“Leadership is about answering that question: How can I help?”
That’s how Stacey Abrams summed up her worldview to The Washington Post back in May, revealing the internal inquiry that has driven much of her adult life.
It’s likely that, in the aftermath of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, you’ve heard Abrams’ name quite a bit. Maybe even for the first time ever. And for good reason. Her work fighting for voting rights in Georgia has been widely credited with playing a crucial part in the state, as the count currently stands, voting for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1992.
But while Abrams’ advocacy work in the Peach State has been largely tied to her defeat there in the 2018 gubernatorial race amid claims of voter suppression, it’s really part and parcel of a story that began long before then, well outside the world of politics. It’s the tale of a Black woman who has consistently dared to dream bigger than reality would seem to allow—both for herself and her country.
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Abrams and her five brothers and sisters were raised in Gulfport, Miss., the children of a librarian mother and father who worked in a shipyard. The house she grew up in was situated in a neighborhood that gave her and her siblings access to one of the area’s better schools, giving her an early lesson on how to navigate America’s often lopsided racial division of resources.
As she told The Washington Post, “It was less a black community than we lived on a ‘black street.’ There were these two streets that were adjacent to the middle-class, predominantly white part of town to get zoned into the middle-class school…We lived on the two streets that were all black until the Brooks family came…All the streets got nicer names as you went further in, so those were predominantly white. My parents understood that education was the essential ingredient to success for both of them. My mom is the only one of her siblings to finish high school. My dad is the first man in his family to go to college.”
An avid PBS viewer—it was one of only two channels the family received—Abrams was also a voracious reader, consuming just about any printed material she could get her young hands on. “I think my mom is the reason I started reading the encyclopedia and the dictionary, because I would ask questions and she was like, ‘Go look it up.'” she said. “Finally I figured if I wanted to know everything, I just needed to read everything.”
As she told Vogue in 2019, “They expected us to want more.”
And that meant seeing themselves as equals in a world that might not always agree. In fact, Abrams and her sisters credit their father as the first feminist they ever met, she told The Washington Post. “He