Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams wants to be her state’s first Democratic governor in over a decade. Thus far, the gubernatorial candidate, who moonlights as a romance novelist, has dedicated her time in political office to increasing voter turnout in the state. Abrams created the voter-registration nonprofit New Georgia Project. (In 2014, the organization faced allegations of voter fraud leveled by Abrams’ opponent. The investigation technically remains open but has not resulted in any finding of wrongdoing.) She also leads the B.L.U.E. Institute, an organization that aims to increase diversity on campaign staffs.
Despite her storied political career, the leaders who inspired Abrams along the way were often from outside of the political realm. For The Atlantic’s series on mentorship, “On the Shoulders of Giants,” I spoke with Abrams about unconventional mentors, writers she looks up to, and what makes a good mentee.
Elisha Brown: Who was the first person to give you advice about your political aspirations?
Stacey Abrams: I rarely actually asked for advice about politics writ large. I came of age before formal conversations about mentorship used to happen. Instead, what I carved for myself were people who had different skills that I thought would be important for me to have. When I was in college the first time I actually ran for office, I ran for student government. That came about in part because of Dr. Johnnetta Cole, who was the president of Spelman College. That’s the first time I had the formal set of experiences that would lead to my effectiveness in running for office. Working with Dr. Cole, I learned how to fundraise. She would let me watch and attend events. I also learned to be fearless in asking for money. She was extraordinary at Spelman and helped raised more money for black colleges than had been raised in years past. She sent me on my first informational interview.