The next vice president of the United States may well be of Jamaican descent, and there were many connections to Jamaica on view at the 2020 Democratic National Convention (DNC), which was held in a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than meeting in a large and crowded brick-and-mortar venue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin – the original pre-COVID plan – the DNC organized speakers and visual presentations via the Internet that were televised to the nation. Of the numerous featured speakers at the convention, seven had links to Jamaica: Colin Powell, Ayesha Curry, Kerry Washington, Sarah Cooper, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Marley Dias, and, of course, vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris.
American retired four-star general and diplomat Colin Powell was born in 1937. He served Republican President George W. Bush as United States Secretary of State from 2001 to 2005, the first African American to be named to that position. He was also the 16th US National Security Advisor, serving from 1987 to 1989, and the 17th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, serving from 1989 to 1993. He was born in New York City and grew up in the South Bronx. His parents immigrated to the US from Jamaica. He attended public schools in New York City and earned a BA in geology from City College of New York, where he was also an ROTC participant. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army when he graduated from college in 1958. He served as a professional soldier for 35 years in many staff and command roles, ultimately achieving the rank of a four-star general. In 1989 He was Commander of the US Army Forces Command. After retirement, Powell wrote “My American Journey,” his autobiography and became a public speaker. He has received many US and foreign military awards. His civilian awards include the Presidential Medal of Freedom (twice), the President’s Citizens Medal, the Congressional Gold Medal, the Secretary of State Distinguished Service Medal, and the Secretary of Energy Distinguished Service Medal.
Ayesha Disa Alexander Curry, actress, cookbook author, and star of TV cooking shows, is the daughter of Carol Chin Alexander, who is of Afro-Jamaican and Chinese-Jamaican descent, and John Alexander, who is of African American and Polish descent. She was born in 1989 in Toronto, Canada, and lived there until she was 14 years of age when she moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. She became interested in cooking at a young age, watching as her babysitter prepared Trinidadian curry and brought it to customers in a home-based salon Ayesha and her mother operated at the time. After guest appearances in several TV shows and films, she hosted her own show on the Food Network, Ayesha’s Homemade. While she did not receive training as a professional chef, she began her culinary career in 2014 when she made her first meal on her YouTube channel, Little Lights of Mine. She has authored several videos and written a cookbook entitled “The Seasoned Life,” which was published in 2016. She married the professional NBA star Stephen Curry in 2011. They first met in a church youth group in Charlotte in their teen years, but only started dating when Ayesha was pursuing an acting career in Hollywood, and Stephen was visiting there for an awards program. The couple have three children and live in Walnut Creek California. Ayesha is a strong Christian and says her faith is “the foundation of everything that I do.”
American actor, producer, and director Kerry Washington was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1977. Her mother Valerie Washington is a professor and educational consultant, while her father Earl Washington is a real estate broker. His family is of African American descent and moved from South Carolina to Brooklyn. Her mother’s family is from Manhattan. Kerry has stated that her mother has “mixed-race background and from Jamaica, so she is partly English and Scottish and Native American, but also descended from enslaved Africans in the Caribbean.” Through her mother, Kerry is a cousin of former US Secretary of State Colin Powell. She attended the Spence School in Manhattan, graduating from high school in 1994. When she was 13, she was taken to hear Nelson Mandela speak at Yankee Stadium. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from George Washington University in 1998 with a double major in anthropology and sociology. She also attended the Michael Howard Studios in New York City. During the 1990s in New York, she studied dance and was taught by Jennifer Lopez. Kerry Washington received considerable public recognition for her role in “Scandal,” a drama series that aired on the ABC network. For her role as Olivia Pope in that series, she was nominated twice for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a drama series and once for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a television drama series. She was also nominated for her role as Anita Hill in the HBO production “Confirmation” in 2016 for both the Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe. She received another Primetime Emmy Award nomination for playing Mia Warren in Hulu’s miniseries, “Little Fires Everywhere.” She has had featured roles in several films, including “Ray” in 2004, “The Last King of Scotland” in 2006, and in the live-action Fantastic Four films in 2005 and 2007. She was featured in “Django Unchained” in 2012 and starred in independent films, including “American Son” in 2019. In 2014, she was included on the Time magazine “Time 100” list; in 2018, she was named by Forbes magazine as the eighth highest-paid TV actor.
