Women wear pearls on Jan. 20 to honor Kamala Harris, to empower others

Marsha Archer with artist and designer, Michelle Kee. Archer is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, as is Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Archer will wear her pearls on Jan. 20 and incorporated pearls in the renovation  of a room in her home. CONTRIBUTED
Marsha Archer with artist and designer, Michelle Kee. Archer is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, as is Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Archer will wear her pearls on Jan. 20 and incorporated pearls in the renovation of a room in her home. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

This story has been updated to include more women celebrating Inauguration Day by wearing pearls.

Marsha Archer had every intention of being in Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of Kamala Harris as vice president of the United States.

A deadly riot in the U.S. Capitol, though, forced her to cancel her plans.

Instead, Archer will watch from her Brookhaven home with family and virtually with a few of her sorority sisters of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, of which both she and Harris are members. The pearls signify the 20 founders of AKA, which was founded in 1908 on the campus of Howard University.

ExplorePHOTOS: Wearing pearls on Jan. 20 for VP Kamala Harris

Pearls “make a statement,” said Archer, the founder of an Atlanta-based hospitality public relations firm. “You feel elegant. You feel regal. The minute you see a woman walking with pearls, you wonder if she is a member of the organization.”

She recently had a room in her home renovated and incorporated pearls in the design.

“I think it’s a day of pride and a day of firsts,” for the sorority, said Archer. Even for those who are not AKAs, it’s also “a day of reflection to exemplify how far we’ve come and the possibilities.”

Harris has been wearing pearls since her days at Howard, where she graduated in 1986 as a political science and economics major. She later earned a degree from the University of California - Hastings Law.

For Hope Aloaye, though, pearls aren’t just about fashion or a particular organization.

They’re about empowerment of women and women supporting other women.

Aloaye lives in Florida but is a former Atlanta resident.

In December, she created a Facebook page, “Wear Pearls on Jan. 20th, 2021,″ which now boasts nearly 400,000 members from around the globe. They are Black, white, Asian and Latino and they represent all ages and backgrounds.

“This was something to bring women together to celebrate that we have broken the glass ceiling,” said Aloaye, who is retired from the U.S. Navy.

She shared the idea with a friend. Within days, the page had 100 members, then a week later, 1,000.

It hasn’t stopped growing.

ExploreWhat you need to know about Kamala Harris

Women coming together. Celebrating Harris, but also each other.

“That’s where the pearl comes in,” said Aloaye. “It’s so unique in its creation and how it becomes a pearl. Pearls come in different colors and shapes, but it’s still a pearl.”

She said more than 99 nations are represented.

Initially, she got some flak from other women who felt that the goal of the page was taking away from Harris’ accomplishments.

Aloaye, though, disputes that. “We’re celebrating her. It’s more than being about one person. It’s about empowered women, empowering women. We want to keep all the negativity out. We want to start dealing with some of things that we, as women, have to deal with.”

Women have gone to the Facebook page to post photos of themselves wearing pearls. They have included masks decorated with pearls, family heirlooms, Chuck Taylor sneakers — which Harris wore on the campaign trail — adorned with pearls and elaborate jewelry.

There are other groups celebrating the day as well. Chucks and Pearls Day January 20th, 2021 was formed a few weeks ago but three friends, Jeanette DeVaughn and co-founders, Sharon Warren and Marilyn Toliver. Felicia Cheek, one of the moderators, said the group now has nearly 73,000 members.

On Wednesday, people will post photos of themselves wearing Chuck Taylor sneakers and pearls. ”Chucks and pearls are her style,” said Cheek, who plans to watch the inauguration at home. “It represents her confidence. It shows she’s comfortable but she’s super, super smart and super inspiring.”

Atlanta-based historian and author Karcheik Sims-Alvarado will not only wear a strand of pearls but also what she calls “suffragette white.”

Historian and author Karcheik Sims-Alvarado says she plans to wear pearls in honor of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
Historian and author Karcheik Sims-Alvarado says she plans to wear pearls in honor of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Sims-Alvarado, a professor in the Africana Studies Department at Morehouse College, said women in the halls of power in the nation’s Capitol have long worn pearls from first ladies Dolley Madison and Abigail Adams to Jacqueline Kennedy, Barbara Bush and Michelle Obama.

Historically, pearls became a symbol of social status and, depending on your financial status, affordable. Women could wear real pearls or glass or plastic ones.

“I will wear mine on Jan. 20 in solidarity with my sister Vice President Kamala Harris, not only because she’s a woman but because she’s a woman of African-Asian descent,” said Sims-Alvarado.

ExploreKamala Harris’ AKA sorority -- She was Alpha Kappa Alpha at Howard University

For some it has become a family affair.

Arthia Nixon Stack of Clayton County is an immigrant from the Bahamas.

In her native country, women held powerful positions in business and government so she’s especially proud to see Harris become the first woman and first Black woman of South Asian and Caribbean heritage in the highest ranks of government in the United States.

She wants her 15-year-old daughter, Alejandra “Allie,” to look at Harris and know anything is possible.

Allie was a Youth Council president for the West Georgia chapter of the NAACP and who has started her own publication called KidNewsMaker and is an author.

Both will wear pearls on Inauguration Day and are contemplating going to Washington, D.C.

Allie will wear pearl earrings given to her by her paternal grandmother in Spain for her christening.

“This has really been an exciting moment,” said Allie, whose father is from Spain. She said she sees a bit of herself in Harris.

“I definitely feel represented,” she said.

Pearls, she said, symbolize having class “and being able to battle situations with poise and dignity.”

Pat McKinnon, president and CEO of the United Way of South Central Georgia, will not only honor Harris but also her late mother, Bernice Litman McKinnon, by wearing pearls that she inherited.

“I admire the way women all over this country are coming together on one accord,” said McKinnon. “My mom was a strong woman. (Her pearls) made her radiate. People are going to look back on this day. We did it for Michelle Obama and we’re doing for it Kamala Harris. We’re going to show our unity, our strength and our ability as women.”

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