Movers and Shakers

Kamala Harris Gets the Call, and Other Movers and Shakers in September

Illustrations by Olivia Wise

High achievers on our radar this month, from Bay Area heavyweights to the next generation of power players.

Kamala Harris

By now, you know that Senator Harris has “some personal news.” After months of intense speculation surrounding Joe Biden’s choice of running mate (Sure, he’d already pinky-promised his selection would be a woman, but would it be a woman of color? If so, who?), the Democratic nominee announced that his rival turned endorser, the Bay Area–bred Harris, was his pick for vice president.

It was a revolutionary decision that sent shockwaves of excitement and hope across the country: Oakland-born and Berkeley-raised, Harris is the first Black woman and first South Asian American to be nominated for such a position — not to mention only the fourth woman in this country’s history to be chosen for a presidential ticket. But in the Bay, which has enjoyed a front-row seat to Harris’ journey since the start of her career in the Alameda
County District Attorney’s Office, the news quite literally hit home.

Harris started breaking barriers more than 15 years ago, when she became the first woman and first Black person to be elected as San Francisco’s district attorney, before becoming attorney general for California in 2011, and the first Black senator to represent California in 2017.

Many Bay Area natives have seen something of themselves in her over the years: A no-nonsense attitude. A penchant for YouTube-worthy grillings on the campaign trail and from her seat on the Senate Judiciary
Committee. A multicultural background. A love of food and wine. A strong appreciation for the work of local author Amy Tan.

When news broke, there were virtual celebrations and high fives. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf
tweeted that she was “Hella proud.” And San Francisco Mayor London Breed took to CNN to express her support for her longtime friend and mentor: “We know that there are going to be some critics, there always are when you’re an elected leader — but especially a Black woman. And the fact is, Kamala has done an incredible job. No one is perfect, but we have the perfect ticket with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for the Democratic Party.”

But no one encapsulated the feeling in the Bay that day better than Harris’ younger sister, Maya, whose post on Instagram simply read: “That day when a little girl from Oaktown became the first black woman to be a major-party vice-presidential nominee … [loudly crying face emoji]”

Darren Bechtel and Rachel Skiffer

Meet the newest additions to the Exploratorium’s board of trustees. Collectively, Bechtel and Skiffer bring a deep knowledge of education, finance, venture capital, law and man-made environments to the table, all things the
museum values as it moves forward in the COVID-19 era. Since 2018, Skiffer has been the head of school at Khan Lab School in Mountain View. She’s a Harvard Law School graduate and has served in leadership positions at educational institutions across the country, including San Francisco University High School. Bechtel is the founder of South Park Ventures and Brick & Mortar Ventures, for which he now serves as managing director. Through Brick & Mortar, the San Francisco resident has invested in over 25 startups centered on caring for — and improving — built environments.

Ahmad Thomas

Thomas just got one of the biggest jobs in all the land — well, the Valley. In August, the former investment banker stepped into his new role as Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s new CEO, succeeding the man who
had become synonymous with the job after 23 successful years at the helm, Carl Guardino. But it’s a new dawn at the organization, with Thomas serving as the first Black CEO in its nearly 50-year history, and making priority number one racial and social justice issues. “We need to hire more Black people, executives, engineers, staff from C-suite down in Silicon Valley, and we need to fund more Black entrepreneurs,” the California native said to the San Jose Mercury News. “The same holds for Latinx and Native Americans.” He comes with strong recommendations from folks, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, who worked with Thomas in 2005 when he was her senior advisor on economics and business issues. Thomas lives in Menlo Park with his two sons and wife, Dr. Reena Thomas, a neurologist at Stanford Hospital.

David Perry

David Perry knows the power of two things: storytelling and representation. As a writer and founder/CEO of his eponymous communications agency, David Perry & Associates, he’s formed and spuncountless narratives into gold. As host of what was the longest running LGBTQ show in California, 10 Percent, and co-founder of BuildOUT California, the world’s first LGBTQ industry association, he’s brought marginalized communities to the forefront. It’s no surprise then, that the longtime San Franciscan has done both of these things in his debut novel,
Upon This Rock. Released on September 1 through Pace Press, the book is a sexy, historical thriller that follows a gay couple as they investigate a suicide in Orvieto, Italy. It’s been hailed as “The gay DaVinci Code, but a lot better,” by celebrated author Fenton Johnson and applauded by local literary icon Armistead Maupin.

Chanel Miller

Miller is rewriting her narrative with a black marker in hand. When the Palo Alto native was introduced to the world in 2015 as “Emily Doe,” the victim in a highly publicized sexual assault case at Stanford University, she was determined not to let it define her. It wasn’t until 2019 that her bestselling memoir, Know My Name,
revealed her name and true identity — survivor, gifted storyteller, artist — to the public. Now, Miller is continuing the reclamation process with a debut at the Asian Art Museum. Titled I was, I am, I will be, the exhibition features a 70-plus-foot vinyl mural, printed from Miller’s whimsical black marker illustrations, that captures the cyclical nature of healing. Originally intended to coincide with the unveiling of the Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Pavilion, which has been halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the three-paneled mural is now visible
through the Wilbur Gallery’s massive windows facing Hyde Street. As Miller told the L.A. Times, “It’s half a block of the city. I would have never thought to ask for that much space to be seen.”

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