U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris spent Sunday afternoon speaking with Las Vegas Valley members of nine historically black fraternities and sororities, known as the Divine Nine, about college debt relief and criminal justice reform.
The California Democrat is a graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she joined the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. Harris addressed the 200 attendees at the Pearson Community Center in North Las Vegas as “a room full of leaders,” and emphasized the necessity of political engagement to “lift people up.”
“This is a moment in time when we must speak to our better selves,” Harris said. “To those voices that we know guided each one of us to make the commitments that we have made to our God, to our families, to our communities, to our friends, our sisters and brothers, and to our country.”
Harris then took questions from the audience, the first of which addressed the student debt crisis. She said she plans to invest federal money in historically black colleges and universities, particularly in STEM fields, to enhance opportunities for students of color.
Harris touched on many economic challenges that may lead to student debt — which she said people of color face disproportionately — namely the costs of homeownership. Her proposal includes a $100 billion bill to assist with the closing costs and down payments of homes, specifically in poor communities.
Owning a home can provide families additional resources to pay for their college education, Harris said, instead of taking out private loans from “predatory lenders.”
“I know how to deal with those predators,” Harris said of her time as a prosecutor. “I’ve put a for-profit college out of business for preying on our students. There are so many predators who are making money off our students and their desire to do what? Get an education.”
When asked about criminal justice reform, Harris cited reforms she made in her time as California’s attorney general, including requiring officers to wear body cameras and introducing racial bias training among law enforcement, as evidence of her intended reforms on a federal level.
She added that she plans to reinforce the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which can prosecute matters of racial bias in law enforcement.
Valerie Lucas, a member of Harris’ sorority, said she has not decided on a candidate to support. But, she added, Harris’ involvement with the Divine Nine is important to her, as are Harris’ plans to invest in historically black colleges.
Michael Blow, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, is also undecided, but said he has a daughter in college and appreciated Harris’ proposals on student debt relief.
“She’s certainly a very impressive candidate, and there’s no doubt she’s passionate about her candidacy,” Blow said. “But I want to hear from everyone.”