Stacey Abrams brings wisdom and inspiration to Vanderbilt

Stacey Abrams (photo by Cass Teague)

Stacey Abrams, minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives (2011-2017) and Democratic nominee for 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election visited Nashville’s Vanderbilt University this week. On Tuesday, March 19, she sat down with Vanderbilt Chancellor Nick Zeppos in Langford Auditorium for a sold-out Chancellor’s Lecture event. Abrams’ visited the campus for a full day of activities, culminating in the one-on-one discussion with Chancellor Zeppos, followed by a book signing for her intriguing new book, now in paperback with a new Foreword, entitled Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change.

Abrams made headlines last year by becoming the first black female gubernatorial nominee of a major U.S. political party. Earlier this year, Abrams delivered the nationally televised Democratic response to the State of the Union address. Considered by many as a rising star in the Democratic party, Abrams shared about her experiences on the campaign trail and her current grassroots efforts around voting rights in America, but not her Presidential candidacy.

“Stacey Abrams delivered an inspiring message on how to ensure that our democracy embraces everyone,” said Tennessee State Representative the Rev. Dr. Harold M. Love, Jr. after the event. “Her commitment to changing the way we do politics is what the country needs now if we are going to ensure that everyone is valued. When we speak about eradicating voter suppression and disenfranchisement there is much work to do but with leaders like Stacey Abrams there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Abrams opened with a 10 minute keynote. “I don’t concede that I lost,” she said. “I do acknowledge that I am not the governor of Georgia.” She went on to talk about resilience, referencing her November 16 ‘non-concession speech.’ Abrams said that she fights “for the millions who stood with me. The outside is where the folks are.”

The chancellor rejoined her onstage for a little over an hour of moderated discussion. Zeppos would bring up an issue, and pose a question about it to Abrams, who deftly and engagingly took the audience on a journey through her thoughtful and informative replies. They touched on the campaign, the ten days of struggle to get a fair count after the November 6 election day, and the meaning she was able to attribute to the process and the events.

“I did spend that ten days plotting,” she said playfully. “Revenge is very cathartic… I am still sad, I’m still angry, but I’m less bitter,” and she noted that the best outcome comes from channeling the anger into action. Abrams described three issues she prioritized: Education (“gets you out of places and shows you places”); Economic Security ( especially small businesses); and Health Care (“It’s hard to be successful if you’re sick, and it’s expensive to be ill”).

Answering critics who think she wishes the current administration to fare poorly, she said, “I do not want the President to fail — America.” She made it known that she doesn’t want America or Americans to suffer because of who currently inhabits the White House.

Abrams’ address was very well-received, and she had definitely earned her standing ovation at the end. It was richly heart-warming when she came out for the book signing at the end of the program, and was greeted by dozens of her fellow Spellman alumnae. Abrams attended Spelman College, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelors degree in interdisciplinary studies (political science, economics and sociology) and was named a Harry S. Truman Scholar. After Spelman, she received a masters degree from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and a J.D. from Yale Law School.

Mark your calendars now, and sign up when you can for the Tuesday, April 30 VU Chancellor’s Lecture ‘Science advocacy and innovation’ event, the final lecture of the season, featuring Mae Jemison, scientist, educator and first African-American woman in space, with The Honorable Rush Holt, physicist and former U.S. Congressman (NJ-12, 1999-2015) as they discuss the new frontiers of scientific thought and the importance of the STEM fields for America’s progress. It is also at 6:30 p.m. in Vanderbilt’s Langford Auditorium.