On Saturday at the Chicago Humanities Festival, I get to sit down with Stacey Abrams, the first black woman to receive the gubernatorial nomination of a major party.
Although Abrams, 45, was narrowly defeated in her quest to become governor of Georgia — a result she blames on voter suppression — she left an indelible impression on the public.
The former Georgia house minority leader (another first for a black woman) has popped up on numerous cable and news shows, and as a featured speaker at countless events preaching her brand of civic engagement.
The question she’s asked most often these days is what is her next move? Will she seek the presidential nomination or run for a Senate seat?
Frankly, Abrams is one of those people who make the rest of us look like slackers. She’s a politician, a romance novelist, and a lawyer and has led non-profit organizations.
And as if that’s not enough to fill up one life-time, Abrams has authored a book on leadership titled “Lead From The Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change.”
“I am a living example of the fact that there is no glory in having only one supreme goal,” she writes.
I’m not big on how-to books because most of the authors tend to portray themselves as having all of the answers.
Abrams doesn’t make that claim.
“When I first wrote, ‘Lead from the Outside,’ I wanted to deconstruct the successes and failures I had and distill them into potential guidelines for others,” Abrams writes in the introduction to the paperback edition of her book.
“I wanted to rethink how we cast everyday challenges into such distinct categories. From discussing my personal debt or my brother’s constant struggle for sobriety and freedom, my mission was to shake our internalization of false narratives about who is worthy of opportunity.”
The paperback version is only 219 pages including acknowledgments and index, but it is chock full of wisdom that seems beyond her 45 years.
“A leader evolves from a good person who is willing to make hard choices and handle the consequences,” Abrams points out.
And excuses are not accepted.
“No one born into the minority has the luxury of giving up, even if we do not win enough of the time. … We’ll make mistakes, as everyone does, and ours will likely be judged more harshly. Yet our triumphs will also resound and they will show the way for those who also doubt their calling,” she said.
As I was reading Abrams’ story, I thought about some of the young women locally that have gotten caught up in negative behavior that could land them behind bars or in the cemetery.
The recent report about Ladonah Hampton, 28, comes to mind.
Hampton is facing charges after police say she was caught with two loaded handguns, and a two-liter bottle containing liquid PCP.
Last year, Hampton pleaded guilty to federal perjury and obstruction of justice relating to her grand jury testimony.
It is young women on Hampton’s path that stand to gain the most from Abrams’ wisdom.
While the rest of the world has given up on them, Abrams is the type of leader that recognizes the spark of genius in hidden places.
“In every sector where I’ve worked, I am driven by my ambition to encourage others to find their own dreams and exploit their potential,” she explains.
“Whether I’m mentoring young people in organizations or speaking with those looking to forge new careers at midlife to explore their potential, the starting block is knowing what you want—and then wanting more,” Abrams said.
Abrams will be in Chicago on Saturday as a guest speaker for the Chicago Humanities Festival’s annual Joanne H. Alter Women in Government Lecture.
Past speakers have included Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren and Barbara Boxer.
I’ll be interviewing Abrams on stage at UIC’s Dorin Forum, 725 Roosevelt Rd.
The tickets are sold out.
But you can still share in this experience, first by getting a copy of her book and reading it, and second, by emailing me — at firstname.lastname@example.org — a question that you would pose.
For instance, I want to hear her thoughts on ending the gun violence that continues to rob black and brown communities of its future leaders.
“[T]his book is designed to help locate our ambition and use it to create a path to leadership that does not bow to inner doubts or outside prejudices,” she writes.
In other words, there’s no more time for moaning and groaning.
Now is the time for the hard work.