News Room Howard University

By Kerry-Ann Hamilton
University News
December 14, 2010

Howard Alumna Becomes First Woman Elected as California Attorney General

In less than a month, Howard University alumna Kamala Harris, J.D., (B.A. '86), will join a long line of Howard "firsts" when she is sworn in as the first woman as well as first African-American and Indian-American, to be elected as California Attorney General.

Harris, 46, led her first campaign as a freshman at Howard University for the Liberal Arts Student Council. Faculty, students and administrators knew that there was something special about her.

"I remember Kamala very well," said Rodney Green, Ph.D., chair of the Howard University Department of Economics. "She was very brilliant, a leader on campus and was destined for success. We are very proud of her historic election."

Harris was born in Oakland, California to a Jamaican father and Indian mother and raised in Berkeley. Her parents, both professors, were involved in the Civil Rights Movement and instilled in her a strong commitment to justice and public service. Harris found Howard to be a home away from home because of its role as an architect of social justice in America and throughout the globe.

In 1986, she earned a bachelors of arts degree from Howard University. The University awarded Harris the Outstanding Alumni Award for her extraordinary work in fields of law and public service in 2006. She received a Juris Doctor from University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 1989.

A year ago, the attorney general-elect was interviewed by the Howard Magazine about her career, successes and her then upcoming campaign for attorney general. Harris discussed how she has handled some key issues she has faced.

"A child in elementary school who is missing 50 or 60 days out of a 180-day school year is never going to be completely functional or productive," Harris said. "I did something that was considered controversial, but it put an infrared light on the issue. I decided to prosecute parents for truancy."

As an outcome of Harris' tough approach, support systems were put in place for parents, resulting in a 23 percent improvement in students' attendance rates.

"I am also very proud of a reentry initiative that I started called 'Back on Track,' " she said. "In California, 70 percent of all people released from prison reoffend within three years of their release. I decided to focus on the 18 to 24-year-old, first time, nonviolent, low-level offender. Most of the offenders did not have any employable skills so we got them enrolled in apprenticeship programs…had them earn their GED and they enrolled in the city college."

The program reduced recidivism for that group from 54 percent to less than 10 percent in four years. The National District Attorneys Association selected the "Back on Track" program as a model for district attorney offices around the country.

As veteran prosecutor, she has dedicated her outstanding legal talents to combating violent crime and the sexual exploitation of children. She works creatively to improve the quality of life in our communities. 

As Deputy District Attorney in Alameda County from 1990 to 1998, she prosecuted hundreds of serious and violent felonies, including homicide, rape, and child sexual assault cases. Before Louise Renne recruited her to join the City Attorney's office in August 2000, she was the Managing Attorney of the Career Criminal Unit of the office of the San Francisco District Attorney.

Harris' accolades include "America's 20 Most Powerful Women" by Newsweek, "100 Most Influential African Americans" by Ebony Magazine, and the New York Times listed her as one of 17 women most likely to become the first female president of the U.S.