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Kamala Harris' niece Meena Harris on aunt's history-making election: 'It's just the beginning'

Entrepreneur and author Meena Harris spoke to Jenna Bush Hager about growing up in a family of ambitious women and her fears over last week's violent riot at the U.S. Capitol.
/ Source: TODAY

The day Kamala Harris made history as the nation's first female vice president-elect was personal for her niece, entrepreneur and author Meena Harris, but also one she said was a long time coming.

Meena Harris, 36, sat down with Jenna Bush Hager on TODAY Friday to talk about her groundbreaking family member, her role as a female entrepreneur and her new children's book, just five days before her aunt and President-elect Joe Biden are sworn into office. More of Jenna's interview with Harris will also air Tuesday on TODAY with Hoda & Jenna.

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Harris recalled the November day when the race was called for Biden and her aunt, which also made Kamala Harris the first Black woman and first South Asian woman to be elected vice president.

"To be honest, my first feeling and reaction was relief and hope," Meena Harris said. "As a family member, it was surreal. And there were moments even now that I kind of sit back and I'm like, 'Oh, my God,' like, the first in the history of our entire country. That's mind blowing.

"By the way, it should have not taken this long. But what we are experiencing in our house and with our girls and our family is what everyone across the country, across the world is experiencing."

Harris also witnessed how her aunt's election inspired the next generation.

"I have so many people sending me photos of little girls looking up at that TV screen," she said. "I almost get choked up just thinking about those images. And it is just so important, and it's just the beginning."

Her optimism has since been dented by the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and forced members of Congress to flee to safety. The FBI has since warned of threats of violence surrounding the Biden-Harris inauguration on Jan. 20, and more than 20,000 troops have been deployed by the National Guard to assist with security in the Capitol.

"I think first and foremost, I was terrified, right?" Meena Harris said. "This was a terrorist attack. This was a domestic terrorist attack on our nation's capitol. Something we've never seen before, certainly not in recent history.

"I think the second reaction was shock but mixed with also not being surprised, given what we have allowed to go unchecked for the last four years."

Authorities have tracked down dozens of people who were seen inside the Capitol building, but hundreds were able to leave the scene without being arrested.

"There has not been an ounce of accountability," Harris said. "And that frightens me. That also terrifies me, because that means that it will be allowed to continue. I believe that those who perpetrated these acts of sedition and attacks against our government are emboldened."

Harris also spoke with Jenna about what it was like to grow up in a family of ambitious women. She earned a Harvard Law degree before deciding to start the female-powered organization and lifestyle brand Phenomenal to bring awareness to social causes.

"As an adult, and as a parent, I realize that I grew up in a pretty unique family," she said. "It was a lot of ambitious women. It was all women, so it was a really tiny family unit of me, my mom, my grandmother, and my aunt.

"It was amazing for a little girl to grow up and to see the world through strong, powerful women. I used to joke that it's sort of like the opening scene of the first 'Wonder Woman' movie where they were like on this all-female sovereign island nation, running around, saving the world."

Harris' mother, Maya, had her when she was 17 and went on to put herself through college and law school, becoming an attorney and public policy advocate.

"Sometimes she didn't have child care, so she took me to law school class or to the law school library," Harris said. "But what it meant for me as a kid is that I just got to see my mom doing things in the world, and understood that she was making a positive impact."

Harris wants to now depict more of those strong women of color in a place she feels they are underrepresented: children's literature. The mother of two has written her second children's book, "Ambitious Girl," which tells the story of a young girl seeing a strong woman on television being labeled "too assertive" and "too ambitious" and it sends her on a journey of self-discovery.

"There were a lack of characters that looked like our family, that looked like my daughters," she said about her own childhood. "We would sometimes color the skin color in with a brown marker. Often we're changing the pronouns from 'he' to 'she' to 'they,' where you have books that often are main characters that are white male characters."

Just like her aunt, Harris is hoping to inspire the next generation to reimagine what is possible.

"My grandmother had this saying that Kamala talks about a lot, which is, 'You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you're not the last,''' Harris said. "I was told that I could do anything, that I could be anything. And I was taught that ambition meant purpose, it meant determination, it meant having a dream and a vision and going after it, and not letting anyone get in your way."