The second mother effect: how Kamala Harris learned about the love of God from a saint downstairs

As the children’s book affirms, “everyone has a mother.” But what about a second mother? Kamala Harris identifies Regina Shelton as her second mom and she’s a woman we need to know.

Regina and Arthur Shelton were the downstairs neighbors in Oakland, Calif. when Kamala was just seven years old and her parents divorced. The Shelton’s were Christians, their home was open and they were the kind of neighbor we ought all aspire to be.

In an article Harris wrote for in February 2019, Harris says, “without this woman, I wouldn’t be the Senator I am today.

She was a warm and eloquent woman, originally from Louisiana. …When our mother worked late, it was Mrs. Shelton’s home where my sister, Maya, and I would go after school. We just called it “going to the house.” That house was like an extension of our own household, and Mrs. Shelton became a second mother to us.

Do the kids in my neighborhood or on my street think of me and my home this way? Do I even know all their names? Their needs?

Harris goes on to share that:

On Sundays, we’d pile into the back of Mrs. Shelton’s station wagon along with other kids, on the way to the 23rd Avenue Church of God. When we got restless sitting in the pews, Mrs. Shelton would dig into her purse for hard candies to calm us down.

Are you as convicted by those sentences as I am? How many times have I driven to church by myself or just with my husband or just with our little family? How many kids might we have taken along with us?

According to Gallup, in 2019 about half of the American populous held membership in a church. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 25% of are every Sunday church goers. Statistically we might assume that means that at least half of America’s kids are NOT going to church each Sunday. What do you think Mrs. Shelton would have done about that? Well, we know what she did. She loaded up those kids in her station wagon and not only took them to church but parented them in the pew.

Mrs. Shelton was a witness to Kamala Harris. Harris recalls:

Mrs. Shelton would bring her Bible to church every Sunday. Sitting alongside her, I was introduced to the teachings of that Bible. My earliest memories were of a loving God, a God who asked us to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” and to “defend the rights of the poor and needy.” This is where I learned that “faith” is a verb, something we must live and demonstrate through our actions.

When you’re searching for the foundation of Harris’ sense of justice or her concern for those who have no voice, the widow, the orphan and the poor, you can blame Mrs. Shelton – or the teachings of the Bible opened across her lap where Kamala learned to read for herself what God has said about the precious nature of every human being.  And before you protest that “the DNC and Kamala Harris are so committed to the pro-choice abortion-on-demand at taxpayer expense agenda that she can’t possibly know what it mean for people to be knit together in their mother’s wombs, fearfully and wonderfully made image bearers of the living God,” take a deep breath and consider that Mrs. Regina Shelton has a persistent influence on Kamala Harris and just maybe that influence will be brought to bear in unexpected ways.

Harris shared:

…when I took the oath of office to be attorney general of California, and later, a United States senator, it was on Mrs. Shelton’s Bible that I laid my hand and swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. In office and into the fight, I carry Mrs. Shelton with me always.

I assume Kamala Harris still has Mrs. Shelton’s bible and I’m hoping she finds the new challenge before her sufficiently daunting as to know she needs more than herself to meet the demands of the day. I’m praying for her and for what God might be up to in our nation.

But thinking about Mrs. Shelton got me thinking about my own second moms and about who might consider me their spiritual mom today.

Two of my Regina Shelton’s are my fifth grade teacher, Joyce Mabry and my Younglife leader, Kathy Conner, who was there for me at 15 when my dad died. Who are your Regina Shelton’s? Who are you carrying around with you as a spiritual mom today?

And then the query in reverse: for whom are you and I Regina Shelton? Who is carrying you around with them right now in heart and head and hope?