meena an entrepreneur, attorney, author, and founder, but she's also the mother of two adorable daughters—who are both under the age of five. "They are both incredibly strong-willed and independent but also are so loving," Meena revealed in an interview with Mother. "The older one is more serious, and loves books, but she also has a great sense of humor. The younger one is very playful, smiles constantly, and tickling her elicits the most delicious giggles."
And even though she's just four years old, her older daughter, Amara, already seems to be just as ambitious as the Harris women: In a video recently posted on Twitter, the Vice President-elect can be heard telling Amara (who, according to Meena, wants to be both an astronaut and a president), "You could be president. But not right now—you have to be over the age of 35."
So, how does she do it? Luckily, she gets a real assist from her partner, Nikolas Ajagu. "[In our house,] we have a unique situation where traditional gender roles are flipped," she told Marie Claire. "My partner, Nik, is a full-time dad and I am working on Phenomenal full time...I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing without him because laundry, work, Zoom—everything is a full-time job." Not to mention that the girls are surrounded by loving grandparents and an equally doting great aunt. "My Aunt Kamala takes *very seriously* her role as a great aunt in helping to shape my daughters," Meena said in the same interview with NBC News. "If she had her way, the girls (only 2 and 4 years old) would be on the campaign trail with her every day."
Meena shares the best behind-the-scenes content of her Aunt Kamala on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.
Just as her uncle, Douglas Emhoff, is the ultimate Instagram husband, Meena is the ultimate Instagram niece (yes, we've decided that's a thing). When she's not posting about her work, her activism, or her daughters, there's a good chance she's sharing pictures and videos of her aunt on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok, whether she's prepping for a commencement address...
...heading to San Francisco pride
— Meena Harris (@meenaharris) June 30, 2019
...teaching her grandnieces how to cook
— Meena Harris (@meenaharris) September 29, 2019
...being photobombed by President Joe Biden
...posing with fellow senators
...doing her thing on Capitol Hill
...reuniting with her grandnieces
...cooking Thanksgiving dinner
— Meena Harris (@meenaharris) November 27, 2019
...showing off her green beans via FaceTime
— Meena Harris (@meenaharris) March 25, 2020
...dancing in her signature Chucks
— Meena Harris (@meenaharris) October 19, 2020
...or, even better, dancing to Cardi B.
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