within us

A Q&A with Meena Harris
Mom of 2, lawyer, activist, and founder of the
Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign

Photographed in San Francisco Photographed in San Francisco

Meena pays it forward in the white Champion sneaker

My power story is authentically and boldly owning my truth, which is to be an entrepreneur. I didn't fully come into that power until I launched Phenomenal. The point is that power comes from within. It can be amplified—or diminished—by others. But it resides in us, in our womanhood, and can never be taken away.

Why did you create the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign?

I started the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign soon after the 2016 election. Like a lot of people, in that moment I found myself wondering what I could do in my personal capacity to lift up women, make my voice heard, and support issues I cared about. Phenomenal started as a very small initiative to raise money for women’s organizations—I had made a handful of T-shirts for the first Women’s March in 2017, and I decided to sell them on International Women’s Day later in the year. We thought it was going to be a small thing, but we ended up selling 2,500 shirts in one day.

Meena Harris
“Encouraging others to keep paying it forward... because that’s what phenomenal women do.”

What’s been the most powerful thing you’ve learned since forming the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign?

Each of us has a role to play in making positive social change, no matter how small. You don’t have to run for office, or drop your career plans and walk away from your regular life to pursue your passion or make an impact. But you do have to do something. 

What are the origins of the Phenomenal Woman T-shirt?

The T-shirt is inspired by my favorite Maya Angelou poem, “Phenomenal Woman.” A lot of people know Angelou as an iconic author and poet, but she was also a fierce advocate—a true pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement, and a good friend of both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. The more I thought about Maya the activist and that powerful poem, and about the energy and engagement I was feeling all around me in the wake of the 2016 election, the more the poem started to feel like a rallying cry. I wanted to honor the work of black women like Maya Angelou who came before me and paved the way, while also celebrating the historic moment that was the Women’s March and encouraging others to keep paying it forward. Because that’s what phenomenal women do.

Can you talk about the strong female leaders in your family? What was it like having such powerful women raising you? How did it help to shape the woman you are today?  

I joke that growing up in my family was like the opening scene of the Wonder Woman movie: where a community of strong, brilliant women ran around helping each other succeed, sharing everything they learned, and basically saving the world together. I was raised by a hardworking single mom, by an aunt [Kamala Harris] who showed me what it means to be a fighter, by a grandmother who taught me I should always make an impact, and an entire community of female role models who made me who I am today. It was not a typical upbringing, and that’s something I appreciate even more now as a mother myself. And that’s because those role models—my mom, my aunt, and my grandma—didn’t just tell me I could go out into the world and make change. They also did it themselves, every single day. They showed me what it looks like to live in my power and lead with purpose. 

How do you talk to your daughters when things don’t go quite as planned (i.e. the 2016 Presidential Election + Kamala deciding to withdraw from the 2020 Presidential Election)?

It’s never easy or clear how to communicate this type of stuff to a toddler, but I try to be honest and tie the message to some sort of universal lesson. In this case, it’s having courage and being willing to take risks to stand up for what you believe in—and to never stop fighting, even when you encounter setbacks or disappointment.

What’s the most powerful thing motherhood has taught you?

There’s no one or right way to navigate motherhood, and there is power in just doing your best, and owning that.

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