Georgia state representative Stacey Abrams is, by all accounts, a political powerhouse poised to lead the Democratic Party into the next decade. At just 42, she's the House minority leader (the first woman and the first African American in that role, and she unseated five Republicans to get there ). The New York Times recently named her one of " 14 Young Democrats to Watch ," and Emily's List honored her with the Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award . She also has a degree from Yale Law School, is an entrepreneur, and writes romance novels about spies, ethnobotanists, and chemical physicists on the side.
Resplendent in a red suit, Abrams gave a stirring speech about her passion for public service at the 2016 Democratic National Convention . "Growing up as the daughter of a librarian and a shipyard worker in Southern Mississippi, my family was hit time and again by the economic insecurity that is too often driven by racism, sexism, and the ills that come from being born in the wrong ZIP code," Abrams said. "Still, every day my parents taught us, all six of their children, to celebrate through service the grace that is America."
Ashley C. Ford spoke to Abrams earlier this year about her commitment to registering minority voters in Georgia with her New Georgia Project, what happened when her parents became ministers and how that inspired her commitment to public work, and all about those spies in love.
Ashley Ford: I read that your parents went to school together and became ministers together. How, if at all, have religion and spirituality inspired your commitment to public service?
Stacey Abrams: What drove my parents was the notion that their faith required dedication to social justice. Those two pieces have always been inextricably linked for us. We converted from being Baptist to Methodist. The Bible has to be a living, breathing, and active part of who you are. That was how my parents raised us. For me, when they decided to become minsters at the age of 40, it was a natural progression from the lives they lived.
When you're the daughter of two ministers, you're always feeling afraid of failing the Holy Spirit. I don't want to get called into the family business. My ministry is government. There are very few things as profound as government. Government at its most basic is people who contribute to each other. Who organize themselves to support one another. We conflate government and politics, but they're not the same thing.
I do not claim to be a minister. Let me be very clear. But my beliefs animate me. They animate the choices I make as a legislator.
AF: Would you say that in general people who get involved in government work approach it from that place of the call, or at least the desire, to serve?
SA: It is my profound hope that is what motivates people. I would say that sometimes the act of reality is less clear. We make choices, I find sometimes, that are counter to that idea of service. There's a selfishness that can be embedded in being in politics that I think you have to actively guard against. There is narcissism that is inherent.
AF: How do you combat that?
SA: The job of a minority leader can be done in one of two ways. My approach, from the very beginning, has been to make my first priority cooperation, which seems counterintuitive when your job is to be the opposition.