Midterm elections are coming up on November 8, 2022, and a lot is on the line for voters. An election that people across the country are particularly focused on is the gubernatorial race in Georgia that has once again found the current governor, republican Brian Kemp, and the democratic candidate and former Georgia state representative Stacey Abrams competing for the coveted governor role. After the 2018 state election that was marred with voter suppression that favored the Georgia republicans, Abrams has committed herself to making sure that Georgians’ votes matter.
xoNecole recently caught up with the gubernatorial hopeful about her campaign, what’s at stake for voters, and what voters can expect from her if she’s elected.
xoNecole: The last time you ran for governor in 2018, that election ended in voter fraud that favored your opponent. What informed your decision to run again knowing the corruption that exists and can succeed in electoral politics?
Stacey Abrams: I wanna make sure we use the right language: it was voter suppression. Voter fraud is when someone manipulates the outcome, and that's what Donald Trump attempted to do. And what's so important about understanding voter suppression is it's not about the outcome – it is the outcome – but it's mostly by manipulating who has access. And that is what is so concerning about what happened in ‘18 and why I'm running. Because every Georgian who is eligible to vote deserves to have access to the right to vote. And unfortunately, this governor, both as Secretary of State and now as governor, has instituted multiple barriers to access, which leads to voter suppression. But the reason we have democracy is so that communities can have what they need.
We vote for leaders who will see us and serve us. And unfortunately, over the last four years, Brian Kemp has proven he doesn't see us. He has refused to tackle the core issues affecting our communities. He won't expand Medicaid, which means that thousands of people are denied access to healthcare for cancer treatment, for diabetes treatment.
We know that he has refused to invest in our schools. Too many of our young Black kids who are trying to go to college can't get financial aid and he won't tackle that issue. And we know that affordable housing is a crisis across the state of Georgia. In fact, he's sitting on 400 million for rental eviction assistance and won't spend the money. And then we know that in the state of Georgia there is a 100-year gap between Black and brown economic revenue and white revenue. He said that he'll study the issue. I actually have a plan to solve the issue in 15 years. And I say all that to say this: I'm running because I believe Georgia is at a moment of opportunity but we need a governor who sees us and is willing to serve all of us, not just as friends, not just people who he thinks are like him. And by pushing back against voter suppression, we have done the work of letting voters know that they have the right to be heard. And I believe in this election, they're going to show up and decide that they want more for their lives and for theirs.
xoNecole: You were praised after the 2020 election for your organizing efforts in getting Black people registered in Georgia in record numbers. Still, in the two years since then, many Black voters have expressed frustrations with democrats for seemingly once again using them for votes only to abandon them once in office. How do you convince someone who has felt let down by the democrats over and over again to once again cast a ballot for the party?
Abrams: First I begin by saying that Democrats have actually delivered in the last few years and it's going to feel as if it's not as much as we need, but it's more than we had. I point to the Inflation Reduction Act, which has poured money into our communities. The Infrastructure Act, which is going to employ so many of our communities. The CARES Act and the ARPA Act, which allowed so many millions of Americans, including Georgians, to have access to healthcare and some small relief.
But we need more. And part of that is that we need governors who actually work with the federal government to get the money to the people. What so many in Georgia don't understand is that yes there's money coming from the federal government –6 billion extra dollars in the state of Georgia – but the governor won't spend it on our people.
And so my reason for running and what I want people to understand is, I need you to trust one more time. We've tackled the federal level. We understand mayors, but until we control governorships, until we have people who actually are the intercessors between the federal and the local to actually do the work, we aren't going to get what we need. We aren't going to get the support that we deserve. And so, I am proud of the work that Democrats have done to send resources here, but now it's time to have a governor to get the resources into the pockets of our people, to get more money into our communities and more opportunity into our neighborhoods.
And when we have that governor, when I am that governor, we can deliver and we can finally push back on the reason people don't trust. They don’t trust because they don't see change. And with a new governor in the state of Georgia, they will see change.
xoNecole: What do you believe is at stake for Black people in this election?
Abrams: Everything. We know that Brian Kemp doesn't care. He won't help. And he has attacked our freedoms. I say he doesn't care because he has refused to expand Medicaid. That means that half a million Georgians are being denied health insurance, 40% of whom are Black people. 40% of the people being told “no” are Black people who need that access to healthcare so they can take care of themselves and their families, and it's physical healthcare and mental healthcare.
And by refusing to draw down those dollars, he is saying no. We also know that under Brian Kemp, we have seen a skyrocket in gun violence rate, including guns being the number one killer of our children, and most of the children dying are Black. If we don't have a governor who believes in common sense gun laws, our children and our communities will continue to be the victims of gun violence and those guns are gonna get easier and easier to secure. But we also know that because he's let so many of our hospitals shut down. When they get shot, when they get hurt, there's nowhere to go for help.
Number two, we need access to housing. Affordable housing is a crisis and for Black communities, it is also the major pathway to wealth if we don't have access to housing.
We lose not only the daily opportunities for stability but long term opportunities for growth. And I intend to invest in affordable housing in the state of Georgia, especially to make certain that black communities have the chance to build generational wealth.
