Meena Harris, Niece of VP Kamala Harris, Teaches Girls To Define Themselves in New Children’s Book
Meena Harris is from a family of ambitious women who taught her that there was no such thing as “too much.” She’s building upon that lesson for Black and brown girls in her children’s book ‘A is for Ambitious.’
Meena Harris is one of the most accomplished women in the country, but that doesn’t stop critics from telling her she’s “too much.”
“There was an article that came out that literally said, ‘Is Meena—is she too ambitious?’ I still deal with it. I think a lot of us do,” says Harris in an interview with Kindred by Parents. “When somebody says that it’s about saying, ‘quiet down,’ ‘stay in your lane,’ right? It’s no surprise that when women are told that, and when we get those signals and messages from society, we do hide our ambitions.”
Harris says comments like these ultimately contribute to the confidence gap, an umbrella term for the chasm between the way men believe in themselves and the way women do, and the fact that confidence matters as much as capability when it comes to success. As early as sixth grade, there is a marked difference in confidence between boys and girls. Harris says in her own life, she’s been able to weather hurtful language because of the lessons her grandmother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, mother, Maya Harris, and aunt, Vice President Kamala Harris, taught her.
She wants young girls, like her daughters, Amara and Leela, to be able to stand up for themselves in the same way.
In fact, rejecting diminishing messages was the inspiration for her 2021 children’s book, Ambitious Girl, and its follow-up, A is for Ambitious, due March 2023. If Ambitious Girl was about AG, a young Black girl who is beginning to understand the power of language, A is for Ambitious is about actively reclaiming the language used to undermine girls with AG, so they can each grow into their own power, becoming whatever they want to be.
In the ABC book, “A” is for ambitious and “B” is for bossy, “D” is for determined and “E” is for emotional—and Harris says when girls face those words and reconceive them, they can bravely face critics, too. She says it was easy to think of 26 words, and the idea for this new picture book came to her organically.
“They may just be words, but they can be used in powerful ways—harmful and helpful. Often, in our society, we see that words are disproportionately used for, and against, women in ways that we don’t see with men,” says Harris. “These are building blocks for [kids] in terms of understanding vocabulary and learning new words. They’re at these critical ages of developing not only language but also identity and purpose and place in the world.
She says this is especially important for Black and brown girls, who are doubly affected by language that erodes their self-esteem as they grow up. Harris says that she first started writing Ambitious Girl in 2018, 50% of children’s books had white, male protagonists. There were more children’s books with animals as main characters than those that focused on Black and brown children, combined. Ambitious Girl, and now A is for Ambitious, filled that gap in important ways.
“Black families, Black parents of Black children, don’t have any other choice than to give them those tools to navigate the society that we know that they’re going to enter,” says Harris. “We could talk about girl power and raising our kids, and hopefully having them have a different experience. But the reality is we’re not solving sexism and racism overnight, and they are going to confront these issues in much the same way that I did—and my mom did, and my grandmother did. Let’s acknowledge that, but also give them the tools and starting with language,” says Harris.
Through her books, Harris hopes girls will learn to advocate for themselves and define themselves positively and confidently. She’s sharing a lesson that she originally learned from her grandmother.
“Ambitious Girl [starts with] something my grandmother used to say all the time, which is, ‘Don’t let anyone tell you who you are. You tell them who you are,'” says Harris.