Stacey Abrams is, without a doubt, a political star. So it was no surprise that when her 12-city tour stopped in Charlotte at Ovens Auditorium on Wednesday, hundreds turned out for “A Conversation with Stacey Abrams.” 

Abrams, who rose to national prominence in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race, becoming the first Black woman to win the gubernatorial nomination of a major party, has become a political force. 

Though her bid for governor was unsuccessful, she has used the spotlight to highlight voter suppression and to advocate for fair elections via the organizations she founded, such as Fair Fight and Fair Count. 

In her conversation with Ohavia Phillips, the event’s moderator, Abrams — a multi-hyphenate politician, entrepreneur, New York Times best-selling author and voting rights activist — discussed topics ranging from her sibling’s book club and ex-boyfriends to navigating politics and advice for individuals considering a run for public office. 

Her three nuggets of advice to would-be office seekers were:

  • Do it. But do it for the work, not the title.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for money in fundraising. It’s not going to you; it’s for the people.
  • When you make a mistake, admit it. 

Abrams also proffered advice to small business owners. A former tax attorney and entrepreneur, Abrams said she knows well the challenges that small business owners face from having had a “failed business” of her own.

That now-defunct company, Nourish, which Abrams owned with business partner Laura Hodgson, once made formula-ready bottled water for babies and sippy cups for toddlers. 

When a large company placed a significant order for their product, Nourish needed a loan to automate its equipment to meet such a large quantity. But during the Great Recession, no one would loan them the money, Abrams said. So they had to say no to the opportunity and, eventually, were forced to close their business. 

“A lot of small businesses get to that failure point, and it’s not that they aren’t doing great where they are; it’s that they can’t get any bigger,” Abrams said. “If you don’t grow up with people who have money, near people who have money, or if you don’t have people who will just hand it to you, then the other failure happens because you simply can’t finance your dreams enough.”

A member of the Georgia House of Representatives at the time, Abrams said she began looking at what happened to her company from a policy standpoint, which she said “shaped my sense of obligation.”

In response to small business owners’ challenges, including the need for credit and capital, Abrams and Hodgson teamed up with John Hayes in 2010 to start NOWaccount.

The company buys invoices from qualified small businesses so that those businesses can get paid right away rather than having to wait the sometimes 30 or 60 days it takes to get paid by a customer with an outstanding invoice.

“So often we think you have to get the thing you want, and you guys may have noticed; I’ve also not gotten some things, but each of those failures shapes you,” Abrams told the audience. “Failure isn’t fatal.”

When Abrams is not on stage dispensing her own brand of wisdom or working on her next book (in this case, a children’s book due out Dec. 28), she’s doing what people know her best for: advocating for voting rights.

Abrams is a frequent guest on cable news shows, often discussing why the Senate should pass the Freedom to Vote Act or pushing for the restoration of the Voting Rights Act (In 2013, the Supreme Court invalidated essential parts of it.)

During her Charlotte stop, Abrams shouted out groups in attendance that are doing voting rights work, including the one she founded, the New Georgia Project, and its spin-off, the New North Carolina Project. She also recognized Greater Charlotte Rise for its work with individuals facing housing insecurity. 

Abrams said voter education, which she said leads to engaged voters, is essential to “treat the ills of society.”

“Voting isn’t magic, voting is medicine, and we’ve got to treat the ills of society over and over again, and that means we have to constantly vote to keep the medicine flowing,” she said. “The things that we think we have solved on a Tuesday are ready to go on a Wednesday morning.” 

Abrams emphasized that everyone can do something because “everyone has an issue.”

“If each of you has one thing, that’s progress,” she said. “So often we paralyze ourselves out of action. I’ll never fix all the problems, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to try every day.”

At the end of the show, when asked what would she tell her 15-year-old self, Abrams responded: “He’s not that cute, but you are.”

Abrams’ 12-city tour continues to Durham on Thursday. 

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