'Do something:' Harris' rapid rise driven by call to action

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FILE - In this Sept. 12, 2019, file photo Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., talks to the media in the spin room following the Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC on the campus of Texas Southern University in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Hours before Kamala Harris took the stage for the first time as Joe Biden's vice presidential pick, she received a text message from a childhood classmate with photos from their school days.

In one of the pictures, a racially diverse group of first-graders are gathered in a classroom. Some had taken the bus from their homes across town to join white students from the affluent hillside neighborhoods in Berkeley, California. A pensive Harris sits on the floor, dutifully looking ahead, a child in the center of an experiment in racial integration.

“That’s how it started. There’s no question!” Harris, 55, texted back to Aaron Peskin, the former classmate who is now a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Fifty years after she was part of the second class to integrate Berkeley’s public schools, Harris is now the first Black woman and first Asian American woman named to a major party presidential ticket.

From her earliest years, Harris' path toward the second-highest office in the United States has tracked the nation's struggle for racial equality. The start-and-stop progress and sometimes messy debate have shaped her life, from an upbringing by immigrant parents, a childhood among civil rights activists, a career at the helm of a flawed criminal justice system and her rapid ascent to the top of Democratic politics.

Those experiences forged a politician who is unafraid to buck the political powers that be, but also charts a cautious course through policy debates. As a senator and candidate, she's emerged as a leader who knows the power of tough questioning and a viral moment, and also the weight of her role as a voice for women of color.

“She’s the right thing at the right time in this country,” said Peskin. “She understands how complicated life is, and what the promises of America are.”

Harris’s political rise, while fast, has not been without criticism and setbacks.