Zachary McKinley / The Daily Gamecock

Sen. Kamala Harris addresses civil rights, political participation at NAACP event

The South Carolina State Conference NAACP welcomed Sen. Kamala Harris on Saturday night as the keynote speaker for its annual Freedom Fund Celebration in West Columbia. 

Harris, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, spoke to the crowd about the importance of upholding civil rights while the country faces issues such as mass incarceration, racial profiling and the war on drugs.

“I believe safety is a civil right," Harris said. "A civil right to which all people are entitled regardless of where they live." 

Harris' campaign is heavily focused on reforming the criminal justice system. Harris said she wants "a criminal justice system that is fair and treats everyone equally," because that is what she believes America needs.

Harris also spoke on the role of political participation and how important it is for people to take action against inequality.

“My mother was the kind of parent where if you ever came home complaining about something, she would look at you, often with one hand on her hip, and say, ‘Well, what are you gonna do about it?’ So I’m running for president of the United States,” Harris said.

USC interim president Brendan Kelly attended the event and said he was happy to celebrate the work of the civil rights organization. 

“Being here is about being a part of the work of the NAACP, about the university intertwining itself in the communities that we’re serving,” Kelly said.

Kelly also feels that students should take advantage of Columbia being a hot spot on the campaign trail. 

“In South Carolina, you do have a lot of presidential candidates who are coming through,” Kelly said. “We’re lucky to be in a state that is so important to the electoral process, that gives students the opportunity to actually go and see people in person and to meet them.”

Other presidential candidates, including Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke and Bernie Sanders, have recently visited Columbia. Saturday marks Harris’ fourth trip to the city after announcing her candidacy at the beginning of the year. Harris previously spoke to voters at the Brookland Health and Wellness Center in February.

Peggy Nance, an NAACP member, said she thinks garnering young people's vote will be crucial in the upcoming presidential election.

“I think it’s very important because, you know, everybody needs to vote," Nance said. "So once they hear all of the candidates’ opinions and ideas, it’s a worthy cause." 

Betty Beasley, another NAACP member, said she was very moved by Harris’ speech and she is hopeful that USC students will become more politically active. 

“I think South Carolina students are very apt to understand,” Beasley said. “I hope they get out and vote, I really do. I think with the issues now, I think it’s going to be great for them."

After receiving a standing ovation, Harris recognized the organization and its members for their impact on the community.

“I thank you for all of the work you do every day, I thank you,” Harris said. “Let us march on to victory each and every day in our fight for justice, because this is a fight that is worth it, and this is a fight we will win.”

Correction: A previous version of this story claimed this was Harris’ second visit to Columbia since her campaign launched, however this was her fourth. 

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