Robert and Carolyn Abrams began to notice that United Methodist people were making a difference in their community. They felt moved by the church’s outreach. They felt drawn to the church’s commitment to an educated and informed membership. They felt God’s call to become United Methodist ministers. So they packed up their stuff and their six children, moved from Gulfport, Mississippi, to Atlanta, Georgia, and enrolled at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. The Abrams led their family in the rich heritage and tradition of the Methodist church, emphasizing that service is the most profound demonstration of their faith in Christ. The children served in the church as acolytes and ushers and choir members. They worked at soup kitchens and served in the community. On one occasion, they were encouraged to boycott a local Shell gas station, because Shell’s corporate owners had connections to apartheid-era South Africa. The Abram’s daughter, Stacey, graduated valedictorian from Avondale High School in Decatur, Georgia. The experience she shares changed her life, and motivated her to become a history maker.
“One of the joys of being valedictorian in the state of Georgia is that you get invited to meet the governor of Georgia. I was mildly interested in meeting him. It was kind of cool. I was more intrigued by the fact that he lived in a mansion, because I watched a lot of ‘General Hospital’ and ‘Dynasty’ as a child. And so I got up that morning, ready to go to visit the governor. My mom and my dad, who were also invited, got up, and we went outside. In the South, a car is a necessary thing, [because there’s not] a lot of public transit. There aren't a lot of options. But if you're lucky enough, you live in a community where public transit is an option. And that's what we had to take. And so we got on the bus. And we took the bus from Decatur all the way to Buckhead, where the Governor's Mansion sat on beautiful acreage, with long black gates running the length of the property. We get to the Governor's Mansion, pull the little lever that lets the driver know this is our stop, and we get off the bus. We walk across the street and up the driveway. There are cars coming up, cars bringing in students from all across the state of Georgia. So we walk along the side single file, my mom and dad sandwiching me to make sure I don't get hit by one of the cars bringing in the other valedictorians. We approach the guard gate. When we get to the gate, the guard comes out, looks at me, looks at my parents, and says, ‘You don't belong here, this is a private event.’ My dad says, ‘No, this is my daughter, Stacey. She's one of the valedictorians.’ But the guard doesn't look at the checklist in his hands. He doesn't ask my mom for the invitation that's at the bottom of her very voluminous purse. Instead, he looks over our shoulder at the bus, because in his mind, the bus is telling him a story about who should be there. And the fact that we were too poor to have our own car—that was a story he told himself. And he may have seen something in my skin color, he may have seen something in my attire; I don't know what went through his mind. But his conclusion was to look at me again, and with a look of disdain, say, ‘I told you, this is a private event. You don't belong here.’ Now, my parents were studying to become United Methodist ministers, but they were not pastors yet. So they proceeded to engage this gentleman in a very robust discussion of his decision-making skills. My father may have mentioned that he was going to spend eternity in a very fiery place if he didn't find my name on that checklist. The man eventually checks the list, he found my name, and he let us inside. But I don't remember meeting the governor of Georgia. I don't recall meeting my fellow valedictorians from 180 school districts. The only clear memory I have of that day was a man standing in front of the most powerful place in Georgia, looking at me and telling me I don't belong. So I decided, twenty-some-odd years later, to be the person who got to open the gates. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way. And now I'm tasked with figuring out: How do I move forward? Because, you see, I didn't just want to open the gates for young black women who had been underestimated and told they don't belong. I wanted to open those gates for Latinas and for Asian Americans. I wanted to open those gates for the undocumented and the documented. I wanted to open those gates as an ally of the LGBTQ community. I wanted to open those gates for the families that have to call themselves the victims of gun violence. I wanted to open those gates wide for everyone in Georgia, because this is our state, and this is our nation, and we all belong here.”
Stacey Abrams became the first woman to lead either party in the Georgia General Assembly and the first African-American to lead in the House of Representatives. She became the first black woman to become a major party’s nominee for governor in the history of the United States of America. She said, “I hope my witness is always seen as one of perseverance. I may not be the governor, but that doesn’t absolve me of the responsibility that my faith tells me I hold, which is to ensure that the marginalized, the voiceless, and the disadvantaged, are able to be heard and to be served.”
Stacey Abrams is a member of Columbia Drive United Methodist Church in Decatur, Georgia.
She inspires me to make history.
The Miami Times, “Abrams Raised on Faith and Public Service,” October 20, 2020
United Methodist News Service, “Georgia Candidate Has Deep Methodist Roots,” June 25, 2018
Ted Talks: Stacey Abrams, “Three Questions to Ask Yourself About Everything You Do,” November 2018