Jamaican-American author and comedian Sarah Cooper was born in Jamaica in 1977, moving with her family to Rockville, Maryland, in 1980. Her father was an electrical engineer for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and her mother worked at a consulting firm in the human resources department. Sarah showed her interest in show business in her teen years and had intended to study theater, but acquiescing to her parents’ wishes, she earned degrees in Economics at the University of Maryland and in Digital Design at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She began as a stand-up comedy performer in Atlanta, Georgia, and ultimately accepted an offer to work as a User Experience Designer for Google, Docs, Sheets, and Slides. She continued writing and performing stand-up while working for Google, where she met her husband Jeff Palm, an engineer at Google Docs. Her first book, entitled “100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings,” was published in 2016. The book originated from a blog post in 2014 that went viral with five million views, so later in 2016, she left her job at Google to pursue comedy and writing full time. Her second book, “How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings,” was published in 2018. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she started to upload videos of herself lip syncing statements made by Donald Trump, which enlarged the audience for her comedy and writing.
US Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee was born in 1950 in Queens, New York. Both of her parents were Jamaican immigrants. She attended Jamaica High School in Queens, and after graduation, she earned a BA in political science from Yale University in 1972. She then earned her law degree from the University of Virginia Law School in 1975. Jackson Lee represents the 19th congressional district in Texas and is serving her 13th term, being first elected on the Democratic ticket in 1995. She was appointed Chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection and is also a member of three Congressional Committees: The House Committees on the Judiciary, Homeland Security, and Foreign Affairs. She is the author of several bills, including the “Save America Comprehensive Immigration Act of 2007,” which is designed to provide a complete and humane solution to immigration problems. She also introduced legislation to strengthen federal enforcement of hate crimes and has had a significant role in the renewal and reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. Her amendment to the NASA reauthorization bill in 2020 will ensure equal access to NASA education programs for minority students and those who are economically disadvantaged.
Marley Dias, an American activist and writer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2005. She grew up in West Orange, New Jersey. Marley is of Jamaican and Cape Verdean descent and is named after reggae icon Jamaican Bob Marley. In 2015, while she was still in elementary school, she started the campaign called “#1000BlackGirlBooks. Her mother, Janice Johnson Dias, is the co-founder of the GrassROOTS Community Foundation. At age 11, Marley complained to her mother that all the mandatory readings she received at school were about “white boys and dogs.” She noted, “There wasn’t really any freedom for me to read what I wanted.” After that conversation, she decided to start a book drive #1000BlackGirlBooks, which was meant to focus attention on literature that featured main characters who were black and female. Her goal was to collect 1,000 books to donate to black girls at other schools. Her effort was very successful, and she collected over 9,000 books in just a few months, many of which have been sent to a children’s book drive in Jamaica. Her campaign also alerted the public to the lack of diversity in children’s literature. In 2018, Marley released a book entitled “Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You!”, which was published by Scholastic. She has appeared on “The Nightly Show” and has been a co-host of the “Girls Can Do” program. Marley has interviewed Misty Copeland, Ava DuVernay, and Hillary Clinton for Elle.com, where she is the editor of the online Elle-sponsored ‘zine, “Marley Mag.”
US Senator Kamala Devi Harris
American politician, lawyer, and US Senator Kamala Devi Harris was born in Oakland, California, in 1964. She has served as US Senator from California since 2017 and is now the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential nominee in the 2020 election. Her mother Shyamala Gopalan was a biologist who worked in breast cancer research. She came to the US from India in 1959 to study at the University of California in Berkeley, where she earned a PhD in endocrinology in 1964. Her father Donald J. Harris came to the US from Jamaica in 1961 to study economics at Berkeley, receiving his PhD in 1966. Kamala Harris’ parents divorced when she was seven years old. At age 12, she and her sister Maya moved with their mother to Montreal in Canada, where her mother worked as a researcher and teachers at Jewish General Hospital, which was affiliated with McGill University. Harris went to a French-speaking middle school and to Westmount High School, where she graduated in 1981. She then attended HBCU Howard University in Washington, DC. While there, she was an intern in the mail room for Alan Cranston, US Senator from California. She graduated from Howard in 1986 with a degree in political science and economics. Returning to California to attend the Hastings College School of Law at the University of California, she served as the president of the school’s chapter of the Black Law Students Association. She received her law degree in 1989 and was admitted to the California Bar in 1990. After working in the District Attorney’s Office in Alameda County, she was recruited by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and later on by the City Attorney of San Francisco. She was elected San Francisco District Attorney in 2003. Harris was elected Attorney General of California in 2010 and re=elected to that office in 2014. In 2016, she became the second black woman and the first South Asian American to serve in the US Senate. She ran for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination but ended her campaign in 2019. She was subsequently named by Joe Biden to be his running mate in 2020, becoming the third woman vice-presidential candidate on a major party ticket.
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