BY KELLY BROWN
The Harvard Law School incoming 1L class had a worldwide audience this summer, with two of its members appearing at the major political conventions this past summer. An interview with Democratic National Convention speaker Michael Negron appeared in the Oct. 7 issue of the Record. First-year student Erika Harold, 24, delivered remarks at the Republican National Convention in August, just two days before she was to start orientation at HLS.
Being in the public eye is nothing new for the University of Illinois graduate. Harold won the Miss America crown in 2002, and has given speeches around the country on a variety of topics, including the importance of community service and the value of sexual abstinence. Her message at the convention centered on the value of faith based-initiatives, with a specific focus on her experience at a North Carolina prison where such initiatives were in place.
“I was trying to provide a human element to a policy that people may have misconceptions about,” Harold said. “I spoke specifically about the success of some of the initiatives that were implemented at [the prison]. I talked about the way those initiatives give hope to people who may have otherwise lost it.”
Harold had visited the maximum-security institution a few months before the convention, and had spoken to the population there. She said that the prison’s faith-based programs had caused violence against guards and among prisoners to decline dramatically, and had even encouraged a few prisoners to become ordained ministers.
Harold said her interest in politics was sparked upon her graduation from college.
“I started to see the impact that young people could have upon the political system just because most young people tend to be disengaged from the process. So if you’re a young person who has an interest, people are willing to give you opportunities that you may not have gotten if you waited to get involved 10 or 20 years from now.”
One of the opportunities Harold seized was a role in Republican campaign activities through the African-American Economic Empowerment Tour this past summer. Her involvement prompted RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie to invite her to speak at the convention. She also served as a delegate from the 15th Congressional district and worked on the credentials committee.
“I was honored,” Harold said. But with that honor came a major sense of duty, she added.
“I think that the biggest difference between speaking at the Convention and other engagements was that I was speaking on behalf of the President to the American public…[T]here’s a much greater responsibility and obligation than if you’re just sharing ideas that happen to come off the top of your head.”
Harold said that one of her favorite parts of the convention experience was her appearance on the O’Reilly factor, of which she is an avid fan. She laughed as she noted that appearing as a guest was a “totally different ballgame” from watching the show at home. “The producers promised that O’Reilly would be nice to me, and he was, so I was very pleased,” she said.
Another memorable part of the convention experience for Harold was its location. “Having the convention in NYC was incredible because it’s a city that is unparalleled in terms of excitement level and energy,” she said.
Harold said she and the rest of the Republican contingent were frequently booed by groups of protestors, but that it did not faze her. “It was probably ill-advised for me to go over and speak to the protestors, but I wanted them to see that I did have a respect for their candidate as well, so I went over and said some positive comments about John Kerry, and it seemed to take the wind out of their sails.”
President George W. Bush spoke Sept. 2, Thursday night, after Harold had left the convention for law school orientation, and she said she was saddened at having to miss his speech. She watched from her Cambridge apartment.
Harold said she plans to stay active in the political arena, and she hopes that others will get involved as well.
“I think people are motivated by different issues that they have a life experience with, and if you educate yourself about a particular issue, you can make a difference,” Harold said. “I would encourage people to get involved not only in terms of voting, but in writing a letter or going to visit a state legislator, or they can get involved in some of the service projects in their communities.”