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In 2018, politician, lawyer, writer, and activist Stacey Abrams became the first Black woman nominated by any major political party to run for state governor in the U.S. when she made a bid to become governor of Georgia. She lost that election—just barely—but afterward, she only became more passionate about ensuring that every eligible American can exercise their right to vote. Since then, Stacey has worked tirelessly to register hundreds of thousands of voters and to remove barriers to voting—resulting in record voter turnout in Georgia in 2020 and 2021, especially among communities of color.
Hana Baba is an award-winning radio journalist- host of “Crosscurrents”- the daily newsmagazine on NPR station KALW Public Radio in San Francisco. She is also co-host/co-producer of The Stoop podcast, telling stories from across the Black Diaspora. A Sudanese American, she enjoys exploring intersectionality and the richness of experiences in the African diaspora overall. Her work also appears on NPR, PRI, BBC, OZY, and others, and she has interviewed personalities like Levar Burton, Jimmy Carter, Stacey Abrams, David Oyelowo, Uzo Aduba, and more.
|Once upon a time, there was a girl who wanted to make sure every eligible American could vote. Her name is Stacey.
Stacey was born in 1973, and she grew up in a small town in a small brick house in Gulfport, Mississippi.
Stacey’s father worked at a shipyard, and her mother was a librarian. Her family had a lot of love—and lots of books. Stacey loved diving into stories that transported her to faraway worlds. She even read the encyclopedia sometimes!
But her family didn’t have much money. Every once in a while, their electricity or water was cut off because her parents couldn’t pay the bills.
But Stacey’s parents said, having nothing, was not an excuse for doing nothing.
So Stacey and her brothers and sisters volunteered with their parents, serving food at soup kitchens and teaching people to read at their church.
Stacey carried these lessons into her adulthood. And one day, when Stacey got older, she would dedicate her life to helping others by fighting for their rights.
|I’m Hana Baba. And this is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.
A fairy tale podcast about the rebel women who inspire us.
On this episode, Stacey Abrams. Outspoken politician, proud Georgian, novelist, and a fierce protector of Americans’ right to vote.
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|A LOVE OF LEARNING
When Stacey was young, she wanted to know everything. And so, she read everything. She gobbled up all different kinds of books on so many different subjects—chemistry, physics, history, mythology, poetry.
She thought one day she might be a physicist or even a writer.
Her parents also loved to learn, and when Stacey was in high school, they moved to Atlanta, Georgia, so her parents could study to become Methodist ministers.
At Stacey’s new high school in Atlanta, she worked harder than ever. She got good grades, and her senior year, she became her high school’s first Black valedictorian!
In Georgia, valedictorians were all invited to meet the governor at a big party.
On the day of the reception, Stacey’s family took the bus across town to a wealthy neighborhood. When they got off the bus and Stacey saw the Governor’s Mansion, her mouth dropped open.
The building was humongous—three stories tall and made of dark red bricks with white columns as thick as trees lining the front.
When Stacey and her family approached, the security guard looked them up and down.
“This is a private event,” he said gruffly.
Stacey’s father stood tall. “This is my daughter Stacey,” he said. “She’s one of the valedictorians.”
The guard raised his eyebrows.
“I told you,” the guard said. “This is a private event. You don’t belong here.”
Stacey’s cheeks burned. She had been invited by the governor himself.
Eventually, the guard let them in.
But Stacey didn’t notice the glimmering chandeliers or the shiny marble floors. She didn’t pay attention to how the food tasted. Around her, the smiling faces looked like empty ghosts.
All she could think about was that security guard. That look on his face—like they were something less than.
And those three words: “You don’t belong.”
|JOINING THE FIGHT
Stacey had known for a long time that people were often treated differently because of the color of their skin or how much money they made.
She had seen it Mississippi, where she and her siblings had gawked at the big houses of rich people who lived on the other side of town.
And she had heard it in her parents’ and grandparents’ stories about fighting for civil rights for people of color in the 1950s and 60s, like protesting for the right to vote and advocating for racial equality.
Now, at 18 years old, Stacey was ready to join that fight as well.
Stacey enrolled in Spelman College—a historically Black college in Atlanta. There, she filled her brain with all she could learn.
But she put her learning into action, too.
As a freshman, she attended Atlanta City Council meetings to learn how the city worked. In 1992, she became a campus leader and coordinated protests against police violence. She even debated the Atlanta mayor on television. (He was so impressed, he later offered her a job in his office!)
And in 1993, at age 19, Stacey stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial and spoke to tens of thousands of people at the thirtieth anniversary of the March on Washington!
By the time Stacey graduated college, she’d already done so much. But she wasn’t finished.
In college, after a bad breakup, Stacey had made a list of all the things she wanted to be and do.
There were three big ones: Publish a bestselling novel. Become a millionaire with her own business. Be elected mayor of Atlanta.
So, first, Stacey went to graduate school at the University of Texas and law school at Yale. And as if law school wasn’t challenging enough, while there, she wrote and published her first novel under a pen name.
Even though they didn’t make her a millionaire, Stacey launched multiple businesses, worked for a law firm, and then, at age 29, was hired as the deputy city attorney for Atlanta.
For her, it was just one step closer to her dream of becoming mayor.
