On Wednesday, Yale Law Women presented Stacey Abrams LAW ’99 — most recently known for her Democratic candidacy in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race — with this year’s YLW Alumnae Achievement Award.
Around 150 law students, professors and community members gathered in Levinson Auditorium to hear from Abrams, Law School Dean Heather Gerken and law students Anna Funtelar LAW ’20 and Briana Clark LAW ’20. Yale Law Women is a collective of law students that works to advance the status of women and traditionally underrepresented gender identities in the field of law. Every year, the YLW board presents the annual award to someone who has worked to advance the mission of the organization. Previous recipients of the award include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor LAW ’79 and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton LAW ’73.
“The goal is less about victory in the moment, but the victory of actions,” Abrams said. “I remember that we are not guaranteed victory; what we are responsible for is effort.”
Gerken, Funtelar, Clark and Abrams each spoke of the significance of Abrams’ accomplishments, especially for women and African-Americans.
“These walls are filled with portraits of white men, but today we get to add a picture of an incredible, inspirational woman of color,” said Funtelar, the YLW Chair who herself is a woman of color and the first in her family to attend college.
Abrams served as minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives from 2011 to 2017 — the first African-American to do so. In 2018, she rose to fame when she became the first African-American woman to be a major-party gubernatorial candidate. In 2019, she became the first African-American woman to deliver a response to a State of the Union address.
Abrams’ leadership and contributions have inspired many citizens across the country, including Clark, a fellow Georgian and vice-president of Yale Black Law Students Association.
“[She] has staunchly protected the rights of women and people of color throughout her career,” Clark said while introducing Abrams. “In her, we [Georgian women] saw a reflection of ourselves, our community and our future.”
Clark continued, adding that Abram’s “conception of equality and fairness” has given her a new hope for the future of the United States.
In her speech, Abrams talked about the barriers that she faced and learned to overcome as a black, female law student at Yale.
After graduating magna cum laude from Spelman College, Abrams unsuccessfully applied for the Rhodes Scholarship. She called her failure to receive the scholarship “one of the most affecting moments of [her] life,” as it discouraged her from pursuing certain educational opportunities and drove her to pick what she called the “safe option:” a master’s degree in Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.
Though she was initially opposed to the idea, Abrams, a Truman Scholar, applied to Yale Law School following advice from a representative from the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation. Upon her acceptance and enrollment, Abrams received what she described as “the most extraordinary education of [her] life.” The experience brought her to a realization: what kept her from applying to YLS — her gender, skin color and economic background — was never going hold her back again.
At the event, Abrams also discussed her recent loss in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial campaign. Despite losing the election, Abram’s tripled Latinx and Pacific Islander voter turnout in Georgia and increased black voter turnout by 40 percent.
After her loss, Abrams said her “responsibility grew from just wanting to win an election to preserving our democracy.” Since then, she founded Fair Fight Action, an organization aimed at ensuring civil voting rights, and Fair Count, a nonprofit meant to ensure equity in the 2020 census. In her speech, Abrams alluded to her opponent in the gubernatorial race, current Governor of Georgia Brian Kemp, who has been widely criticized for allegedly practicing voter suppression during the race. She noted that her political rival was similar to a “cartoon villain.”
In response to a question about maintaining a strong work ethic in times of disappointment and disillusionment, Abrams described herself as akin to the fictional Marvel character Bruce Banner. Though she constantly feels anger and disillusionment, she reminded the audience of the importance of “[doing] what has to be done especially when it hurts [and] especially when it’s hardest.”
Abigail Pershing LAW ‘20 said she “was really impressed” with Abrams’ speech.
“I particularly liked what she said about … the need to talk to people and to have them want what you want,” Pershing said. “Not by yelling at them and by shouting at them, but by understanding where they’re coming from … and [helping] them see that whatever you think is right is right for them as well.”
The recipient of the 2017 Alumnae Achievement Award was Maryana Iskander, CEO of Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator.
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