On Saturday, in her first speech as our Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris, remarked that “Black women… are often, too often, overlooked, but so often prove they are the backbone of our democracy.” I want to take this opportunity to highlight some of the familiar and not-so-familiar names that I’ve encountered over the past few days in hopes that this information will make it to your dinner table where you can tell your children about these role models.
There are so many Black women in leadership today who deserve more recognition. I’m going to talk about a few of them who were behind the unexpected voter turnout that flipped Georgia blue. Georgia hasn’t supported a Democratic president since Bill Clinton in the early 1990s, nearly 30 years ago. So, what happened? Black voters, especially young Black voters, came out in force. And, it was no accident. This extraordinary feat in voter registration and empowerment happened at the expert hands of Black women. Whatever your political persuasion, the sheer effort that went into the hundreds of millions of votes cast in the 2020 United States presidential election is impressive.
On the National Stage
Stacey Abrams grew up in Mississippi and moved with her family to Georgia, so her parents could attend graduate school at Emory University in Atlanta. Abrams received a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from Spelman College (an HBCU), a master’s in public affairs from the University of Texas, and JD from Yale Law School.
Abrams’ influential political career began when she was involved with a congressional campaign in high school and went on to be hired as a speechwriter as a teenager. She served for a decade in the Georgia House of Representatives before launching a gubernatorial campaign in 2018 against then-Secretary of State, Brian Kemp. She was the first Black woman on any major party’s general ballot for governor.
Kemp was in charge of elections and voter registration while he was himself campaigning for governor. In the process, he cancelled hundreds of thousands of voter registrations without any warning to the individuals that their registration had been cancelled and then put tens of thousands of new and re-registrations on hold of which three-quarters belonged to people of color. District Judge Amy Totenberg would eventually rule against Kemp as he had been found guilty of violating Georgia law in his rush to disenfranchise voters. Unfortunately, the damage was done. Kemp narrowly beat Abrams 50.3% to 48.7%, representing a margin of only 50,000 votes, and robbed her of her hard won victory.
Though her valiant efforts garnered national attention, she decided that, instead of pursuing legal action or running for political office in the immediate aftermath, she would strike back against the kind of voter disenfranchisement that had cost her the Georgia governorship.
She launched Fair Fight 2020, an organization that seeks to “promote fair elections in Georgia and around the country, encourage voter participation in elections, and educate voters about elections and their voting rights” with a specific emphasis on “voters of color” and “young voters.” She is credited with paving the way to voter registration for more than 800,000 people.
Arguably, the two most prominent Black women in Georgia today are Stacey Abrams and Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Bottoms was born and raised in Atlanta. She received a bachelor’s in broadcast journalism from Florida A&M University (an HBCU) and a JD from Georgia State University. Her political journey took her from the courtroom to a judgeship to the Atlanta City Council, and then she was elected mayor in 2017. In just three years, she launched herself right into the national arena.
Her remarkable career coupled with her fearless and progressive voice landed her on the short-list for Vice President alongside Representative Val Demings, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Senator Kamala Harris, who was ultimately selected.
Bottoms’ role in getting the vote out involved promoting the importance of voting and taking concrete steps to eliminate barriers to voting and ensure a fair process. She provided leave to Atlanta employees to serve as election poll workers. She expanded access to the polls by increasing the number of hours Atlanta employees were allowed to take off to vote, sanctioned the use of city facilities and resources to ensure everyone could vote, and updated Atlanta’s 311 call-in service with more accurate voting information. And, she leveraged the platform she was given at the Democratic National Convention to drive home the importance of registering and voting.
These next five women were instrumental in the high voter turnout among people of color and young folks. Here’s a little about their role in the effort.
Top: Nsé Ufot and Tamieka Atkins
Bottom: Deborah Scott, LaTosha Brown, and Helen Butler
Nsé Ufot is the Executive Director of the New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan effort “to register and civically engage Georgians,” particularly the growing population of young people of color and unmarried women who represent the majority of the voting age population in Georgia.
Tamieka Atkins is the executive director of ProGeorgia, a civic engagement group “building infrastructure by supporting, connecting and coordinating civic participation efforts of our non-profit member groups.”
Deborah Scott is the executive director of Georgia STAND-UP, a “think and act tank for working communities” that “organizes and educates communities about issues related to labor unions, transit equity, affordable housing, & economic development.” Their non-partisan voter engagement program, Stand Up and Vote! designed to ensure that residents are “educated and engaged in elections at all levels of government.”
LaTosha Brown is a co-creator of the Black Voters Matter Fund, an electoral organizing group that keys in on voter registration, policy advocacy, and organizational development and training. Their hands-on programs, like a Warrant Clinic that helps people clear warrants and fines they can’t afford and lifts barrier to employment, housing, and voting at the most fundamental level.
Helen Butler is the executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda whose mission is to improve the quality of governance in Georgia, help create a more informed and active electorate, and have responsive and accountable elected officials. She is especially concerned with justice reform and protecting voting rights.
These women deserve praise and recognition for their hard work. We white parents, in particular, have a responsibility to make Black history come alive for our kids and these leaders are Black history in the making!