When Aleatha Williams was 8 years old, as a little girl living in the Bronx, she told her mother she wanted a pen pal. “Write to the President and the First Lady,” her mother said. It was a suggestion any parent might give, but one with special poignance to Aleatha and her mother. In 1992, Patricia Williams was a volunteer at the Democratic National Convention, her 2-year-old on her shoulder. She was also involved in an abusive marriage. Hillary Clinton reached out to Aleatha, and, as Patricia told The New York Times, “She knew I needed a hug somehow, and she just squeezed. And I felt a strength and energy flowing through her. She helped to give me the strength I needed at that time to go on with my life and do what’s right for my daughter.”
So six years later, when Patricia suggested her daughter write to the Clintons, it wasn’t exactly a coincidence. But something Aleatha never expected happened: Hillary wrote back. They wrote about everything from birthdays to important events. “I would update them on things that were going on in my life, and send them whatever support a little girl could,” says Aleatha. Hillary returned with a letter about her mother, letters sometimes happy and sometimes less so.
She continued to write to Aleatha through the Paula Jones scandal and the Monica Lewinsky circus. Despite her personal pain and anguish, despite her the difficulties in her marriage, Hillary didn’t forget the little girl from the Bronx.
Her mother volunteered on both of Bill’s presidential runs, and when she was old enough, at just 10 or 11 years old, Aleatha joined her mother to campaign for Hillary’s New York Senatorial run. “Dear Aleatha,” writes Hillary, “I want to thank you for all the help you gave me in New York. You and your mother were two of my best helpers.” That note was handwritten, and told Aleatha that she was growing into “the fine person God meant you to be.” It’s signed “Your Friend, Hillary Rodham Clinton.”
The pen pals grew closer, and in 2004, Hillary showed up at Aleatha’s middle school luncheon. Somewhere along the line, Mrs. Clinton became “Aunt Hillary.” She promised to come to Aleatha’s high school graduation. Aleatha doubted it. What important person like Hillary Clinton would remember a promise she made to some kid in the Bronx?
But, as Aleatha says, “She remembered that promise she made to a little girl.”
Hillary had conceded the Democratic nomination for president on June 7, and her only public appearance thus far had been Tim Russert’s funeral. But she came out of seclusion to speak at the Aleatha’s graduation from Pelham Preparatory Academy, a small school located in the Bronx. She told those present to “push toward their goals, whatever they may be.”
“If you never give up, you never give in, and you keep believing that you are the best you can be, you have no idea where life will take you,” she said — a poignant statement from a woman who once told her mother, at about Aleatha’s age, that she would one day grow up to be president of the United States.
As Aleatha said, “It felt really special to me. She actually kept her promise. She actually remembered her promise.”
And the story doesn’t end there. Now at Mercy College, Aleatha introduced Hillary at a campaign rally in New York. As the little girl from the Bronx said at her high school graduation, “It’s been very inspirational to see a woman make it that far for the presidency,” she said.
She must be overjoyed to see Aunt Hillary running again, this time in it to win it against a man who embodies all the worst parts of America. No doubt Aleatha is out knocking on doors, canvassing voters, and manning phone banks to help Aunt Hillary win this time, once and for all.