Meena Harris encourages girls to be 'ambitious,' 'bossy' and 'confident' in inspiring new book

ByJobina Fortson Localish logo
Tuesday, March 21, 2023
Meena Harris releases new, empowering children's book
The author and entrepreneur is often known for being related to one of the most recognizable women in the world, but Meena Harris is forging her own path rooted in purpose.

SAN FRANCISCO -- New York Times best-selling author Meena Harris just released a new children's book called "A is for Ambitious." The author and entrepreneur is often known for being related to one of the most recognizable women in the world, but Harris is forging her own path rooted in purpose and service.

"Frankly, only recently, I've become more confident in calling myself a children's book author," Harris said. "I set out in the beginning to do something very personal with my first book, which was to honor my grandmother."

Harris's first book, "Kamala and Maya's Big Idea," was published in 2020 and inspired by her aunt and mother. Harris quickly followed up with her second book, "Ambitious Girl" and then "The Truth About Mrs. Claus."

Harris's latest book, "A is for Ambitious," is a sequel to her second book.

"I was joking that although that book was focused on that one word, I'm sure I could write an ABC book for every letter in the alphabet for all of the words that we all know can be used in different ways for women than they are often used for men," Harris continued.

"A is for Ambitious" explores the power of language and our ability to redefine terms.

"Spoiler alert, 'b' does stand for bossy in the book," Harris said. "We are not banning bossy. 'C' is for confident. 'D' is for determined. 'E' is for emotional. 'F' is for feminist."

Harris pointed to a study by the Cooperative Children's Book Center that shows in 2018, there were more children's books about animals and other non-human characters than all people of color combined. The study also found that over half of all books featured white characters, with the majority being white boys. The needle hasn't moved much on those statistics.

"Goodnight Moon," "Hungry Caterpillar," and all these lovely, iconic kids books," Harris replied. "But at a certain point, (I'm) asking myself, 'Where are the little Black girls that look like my daughter, and now my daughters?"

Harris continued, "We would often change the pronouns from he, to she, to they. We would take a brown marker and color skin in with brown marker sometimes. It all does truly go back to my grandmother. She always said, 'Do something. What are you going to do about it?'"

Author wasn't on Harris's list of ambitions, but she did it, and that's kind of the theme in her family.

"You know, it was just the four of us," Harris said. "It was like the opening scene of the 'Wonder Woman' movie where you have these incredible, strong, powerful, fearless, women just running around helping each other."

Harris's grandmother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, was a renowned biomedical scientist and activist. Her aunt is Vice President Kamala Harris and her mother, Maya Harris, is an accomplished lawyer and public policy advocate who had Meena at age 17.

"She (Harris's mother) used to joke that when I went to college, she was going to be my college roommate because I was hers," Harris said. "In law school, she sometimes took me to her classes. I would sit in the back with her and do my work."

It only seems right that all that exposure led to Harris's resume. She went to Stanford for undergrad, then entered tech, moved on to Harvard Law School, then she practiced law in Washington D.C., and then she went back to a role in tech.

ABC7 News anchor Jobina Fortson asked Harris if she was ever fearful of making a pivot. Harris replied, "Absolutely, and I always have to start off my response to this question with acknowledging how incredibly privileged I was to be able to make a pivot."

In 2016, Harris made another shift following the presidential election.

"That was really a pivotal moment for so many people and a kick in the pants, if you will," Harris said. "For me at least, having been involved in politics my whole life, I definitely had a moment of did I do enough? Could I have done more? Hearing my grandmother, 'Well, what are you going to do about it? Do something.'"

Harris's answer was "Phenomenal." It started out as a simple t-shirt inspired by Dr. Maya Angelou's famed poem. The shirts support the rights of women and other social causes. The apparel and messages on them continue to evolve and so has the company.

"A year ago, we formally announced our expansion into content and entertainment and are now a 360-degree, values driven media company that continues that mission from day one, which is centering women and underrepresented communities and understanding the power of brand and storytelling to lift up underrepresented experiences," Harris said.

Phenomenal Media co-produced "A Strange Loop." The Pulitzer Prize and Tony-award winning Broadway musical centers around a story of blackness and queerness.

"It was so exciting," Harris said. "I feel honored to have played a very small role in that incredible, historic production."

Meena Harris's story is still being written. You could call her an activist in her own right, but she hesitates to use that title.

"I've learned on this entire journey, you know, that I'm doing this my own way," Harris said. "Whether you call that activism, or you call it being an entrepreneur, or being creative, or disrupting media, right? It's just about finding my own way."

It is safe to call Harris ambitious. She wears that title proudly.

For more information about "A is for Ambitious," visit here.