The Reverend Raphael Warnock is headed to the U.S Senate.
The Democratic candidate defeated Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler in a close race that constituted one of two January runoff elections for Georgia’s two senate seats. Warnock’s victory is a huge victory for Black Americans, the Democratic Party, and the 51-year-old reverend himself. And while the race has thrown the socially and politically active Warnock in the spotlight, many people are just getting to know the progressive pastor who will now be representing the state of Georgia on Capitol Hill.
Thus, here are seven more reasons to be proud of Warnock and his groundbreaking victory.
1. Warnock went from public housing to pastoring to the Senate
Warnock grew up in Kayton Homes housing projects in Savannah, Georgia, as the 11th of 12 children. His parents were Pentecostal pastors, in addition to his dad salvaging old cars to make ends meet. Rather than giving sob stories about his upbringing in public housing, Warnock speaks fondly of his childhood – recalling, for instance, how he and his friends went “skiing” by sledding down nearby hills on a piece of cardboard near the interstate highway that wrecked the local economy when it was built through the middle of his community in the 1960s.
2. The Senator-elect reps Morehouse College heavily
As a teen, Warnock decided that he wanted to attend Morehouse College, a school that he’d never previously seen despite living only a few hours away. He likes to say that he went to Morehouse “on a faith scholarship,” getting admitted to the school but not knowing how he was going to pay for it – he eventually received a Pell Grant and student loans to fund his education. His own experience inspired his commitment to ensuring that students have access to quality, affordable education.
Warnock, who graduated Morehouse with a B.A. in psychology before earning two master's degrees and a doctorate from Union Theological Seminary, has continued to show love to his alma mater. For instance, when Atlanta celebrated Morehouse’s 150th anniversary, Warnock opened the city council’s meeting in prayer. He also gave a prayer at the college’s 2013 commencement ceremonies, where then-President Barack Obama was the main speaker.
When Warnock takes his seat in the Senate, he will join a long list of Morehouse alumni who have served in Washington, including two former cabinet members, President Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, and President George H.W. Bush's Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Louis Sullivan. Former Surgeon General, Dr. David Satcher, who served during both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, is also a notable alumnus, as are several members of Congress.
Now, Morehouse has its first U.S. Senator. The school’s student newspaper, The Maroon Tiger, tweeted about the significance of Warnock’s win on Wednesday morning:
Senator AND Morehouse Man has a nice ring to it???? pic.twitter.com/b9pEq4fIlM
— The Maroon Tiger (@themaroontiger) January 6, 2021
3. He has maintained Ebenezer Baptist Church’s relevance for Black youth and political activism
Ebenezer Baptist Church has gained the nickname “Black America’s Church" for its long and prominent history within the Black community. Even before his Senate run, Pastor Warnock has maintained this status for the church, which has hosted and worked with many prominent figures in and around Atlanta and engaged in socially relevant activism for years. The late Congressman John Lewis was a member of Ebenezer for decades, and Warnock served as his pastor and conducted his funeral. In 2012, Ebenezer served as one of the backdrops of the video for Jeezy and Nas’ pro-Obama anthem “My President (is Black).”
In 2016, Warnock and Ebenezer partnered with rapper 2 Chainz for a “Souls to the Polls” effort to promote early voting among Black Americans. And in 2018, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms spoke from the pulpit of Ebenezer to give a rousing endorsement of Stacey Abrams, then-candidate for governor of Georgia. Ironically, even outgoing Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who attacked Warnock for his sermons, attended MLK Day services at Ebenezer last year, as had her Republican predecessor in previous years, highlighting just how important the church has been for the Atlanta community.
4. He’s followed in the footsteps of great civil rights leaders
Much has been made of the ways in which Reverend Warnock has walked in the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., including attending Morehouse College and pastoring Ebenezer Baptist Church. But Warnock has more connections to the Civil Rights Movement’s legacy. As noted in a New York Times profile, a young Warnock interned at Birmingham, Alabama’s Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, working under John Thomas Porter, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement and mentee of King. Soon after, Warnock landed a job as a youth pastor at Abyssinia Baptist Church in Harlem. This is the historic congregation that was once pastored by Congressman and Civil Rights icon Adam Clayton Powell Jr. It was these early experiences that positioned him to become Ebenezer's senior pastor in 2005.
5. He has been arrested three times, and is proud of every one
Warnock, much like King, has been arrested for participating in protests. Warnock was detained in Atlanta in 2014 and arrested again in Washington, D.C. in 2017; both times, he was protesting against efforts to repeal or limit the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
More controversial was his 2002 arrest, in which he was initially accused of hindering the investigation into a physical abuse claim against a teenage counselor at a church-run camp that Warnock helped lead. The charges against the pastor were dropped and the whole incident was chalked up to a misunderstanding, Sen. Loeffler and others used the incident against Warnock.
The pastor stood by his actions. Warnock’s campaign released a statement about the incident saying “The truth is he was protecting the rights of young people to make sure they had a lawyer or a parent when being questioned. Law enforcement officials later apologized and praised him for his help in this investigation.”
6. He sees progressiveness and Christianity going hand in hand
In yet another similarity to King, Warnock was falsely attacked on the campaign as a “radical” and "socialist.” Smears aside, Warnock said he is proud to be a political progressive. In college, he became a Baptist, attracted by the social justice tradition of that denomination, and he’s carried out this socially-oriented approach to Christianity ever since.
The reverend is in favor of both LGBTQ+ rights and reproductive rights. He rejects what he calls the “false choice between religious freedom and LGBTQ people,” despite this stance putting him at odds with some of his more conservative fellow clergy. The pastor also received immediate backlash last year when he announced his pro-choice stance concerning reproductive rights.
I am a pro-choice pastor.
— Senator-Elect Reverend Raphael Warnock (@ReverendWarnock) December 9, 2020
Despite criticism, Warnock has regularly argued that “reproductive justice is consistent with my commitment” to human rights, which in his view include access to healthcare, reproductive and otherwise.
7. He will be the first Black Senator from Georgia
Amazingly, Georgia, a state where Black residents make up nearly one-third of the population, has never had a Black senator until now. In fact, Warnock will become only the 11th Black senator in U.S. history; Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who previously represented California, was the 10th. His election is thus a historic milestone for his home state and for the country as a whole. Not bad for a kid who grew up playing with cardboard in the projects.