The network of more than 100 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU), clustered mostly in the South, and alumni throughout the nation could help push one of their own deep into the 2020 presidential Democratic primary race.
California’s Sen. Kamala Harris, who has deep roots in the HBCU community, launched her presidential campaign on Monday and has already tapped into that network.
Harris planned to make her first trip this year to South Carolina on Friday where fellow members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the oldest Greek-letter organization established by Black college-educated women, were expected to attend in full force for a fundraising event, Politico reported.
South Carolina holds an early primary and typically helps to place the winner in the top tier of candidates and propel that candidate forward into later primary contests.
More than 60 percent of Democratic voters in South Carolina are Black. The state is also home to eight HBCUs—a potential army of foot soldiers to knock on doors and to make campaign calls.
HBCU alumni scattered across the nation can serve as a base to help Harris garner the Black votes needed for a Democrat to win the White House.
In 2016, an election cycle that President Donald Trump won by a small margin, approximately 11 percent of Black voters who supported President Barack Obama in 2012 decided to stay home four years later, according to the Washington Post.
Harris, a Howard University graduate, has maintained close ties to the HBCU community throughout her career. The first-term U.S. senator collaborated in 2018 with fellow Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama to secure a 14 percent increase in federal funding, from $244.7 million in fiscal year 2017 to $279.6 million in 2018, to HBCUs, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund announced in 2018.
Her alma mater invited Harris to be the keynote speaker for its 2017 commencement. And Howard University was Harris’ first stop after launching her presidential bid on Monday.
Harris was expected to speak Friday at the local AKA chapter’s Pink Ice Gala at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds.
“People are really excited about that and people are talking about the fact that President Obama came to Pink Ice the year he ran,” said Tameika Isaac Devine, a Columbia City councilwoman who’s Delta Sigma Theta Sorority member. “That certainly has gotten a lot of folks excited.”