We often navigate our journey through life while trying to fit into a mold we perceive as projected upon us at birth. However, this year, we’ve seen many women of diverse stories and experiences step forward to help reshape the traditional mold for leadership and service. One of these women is Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, whose party nomination for governor made history Georgia as the first Black woman to achieve this feat. But Abrams is no stranger to making history; she was also the first person of color to serve as House Minority Leader for the Georgia General Assembly. Abrams is the child of a working-class family that often struggled to make ends meet, and her successes have allowed her to become the personification of the American Dream.Georgia’s captivating governor’s race has gained national attention, and its results will be a defining moment with healthcare reform, education reform, economic development and job access, civil rights, criminal justice reform and the overall moral of the state all on the line. Stacey Abrams is running on a promise to expand opportunities for all. In a state where women of color disproportionately lack access to economic mobility, quality public education and healthcare, Abrams' plan involves expanding access in the tech industry and beyond.
Her opponent, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, fits the mold for the type of white, male, conservative governor that has typically led the state. However, Kemp recently made headlines in association with the suspension of roughly 53,000 voter registration applications — many of which belonged to Black voters. Conversely, Abrams has conveniently created a page on her website with helpful voting information to help voters navigate the challenges that often arise on Election Day. With a push for early voting and voting by mail, Abrams' efforts were designed to counteract voter suppression tactics that block minority voters from participating in elections.
Blavity Politics first met up with Abrams at an event hosted by Digital Undivided in Atlanta. This was a particularly special conference because it's rare for women of color to enter into spaces that allow for their voices to be heard, uplifted or accepted. In a room decorated with portraits of Shirley Chisholm, Aretha Franklin and Frida Kahlo and filled with Black women discussing the importance of diversity and inclusion, Abrams initiated an intimate discussion with this powerful statement: “Vision cannot have permission. Vision is a skill that many of us aren’t taught. You have to learn how to dream; you have you learn how to have ambition. And for a lot of us, we’re never taught that it is a skill we can build.”
After the event, Blavity Politics had the opportunity to dig deeper with Abrams to discuss the tenants of her campaign, what drives her confidence and more. Here's what she shared with us:
Blavity: What song do you listen to when you need to feel encouraged?
Abrams: I have three songs: I love the soundtrack to Moana and the song "How Far I'll Go" by Auli'i Cravalho. I listen to "Conqueror" by Estelle, and I also love "Tightrope" by Janelle Monáe.
Blavity: How do you channel the confidence it takes to run this historic campaign?
Abrams: I am supported by hundreds of thousands of people. Not just those who voted for me or contributed to the campaign, but those who — when I see them on a street, or at an airport or restaurant — smile at me, and take my hand and tell me that I’m telling their story. It’s less about confidence and more about the privilege and the fortune that I have to stand in this moment and be that voice. That’s an extraordinary opportunity.Blavity: Why is it important to prioritize funding and other inclusive resources to support women of color in tech?
Abrams: Women of color in tech are the vanguard of solving problems that many others do not see because they haven’t had those experiences. Investing in Black women in tech is the key to solving not only problems for all us, but it’s the key to recognizing how we create economic opportunity for all communities.
Women of color in tech, especially Black women, often have experiences that are not reflected in our tech space. Therefore, you’ll want to invest in those women because you’ll want to invest in their solutions. We should not waste any intellectual capital, especially when a small amount of that capital investment will create so many wonderful opportunities. If the goal is to solve problems in technology, then you have to invest in all of the communities interested in solving those problems.
Blavity: What are your thoughts on Kavanaugh's recent confirmation to the Supreme Court? What message do you have for survivors who may feel discouraged as a result of his appointment?
Abrams: Most fundamentally, we have to believe women, and we have to believe survivors. Though women are the most frequent victims [of sexual harassment and assault], this victimization is not exclusive to women.
More importantly, we have to believe that there are solutions and that those solutions do not include refusing to confront the challenges. I am concerned about the judicial temperament that was on display at the hearings, but I am heartened by the engagement I see across this country. When we understand that the power is ours, we do more, and what this has put into sharp relief is the necessity of us holding power in all of the places that matter.
