After running the NYC Marathon in 2019, Dr. Lesko and I stayed on to attend the Riveter Summit. A big draw for both of us: Stacey Abrams was the keynote speaker. Her run for Governor of Georgia in 2018 had been stunning. Even in a questionable defeat, with rampant voter suppression, her force was felt around the world.
While waiting for her to take the stage that day on the Lower West Side, a fantastically diverse crowd of women squeezed in tightly on folding chairs, along the walls, spilling into the hall. The energy was on high. Even my post-marathon fatigue evaporated. I felt my heart rate rise and we did a little hand squeeze.
Stacey walked out, followed by huge applause and a sea of smartphones. To settle the crowd, she stopped and paused for pics left, right, and center stage, and then said “okay now put away your phones.” I’m glad she did because what she gave us next was pure gold: a blueprint for living life as a woman, an activist, a believer in change and possibility.
In a clear, full voice, she spoke with us. She told stories. And she boiled it down. I’ve done my best to transcribe the wild and scrawly text from my notebook:
- Don’t edit your ambition
“We edit our ambition because often all it takes is someone, anyone, telling us no. And we tell ourselves no. When we refuse to edit our ambitions, we run the world, and we run it right.”
- Don’t go it alone
“Our current administration is about arrogance and meanness. Ours is different. I’m going to collect those who can go with me. Go together. Then it’s harder to pick us off. Don’t just open the door. Take it off the hinges and flood the room with the people who need to be in there.”
- Don’t forget the pain
“Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of my not becoming the Governor of Georgia. What my Mom and Dad told me: the pain is okay. If we’re not okay with the pain, it makes the reason we went through what we did not as important. The reason more women start small businesses is because the system doesn’t have a place for us. The pain of that makes us stronger, fiercer, makes us better. I cultivate and use my pain.”
Fast forward two long years. What’s clearer today, as we convulse through the end of the Trump presidency, is that Stacey Abrams and the coalition of grassroots organizations that have been the catalyst for voter turnout, not just in Georgia, but other key areas like North Carolina, Texas, and Arizona, are the future of integrity in American government. And many are led by Black women.
Integrity. Equality. Community. Justice. These are the values of leadership I want to have and follow.
And this past week, while white supremacists desecrated the Capitol Building, carrying symbols of hate and racism, spurred by a failed President, and allowed to do so by a partially complicit police force, all I felt was disgust and outrage. This is un-f-ing real. But also, followed by a feeling of confidence, that we were entering a new era, led by those who refuse to edit their ambitions for justice.
The easy narrative will be that Black women and Black people saved this country. And they did. And they should be celebrated.
But the more challenging narrative is that we now have to honor
our salvation by doing
something with it.
– Roxane Gay
Almost half this country voted for Trump. So that means the “doing something” has to be big, loud, and from the mouths and voices of those who are least threatened by white supremacy. Life is political. If justice is at the center, we must do everything we can to support Biden and Kamala. But even more so, to follow the activists; our new American leaders “on the vanguard of democracy,” as LaTosha Brown of Black Voters Matter put it.
They are the America I believe in, and I look forward to not going it alone and working with our team and many of you to contribute something meaningful, whether it’s community activism, community building, runs and relays, financial donations, or all of the above.
Truth be told, recent events have me shook. Flat out stunned. And motivated. In part for positive change, but also not to forget this happened. Not to let the ugliness seep back into the ground without being checked.
Instead of her moving from a space of spite and revenge, as Donald Trump moved, she did something very different. She operated in a sense of integrity, she redirected her energy, and she actually went deeper. So what I think happened, rather than Georgia going blue as being ‘revenge’ I see it as
– LaTosha Brown
Poetic American justice. Written by those who refuse to edit their ambitions, who turn pain into progress, and stick together as a team. Here for it! As a U.S citizen, and as a follower of our new American leadership.