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Why Youth Voice Matters to Democratic Nominee for Governor Stacey Abrams

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I knew I was meeting a rockstar. Through a press request with VOX ATL, I was set up to meet with Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia who had founded the nonprofit New Georgia Project and went on to become the first woman to lead in the Georgia General Assembly (in 2010) and the first African American to lead in the state’s House of Representatives, serving as Minority Leader. And somehow she found the time to publish eight best-selling romantic suspense novels.

In fact, Abrams has accomplished a lot of firsts in her life. On May 22, in a landslide victory, she became the first woman in the United States to become a major party nominee for governor. “Ambition,” Abrams said in the interview, “is not a dirty word. What people are worried about is when my ambition interferes with their own. And I would say to anyone who worries about that, why would it be a bad thing for the world to be better? Why would it be a bad thing for poor people and for people who are discriminated against and oppressed to actually own their franchise and be a part of our society?”

A first-year at Agnes Scott College, I had mostly tuned out of politics to maintain my studies (and my sanity), reserving myself to the headlines from a briefing delivered to my inbox by the New York Times every morning, but Abrams’ life story caught my interest. The similarities stuck out as I began to research her: We are both black women. Marchers. Proud Democrats. Writers. Valedictorians. Women raised in families that value constant and slightly exhausting dialogue around social justice.

But while I ignored the news when it did not feel particularly personal to me, usually serving as mediator at heated family conversations about the national debt — “Can’t we all just watch American Idol now?” — by the time she was a first-year in college, Abrams had dedicated her life to engaging in those conversations. When we met at her campaign office in January for an interview, I could tell she has a certain presence of cool confidence. She is one of those people who could say something and make people listen.

One more similarity: When Abrams was 19 and a junior at Spelman College, she wrote a piece for VOX called “Time for Teens to Take Control: Age does not create wisdom— experiences do.” In the 1993 article, just Vol. 1, Issue 2 of the fetus that once was our VOX, amid rioting and violence even in Atlanta in the wake of the Rodney King trial, Abrams wrote, “I am scared. Not of dying. Death is so likely these days that fear is a waste of energy. I am scared of living, though. I am scared of living in a world, in a city, where I count for nothing. Where my voice is silenced because I am not 40 years old, I am not white, I am not male.

“And I am tired. Tired of being frightened by things some adults tell me I cannot change. Tired of paying for a debt I did not incur.”

I had to approach the interview with healthy skepticism, though. She is a politician, after all, and as a journalist it would have been unethical to fawn over her and affirm her every statement during our talk. So, when I asked how she would engage young people in her administration and she responded by saying that “it’s gonna be critical to engage young people at every stage,” I wondered aloud whether she could be more specific. She then cited a plan to employ teenagers in policy-making commissions, “putting them in positions of power so that their voices really come with heft.”

Sounds good to me.

It’s going to be an ugly race. But I hope my peers from across the state will pay attention anyway, and join me in holding this remarkable woman accountable for her promises and taking part in building this new Georgia. If you have fresh ideas or a story to share, I encourage you to contact the campaign here. If you want to take part in helping her win, join Team Abrams here.

A timeline: 25 years ago, Spelman student Stacey Abrams wrote an article pushing youth to stand up against violence in their communities.

Today, I too, am writing for the things I believe in.

On Aug. 6, I will turn 18.

And three months later, I will elect a black woman to be governor of my state, and I will work with her to make it better and safer for all of us.


Maya, 17, thinks it sucks that she can’t vote until she turns 18.

Georgia’s general gubernatorial election will be held on Nov. 6. Voters must be registered by Oct. 9 to vote on Nov. 6. Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Visit mvp.sos.ga.gov/MVP/mvp.do to register to vote and find your polling place.

 

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