Meet the Woman Aiming to Be America’s First Black Female Governor
In all of American history, there has never been an African-American female governor. Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Ga.) wants to change that.
“I am very aware that this would be a history making turn. It’s thrilling. It would redefine our beliefs about who can lead,” she tells Fortune. Abrams, 43, announced that she will be running for governor of Georgia earlier this month.
“Being about to cross that barrier for African-American women, especially in the deep south, is an extraordinary opportunity to speak up for so many women who are go forgotten and unheard.”
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Abrams says she’s running for office now because Georgia is in a unique place in its history. “We have a diverse, evolving and changing community,” she says. “But we have not done the hard work we need to do. Our next governor has the potential to make immediate and meaningful impact on people’s lives, and I want to be certain we take advantage of that,” she adds.
Abrams was also inspired to run after the results of the 2016 presidential election, she says, describing her campaign as “opportunity for progress, and an opportunity to move forward.”
While winning this election would be an historic achievement, it will not be the first time Abrams makes history. She is the first woman to lead either party in the Georgia General Assembly and the first African-American to lead in the House of Representatives as House Minority Leader.
“I’ve been lucky,” she says. “I’ve led a life that demonstrates difference is not a barrier to achievement.”
No Democrat has won statewide office in Georgia since 2006 and only 11 black women have ever been elected to statewide positions nationwide.
“The one thing I don’t have on my side is history. It can be discouraging when people only look to the past to determine what you’re capable of,” she says. “But I use that as fuel. My job is to remove this as a barrier for every person who runs after me. I’ve always seen my success in that light.”
The key to winning, she says, is to register new voters and reach out to those in Georgia communities who are often ignored or forgotten—something Abrams says her campaign will focus on.
Abrams says she knew she wanted to get involved in politics from a young age. While growing up in a working-class family in Gulfport, Miss., she says she “wanted to be president of the world.” But it wasn’t until after she graduated Yale Law School and worked as the deputy city attorney of Atlanta that she realized she wanted to run for governor, she says.
Outside of her day job, Abrams is an award-winning romance novelist who writes under the pen name Selena Montgomery. She has written a total of eight romantic suspense novels which have sold more than 100,000 copies. She’s also the founder of the New Georgia Project, a non-partisan effort to register and civically engage Georgians of color. Between 2014 and 2016, the organization registered more than 200,000 minority voters. She’s also the co-founder of NOW Account, a financial services firm that helps small businesses grow.
“My experiences signal my ability to not give up my values, but to use my skills to lead and to accomplish what’s best for everyone,” she says. “I’m deeply gratified by that work and I’m excited about being able to take those skills and apply them to a governorship.”