Stacey Abrams is an American politician, lawyer, and novelist who served as Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives from 2011 to 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, she was her party’s nominee in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election.
Below is the full text of Stacey Abrams’ TED Talk: 3 Questions to Ask Yourself About Everything You Do.
NOTABLE QUOTE FROM THIS TALK:
“I’m going to move forward, because going backwards isn’t an option and standing still is not enough.”
Listen to the MP3 audio here: 3 questions to ask yourself about everything you do by Stacey Abrams
When I was in high school at the age of 17 — I graduated from high school in Decatur, Georgia, as valedictorian of my high school — I was very proud of myself.
I was from a low-income community, I had grown up in Mississippi, we’d moved from Mississippi to Georgia so my parents could pursue their degrees as United Methodist ministers.
We were poor, but they didn’t think we were poor enough, so they were going for permanent poverty.
And so, while they studied at Emory, I studied at Avondale, and I became valedictorian.
Well, one of the joys of being valedictorian in the state of Georgia is that you get invited to meet the governor of Georgia. I was mildly interested in meeting him. It was kind of cool.
I was more intrigued by the fact that he lived in a mansion, because I watched a lot of “General Hospital” and “Dynasty” as a child. And so I got up that morning, ready to go to visit the governor.
My mom and my dad, who were also invited, got up, and we went outside. But we didn’t get in our car. And in the south, a car is a necessary thing.
We don’t have a lot of public transit, there aren’t a lot of options. But if you’re lucky enough to live in a community where you don’t have a car, the only option is public transit. And that’s what we had to take.
And so we got on the bus. And we took the bus from Decatur all the way to Buckhead, where the Governor’s Mansion sat on this really beautiful acreage of land, with these long black gates that ran the length of the property.
We get to the Governor’s Mansion, we pull the little lever that lets them know this is our stop, we get off the bus. My mom, my dad and I, we walk across the street. We walk up the driveway, because there are cars coming up, cars bringing in students from all across the state of Georgia.
So we’re walking along the side. And as we walk single file along the side, my mom and dad sandwiching me to make sure I don’t get hit by one of the cars bringing in the other valedictorians, we approach the guard gate.
When we get to the guard gate, the guard comes out. He looks at me, and he looks at my parents, and he says, “You don’t belong here, this is a private event.”
My dad says, “No, this is my daughter, Stacey. She’s one of the valedictorians.”
But the guard doesn’t look at the checklist that’s in his hands. He doesn’t ask my mom for the invitation that’s at the bottom of her very voluminous purse.
Instead, he looks over our shoulder at the bus, because in his mind, the bus is telling him a story about who should be there. And the fact that we were too poor to have our own car — that was a story he told himself.
And he may have seen something in my skin color, he may have seen something in my attire; I don’t know what went through his mind. But his conclusion was to look at me again, and with a look of disdain, say, “I told you, this is a private event. You don’t belong here.”
Now, my parents were studying to become United Methodist ministers, but they were not pastors yet. And so they proceeded to engage this gentleman in a very robust discussion of his decision-making skills.
My father may have mentioned that he was going to spend eternity in a very fiery place if he didn’t find my name on that checklist. And indeed, the man checks the checklist eventually, and he found my name, and he let us inside.
But I don’t remember meeting the governor of Georgia. I don’t recall meeting my fellow valedictorians from 180 school districts.
The only clear memory I have of that day was a man standing in front of the most powerful place in Georgia, looking at me and telling me I don’t belong.
And so I decided, 20-some-odd years later, to be the person who got to open the gates. Unfortunately, you may have read the rest of the story. It didn’t quite work out that way.
And now I’m tasked with figuring out: How do I move forward? Because, you see, I didn’t just want to open the gates for young black women who had been underestimated and told they don’t belong.
I wanted to open those gates for Latinas and for Asian Americans. I wanted to open those gates for the undocumented and the documented. I wanted to open those gates as an ally of the LGBTQ community. I wanted to open those gates for the families that have to call themselves the victims of gun violence.
I wanted to open those gates wide for everyone in Georgia, because that is our state, and this is our nation, and we all belong here.
But what I recognized is that the first try wasn’t enough. And my question became: How do I move forward? How do I get beyond the bitterness and the sadness and the lethargy and watching an inordinate amount of television as I eat ice cream?
What do I do next? And I’m going to do what I’ve always done. I’m going to move forward, because going backwards isn’t an option and standing still is not enough. You see, I began my race for governor by analyzing who I was and what I wanted to be.
And there are three questions I ask myself about everything I do, whether it’s running for office or starting a business; when I decided to start the New Georgia Project to register people to vote; or when I started the latest action, Fair Fight Georgia No matter what I do, I ask myself three questions: What do I want? Why do I want it? And how do I get it?
And in this case, I know what I want. I want change. That is what I want. But the question is: What change do I want to see? And I know that the questions I have to ask myself are: One, am I honest about the scope of my ambition? Because it’s easy to figure out that once you didn’t get what you wanted, then maybe you should have set your sights a little lower, but I’m here to tell you to be aggressive about your ambition.
Do not allow setbacks to set you back.
Number two, let yourself understand your mistakes. But also understand their mistakes, because, as women in particular, we’re taught that if something doesn’t work out, it’s probably our fault. And usually, there is something we could do better, but we’ve been told not to investigate too much what the other side could have done. And this isn’t partisan — it’s people.
We’re too often told that our mistakes are ours alone, but victory is a shared benefit. And so what I tell you to do is understand your mistakes, but understand the mistakes of others. And be clearheaded about it. And be honest with yourself and honest with those who support you.