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Brown Girls Book Club Comes Together To Celebrate And Watch Historic Inauguration

Jan 20, 2021
Originally published on January 21, 2021 6:08 am

They gathered long distance via Zoom, garlanded with pearls in homage to Kamala Harris's signature neckwear, and with champagne bottles ready to pop.

Eight Black women, who for the past 25 years have belonged to what they call the Brown Girls Book Club, could not miss the opportunity to join together for this historic moment: the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who becomes the first woman, first African American, and first Asian American vice president.

"I need this moment for me," said Vivian Wallace-Llodra, 50, a senior content strategist with JP Morgan Chase in New York, who sported a T-shirt reading "Kamala and Joe" (because "first, her!" she explained) and a cobalt blue pantsuit in tribute to Hillary Clinton.

"What's that song, 'It's been a long time coming?' " Wallace-Llodra asked. "Change gonna come! " chimed in Rachel Giordani, 49, an instructional coach in New York, proudly decked out in a red Howard University sweatshirt.

Many of those in the group are alumnae of Howard, Harris's alma mater, or fellow members of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, and they felt a special connection to this day.

As they waited for the ceremony to begin, the women said the joy they felt was shaded by the damage done during the Trump presidency.

"I feel like today and in the days that are coming, we're all going to be recovering from PTSD," said Wallace-Llodra. "Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is a return to normalcy."

The group turned euphoric when former first lady Michelle Obama appeared on the stage in a belted burgundy ensemble, her hair in a sleek, wavy blowout. "Go ahead, Michelle!" they shouted. "Look at Shelly!" "Today we fierce!" "That's a helluva belt buckle!" "Forget it, she snacks from head to toe!"

When Harris emerged from the Capitol in a royal purple coat and matching dress, the women erupted in jubilant cheers, which quickly turned to sobs as they absorbed the weight of the moment. "Oh my god," they said, wiping away tears. "Wow."

Monica Brady, 49, a middle school principal in New York City, called the new vice president "a kick-ass woman who would very easily fit in this set ... [We] see us reflected back to us, not just in her brownness, but her fierceness. She is a fierce woman! And everybody on this line is as well."

After Harris and Biden were sworn in, the women whooped and raised their glasses high in a toast, some with champagne, others with sparkling water and iced coffee. "I love you guys," Giordani told her friends, before adding, "We have a lot of work to do."

The women sipped as they listened to President Biden speak of unity and healing in his inaugural address, urging Americans to "hear one another, see one another, show respect to one another."

Afterward, reflecting on his words, Wallace-Llodra said, "I know a lot of people are a little offended by these calls for unity. I'm not, you know? Unify. Embrace them. They'll either come along or they won't."

She added, "Now personally, the cynic in me thinks that they won't come along because they haven't. But there's nothing wrong with trying."

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Kamala Harris' inauguration as vice president has special meaning for Black women in America, especially women who went to Howard University, her alma mater, and for members of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. NPR's Melissa Block was listening while a group of old friends got together on Zoom to watch the inauguration.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: The women pop up on screen, garlanded with pearls in homage to Kamala Harris' signature necklace. The pearl is a symbol of her sorority. Along with her pearls, Rachel Giordani, an educator in New York, sports a bright red Howard sweatshirt.

RACHEL GIORDANI: So I'm representing for Howard University today. I'm just so excited and super proud.

BLOCK: These Black women have been meeting for the last 25 years in a group they call the Brown Girls Book Club. And they wouldn't dream of missing the chance to join together for this moment to watch Kamala Harris become the first woman, first African American and first Asian American vice president. Even before the ceremony, it was an emotional day for Lesley Esters Redwine, an Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sister.

LESLEY ESTERS REDWINE: As I talk about it, it just makes me very overwhelmed because this has been a very long fight.

BLOCK: In 2008, these women all came to Washington to watch Barack Obama become president, says Monica Brady, a middle school principal in New York.

MONICA BRADY: And we were so joyful. There was just so much love in our hearts for each other and for the world - so much hope.

BLOCK: Now, Brady says, getting to see Kamala ascend brings new joy.

BRADY: To see us reflected back to us, not just in her brownness because I think sometimes people get caught up in that but her fierceness. She is a fierce woman, and everybody on this line is as well.

BLOCK: And then the women are riveted as they watch Michelle Obama make her entrance in a belted burgundy ensemble, her hair in a sleek, wavy blowout.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Michelle is coming in looking (laughter)...



UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Look at Chelle (ph). Today, we fierce.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Forget it. She snatched from head to toe.

BLOCK: At last, the star attraction, Kamala Harris, emerges from the Capitol in a royal purple coat and matching dress.


BLOCK: And jubilation gives way to tears as the women absorb the weight of this moment.



BLOCK: And then after Harris and Biden are sworn in...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Oh, there we go.

BLOCK: ...The friends raise their glasses in a toast.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Ladies, cheers.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: All right. So now we drink.

BLOCK: As she considers this moment, Vivian Wallace-Llodra, who works for JPMorgan Chase, says it's important for girls and boys to see in Kamala Harris a woman unapologetically in power.

VIVIAN WALLACE-LLODRA: So that they can realize, yes, this is normal. You know, this shouldn't be a big deal. And I'm just - like, I'm grateful. I am grateful to have made it to this day because 400,000 Americans did not.

BLOCK: My heart is full, Monica Brady tells her friends before signing off. I feel so hopeful.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Love you guys.




BLOCK: Melissa Block, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEEM THE CIPHER'S "TRANSCEND.") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.