Maya Harris: Who is Kamala's younger sister and why do people call her the next 'Bobby Kennedy'

Danielle Zoellner
·5-min read
Getty Images
Getty Images

Kamala Harris has formed a strong team behind her during her different political moves, whether it be her presidential campaign or joining Joe Biden as his vice president pick.

One prominent member of that team has been Ms Harris’ younger sister, Maya Harris, who has been dubbed “Bobby Kennedy” – referencing the late politician’s relationship with brother John F Kennedy before becoming a political force himself.

The younger Ms Harris, 52, served as her sister’s campaign chairperson in the 2020 presidential election.

Largely every faucet of the Harris presidential campaign was touched by the younger Ms Harris – from soliciting donors to recruiting a diverse staff to even drafting policy initiatives the campaign would lead on.

“I think most people who know Maya will tell you she’s one of the smartest people they know,” Kamala Harris previously told Politico. “The fact that she has volunteered to work on this campaign at such a high level and she’s exactly who she’s always been – she works around the clock and she’s probably the hardest, if not one of the hardest working people on the campaign – I feel very blessed.”

The two sisters have long been close, according to the elder Ms Harris’ 2019 memoir, The Truths We Hold.

Their mother, Shyamala Gopalan, a breast cancer researcher, emigrated from India in 1960 to pursue a doctorate in endocrinology at the University of California, Berkeley. While in school, the sisters’ mother met Donald Harris, a Jamaican-born graduate student who emigrated from his country in 1961 to pursue economics at the university.

The couple divorced when the sisters were young. Their upbringing was described as “matriarchal” in The Truths We Hold, with their mother largely raising them. “Shyamala and the girls” was what the threesome became known as, the elder Ms Harris wrote.

“We forged a bond that is unbreakable,” Ms Harris told The Washington Post previously about her younger sister. “When I think about it, all of the joyous moments in our lives, all of the challenging moments, all of the moments of transition, we have always been together.”

The younger Ms Harris graduated from Stanford Law School in 1992 and joined the world of corporate law while also teaching law classes on the side. At the age of 29, she took over Lincoln Law School and became one of the nation’s youngest law school deans ever.

She then followed in her mother’s footsteps, who was a civil rights activist, and joined as a senior associate at the civil rights group PolicyLink, the executive director of American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (the largest ACLU affiliation in the country), and the vice president for democracy, rights, and justice at the Ford Foundation.

Decades of the younger Ms Harris’ career was spent advocating for criminal justice reform and educational equity for all.

Working in politics hasn’t just come alongside her sister in different campaigns. The younger Ms Harris got her taste in national politics by working as one of three senior policy advisors for Hillary Clinton‘s presidential campaign for the 2016 election.

Although in the public eye with the assistance of her politically prominent sister, there are aspects of the younger Ms Harris’ life that she has kept relatively private.

She was diagnosed with Lupus when she was in college, an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s own immune system attacks its tissues and organs.

This diagnosis was not revealed until earlier this year when interest grew about the drug hydroxychloroquine, a prescription medication often used by Lupus sufferers. Experts believed the drug could also relieve symptoms related to the coronavirus, though research since has proven otherwise. Donald Trump even largely promoted the drug during his coronavirus press briefings, and it led to a shortage of the medication.

“Trump has even said that people should consider taking hydroxychloroquine preventively,” Ms Harris wrote in a personal essay with The Atlantic.

“Talking about the drug during a recent briefing, he asked again and again: ‘What do you have to lose?’ But for a president to casually invite Americans to self-medicate is harmful and potentially deadly. And if the supply shortages continue, those of us whose well-being depends on the drug have plenty to lose.”

Ms Harris also has a younger daughter, whom she became pregnant with during her senior year of high school, another detail of her life she keeps private.

Her daughter, Meena, influenced Ms Harris to earn her bachelor degree at home while attending the University of California, Berkeley, so she could raise the child. Meena also introduced Ms Harris to her now-husband, Tony West, at the age of four when she engaged with him in a game of hide and seek at Stanford Law School.

“It’s a family joke that Meena knew we should be together long before we did,” Ms Harris told the Stanford Lawyer.

Now the younger Ms Harris is enjoying her sister’s accomplishments of joining Mr Biden’s ticket for the 2020 presidential election. And based on their relationship, it is likely the pair will continue to work together on policy and campaign initiatives for years to come.

“That day when a little girl from Oaktown became the first black woman to be a major-party vice-presidential nominee... So incredibly proud of you, sis,” the younger Ms Harris wrote following the vice president announcement.

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