One day, Stacey told a colleague about her dreams.
But her colleague challenged her—what if you aimed higher?
Stacey thought hard about this. Was it only Atlanta she wanted to help? What if, instead, she served people throughout Georgia? Or even the United States?
So, in 2006, Stacey ran for and was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives!
For ten years, Stacey served as a state legislator. She loved reading and writing bills. She even liked working with people from the opposing party!
But she also saw a problem: A lot of people in Georgia weren’t registered to vote, and sometimes people who tried to vote weren’t able to.
It was a big problem that had its roots deep in United States history.
After the Civil War, Black men were granted the right to vote in 1867. But for a long time, many white leaders—especially those in the South—made it nearly impossible to do so.
For example, sometimes Black people were charged a fee for voting (and many couldn’t afford it). At other times, they had to pass tests or answer impossible questions—things white voters weren’t asked to do.
For more than a century, Black activists fought against these unfair policies. They rallied, and they demonstrated. And some were even killed for fighting for their right to vote.
Then, in 1965, the federal Voting Rights Act was passed, which banned those unfair policies.
|NEW GEORGIA PROJECT
As legal protections increased, people who tried to stop Black and Brown citizens from voting only became sneakier.
Some political leaders deleted voter registrations. Others passed strict rules that made it harder for people to register to vote.
These kinds of things were happening in Georgia—even in the 2010s. At the same time, the population in Georgia was changing, and many young people and people of color were moving to the state.
Stacey and her colleagues believed the voices of all these eligible voters had to be heard.
So, in 2014, she founded an organization called the New Georgia Project, which worked to register voters of color and to protect their right to vote. From 2014 to 2018, the New Georgia Project registered 200,000 eligible voters!
Stacey worked hard to make these projects possible—even as she still served in the House of Representatives. She stayed quite busy. Some days, though, her mind wandered to her old dream of becoming Atlanta’s mayor.
In her head, she heard her colleague’s voice, telling her to dream bigger.
And then, it came to her: She would try to become the governor of Georgia.
|RUN FOR GOVERNOR
Some of her friends called this dream impossible.
Georgia had never had a Black governor before. Georgia had never had a woman governor before. Plus, Stacey was a Democrat, and there hadn’t been a Democratic governor in Georgia in the last 20 years.
In fact, if elected, Stacey would be America’s first Black female governor ever elected, in any state.
But Stacey refused to give up.
She criss-crossed the state, giving speeches and meeting with her fellow Georgians. She told stories about growing up in Mississippi, about almost being turned away from the Governor’s Mansion, and about her hardworking and compassionate parents—who still struggled to make ends meet.
Stacey’s stories resonated with Georgians. And as her momentum built, she created a coalition of young, Black and Brown, and progressive voters—all of whom turned out to vote for her in record numbers on Election Day in November 2018.
But something awful also happened on Election Day in Georgia in 2018.
Stacey’s opponent was Georgia’s then-Secretary of State, Brian Kemp. And the Secretary of State was in charge of the elections.
In the six years leading up to the election in 2018, almost 1.4 million names had been deleted from Georgia’s voter registration list—most of them from Black and Brown communities.
On the day of the election, more than 200 polling places were suddenly closed—most in poor or Black neighborhoods.
Thousands of voters found that their voter registration applications had been placed “on hold” for no apparent reason—and they were denied their right to vote.
Even when Stacey went to cast her own ballot, the election officials told her she had already voted.
Fortunately, Stacey knew how to clear up a mistake like that—but not everyone did. And not everything seemed like a “mistake.”
As Stacey watched the election results pour in, her heart stood on a razor’s edge.
The race was close. And her opponent was in the lead.
In the end, Stacey received 1.9 million votes—more than any other Democratic candidate in any race in Georgia’s history.
But Stacey lost—by just over 54,000 votes.
Stacey knew she could keep fighting. She knew voters had been unfairly turned away from the polls.
But now, there was a bigger problem to solve.
It’s not my right to be governor, Stacey thought, but it is their right to vote.
|BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE
Suddenly, Stacey had a new dream.
Soon after she lost the election, Stacey launched three organizations that worked to register eligible voters and ensure that every American could have a voice in the election system and government.
Stacey spoke at conferences, rallies, and special events. She worked, she planned, and she led.
Through the efforts of Stacey and her fellow activists, more than 800,000 new voters in Georgia registered to vote from 2018 to 2020. And almost half of those voters were people of color.
Years later, Stacey and her colleagues finally saw the results of their work.
In the 2020 election—and the 2021 runoff for two Senate seats in Georgia—a record-breaking number of voters turned out to vote. Many of them were first-time voters. And many were young and people of color.
“Across our state, we roared,” Stacey said tweeted in January 2021. “Let’s celebrate the extraordinary organizers, volunteers, canvassers & tireless groups that haven’t stopped going.”
Stacey Abrams has already had a long and successful career—from working as a lawyer in Atlanta to publishing 10 books to serving in the Georgia legislature to being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize .
But she’s not finished yet. Stacey remains committed to protecting Americans’ right to vote and addressing racial inequalities.
And every year, she updates that list she made when she was 18. In recent years, it seems she may have typed in another dream: become president of the United States.
It might be bold, but as Stacey once said, “Practice boldness, and the world adapts.”