NASHVILLE — It had been on the calendar for months, the annual leadership conference of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. But the talk at the gathering of 8,000 women last weekend was about far more than the usual chapter building, catching up and breaking out outfits in the organization’s signature pink and green: Kamala Harris, who joined the sorority as a college student, had just resurrected the ghost of segregation and busing against former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in a Democratic presidential debate.
The moment brought a sense of pride and some apprehension about what Ms. Harris’s campaign would hold.
Younger members said Ms. Harris represented a hope for the future. “She just reminds me to be fearless in the pursuit of my goals,” said Shannon Burge, 31, a Denver sales manager.
Older members said Ms. Harris’s challenge to Mr. Biden last week — over his opposition to busing during the 1970s — was evidence that years of sacrifice had not been in vain. “I went to segregated schools. I experienced integration. It wasn’t easy,” said Miriam Joyner-Smith, 59, who works in the insurance industry in Tampa. “We’re just excited and proud because she represents us well.”
Ms. Harris didn’t attend the conference, which began the night of the debate, but provided a video to be shown at the event that bore a striking resemblance to a campaign call to action, while never actually mentioning her presidential ambitions.
“We have a fight ahead of us, and we cannot afford to sit it out,” Ms. Harris said in the video, referring to gun violence, the low pay and high maternal mortality rate among black women, and new laws that stymie access to the ballot box.
“Simply put, the women of Alpha Kappa Alpha have forged paths and led in just about every space imaginable,” she said in the video. Just not, yet, in the space Ms. Harris is imagining: the White House. It’s possible A.K.A. membership will be an advantage there.
The group’s sheer numbers, organization and multimillion-dollar budget suggest a potential secret weapon in the campaign arsenal of Ms. Harris, who joined the sorority while an undergraduate at Howard University. She has called A.K.A. a major influence in her life.