If we want women and men to be believed when they tell their stories, we have to have in people in power that believe them. I see this as a moment where we are disappointed, but not discouraged. And I see this as a moment where we know that there is a day when we can make change — and that day is November 6.Blavity: You've spoken a lot about your brother Walter, who has mental illness and is currently an inmate serving time in prison. What are some tangible ways we can prioritize mental health when also discussing criminal justice reform?
Abrams: We have to talk about it. The most fundamental stigma attached to mental health is the refusal to admit it exists or to do it in a way that doesn’t easily either one: allow us to ignore it because it seems unsolvable or two: to make it reductive so that it doesn’t seem like a real problem.
My brother has a mental health challenge, and it is one that causes him to self-medicate in order to correct the chemical imbalance in his brain. But that imbalance does not make him incapable of success. It doesn’t make him incapable of kindness. It doesn’t make him less smart. It makes him different. If there isn't space for him to talk about that difference and to get the support he needs, then that difference becomes a criminal issue. It also pushes the challenges he has into the shadows. The more "Walters" that go undiagnosed and untreated, the less we are doing to take advantage of their productivity and engage them in community.
Blavity: What is a personal experience from your childhood with which most young voters could identify?
Stacey Abrams: Trying to figure out what I was going to do next. When I was finishing college, I didn't know exactly know what I wanted to do. I knew I was concerned about social justice and that I also wanted to invest my community, but I didn’t know what that job would be. Growing up, I wanted to be the mayor of Atlanta — that was the goal for me because it had been the only office to which I’d seen a Black candidate successfully elected. There was a Black mayor in Atlanta and in Chicago, so that was the highest I thought I could go.
Grappling with who you are and who you’re going to be is hard, and everyone tells you you’re supposed to know. But I hope people in their early 20s know that most of us are just making it up. We have to be willing to stand in those spaces and be the North Star that other people are looking for.
Blavity: Throughout your career, you've also managed to write a few romance novels. What inspired you to write fiction, and how important is it to maintain a personal identity when serving in such a public way?
Abrams: I started writing romance [and] suspense novels in law school. I also wrote a lot about tax policy. For me, writing is an essential part of who I am. So whether I am writing fiction, or tax policy articles or my memoir, Minority Leader, writing for me is about telling a story and creating a space others that lets others see themselves in your narrative. This makes personal identity easier to excavate because you can explore all parts of it, and that’s what I try to do.
Blavity: Looking back, what advice would you give yourself before launching your campaign for governor?
Abrams: It’s hard to answer that because I have spent a lot of time thinking about doing this. The advice I've given myself was to know why I wanted this job. The hardest question for people to answer isn’t "what?" but "why?" I made myself investigate that before I ran because if you don’t know why you’re doing something, the first time something is hard or painful, you’ll want to quit. But if you know your why, you’ll have the power to move on through it.
The worst advice I’ve ever received was to wait. When I began to think about running for governor, there wasn't a blueprint — I didn’t know any Black women who had been elected as governor. But I did know of Black men and women who had run successful campaigns [for other seats in political office], so I looked to see what they did — and I didn’t wait to ask for permission.
Blavity: What piece of advice would you give to young Black voters this election?
Abrams: Vote. And here’s what I mean: The challenges that we see — whether it’s decriminalizing poverty, access to affordable housing, college debt, being able to start a business, being able to make enough money at a job and getting health care — are all solvable problems that require good policies and policymakers to know our stories.
I’m the only candidate running [in Georgia’s election for governor] who understands what it’s like to be in those spaces because my opponent doesn’t have these experiences. And that's the thing; you don’t need to have these experiences to be able to solve these challenges, but you do have to have the empathy to know that these problems should be solved. I’ve demonstrated consistent empathy with different communities, especially Black people. And I need their help because if we want more — if we want opportunity; if we want parity — then we have to have access. And there is no stronger access than having someone sit as governor who sees all of Georgia.
According to a poll released in early September by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News, the race for governor of Georgia was nearly tied, with Republican candidate Kemp in the lead. If Georgia voters want to make history this election, they will need to turn out in historic numbers to secure a Democratic victory. Regardless of the outcome, the results of this election will determine how the state is perceived in these polarizing times under Trump’s administration.
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