Number three, we know that the issue is can you make a living in Georgia? And unfortunately, this governor has been very comfortable with 1.5% of all contracts in the state of Georgia going to Black and brown people. Now that means that 98.5% go to white people in a state where Black people are 33% of the population. I want to be the Maynard Jackson of Georgia. I wanna make certain that we are growing wealth in our small businesses immediately, and you don't need legislation. You just need a good leader.
But I also know that Black women are in danger in Georgia because of Brian Kemp's draconian abortion ban. After six weeks, Black women already have a three times higher likelihood of dying from pregnancy-related illness than anyone else, and Georgia is number one in maternal mortality with his refusal to expand Medicaid. One in five women does not have access to healthcare. Then he puts on top of it, forced pregnancy and no opportunity for help. On the other side, I want to be the governor who repeals that abortion ban. And this is crucial, not only for Georgia but for Black people across the country because 56% of Black people live in the south. And that means unless I become the governor of Georgia, for Black people from Texas to North Carolina, from Tennessee to Florida, they will be denied access to reproductive care unless Georgia becomes an oasis for freedom and so on gun violence, on having the right to choose, on the right to vote, on the right to make your life better.
I am the only person who is looking at Black communities, talking to Black communities, and has plans for the success of the Black communities.
xoNeocle: Speaking to your pledge about investing in affordable housing, childcare, and minority-owned businesses: there has been criticism of your platform on policing which is to pour even more money into police departments, saying “higher pay [for police] leads to fewer negative interactions.” During a time when many Black people are still being unjustly killed by police and many people are organizing around defunding police departments and putting those resources directly into communities instead, how do you justify giving even more money to the police?
Abrams: So what I've called for is expanding pay raises for law enforcement because we have law enforcement officers in Georgia who make less than a living wage, and we cannot say that we believe in a living wage and not say that that includes the people who protect us. We know that when someone commits a crime, it's often that they commit a crime against someone in their community. And I've got a brother who's been one of those people who has victimized members of our community. And I want people to be able to call for help. I want them to be able to call the police and say, please come and protect me. But I also know that my brother doesn't lose his humanity simply because he makes a mistake. And that's one of the reasons I'm calling for increased pay for correctional officers because our correctional facilities are in crisis and those who are in our prisons are being victimized and abused because we don't have adequate protection for them inside.
And so one of the pieces I'm pushing for is making sure we increase pay for correctional officers so those our prisons aren't being run by gangs who are victimizing and doing dangerous things to our communities. I also wanna pay for the salaries for our community supervision officers. When my brother finally stabilized, when he finally got out of prison, he for the first time had a good parole officer who kept him off of the road to recidivism.
And now my brother has been readmitted to Morehouse College. He is stable, he is clean, and I want that for every Georgian. And so my push is to make certain that we, the public, those who do law enforcement, who do it right, that they make a living wage, but that we also have adequate support to protect our communities.
But I also have a brother who's been pulled over for driving while Black. Many times. He's a social worker who was helping keep people out of jail, and he risked his life every time someone pulled him over. I believe in accountability. I believe that anyone in law enforcement who exhibits disregard and disrespect for our community should be held accountable.
And I am the only candidate calling for that accountability because I know that we have to have both public safety and accountability. That we have to have criminal justice and we have to have law enforcement. It is dangerous to pretend that we can pick one over the other. And because of my two brothers, I know we need to have both.
xoNecole: During the 2020 primaries, you defended Biden for president, even going as far as defending him against allegations of sexual misconduct, even as people like Vice President Harris said she believed the women [accusers]. Even to some of your supporters, this defense [of Biden] was unexpected. When it comes to issues of sexual misconduct and justice for victims, what policies can voters expect you to uphold and defend as governor?
Abrams: I believe that women deserve to be heard. I believe women deserve protection from sexual violence, and they deserve to have a platform and access to opportunities. And I will stand on my record any day of the week. I believe that it is important for us to create spaces, not only for hearing our victims, but making sure they get access to the help and the support they need and that's one of the reasons I want to expand access to Medicaid and expand access for those who have needs to get the mental healthcare treatment and have the law enforcement responsibility to take care of them as well.
The other piece of this is that in a state like Georgia where we have no access to abortion, we know that victims of sexual violence are going to be forced to carry their attackers' progeny and that is wrong. We need a governor who's actually going to protect the right of a woman to choose to control her body and to control her future. And I am proud of my record defending women and defending our right to choose.
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Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Janelle Monáe's Reveals The Real Reason Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Tuxedos
Singer and actress Janelle Monáe exemplifies how change can be a powerful catalyst for growth and transformation.
Monáe, who rose to fame in 2010 following the release of her debut album, The ArchAndroid, captivated fans' hearts with her powerful vocals, catchy tunes, and style. Around that time period, when various female artists were known to wear provocative ensembles on stage, the "Tightrope" songstress set herself apart by wearing her signature black and white suits and continued to do so for almost a decade.
In the later years of her career, after the release of her studio albums The Electric Lady in 2013 and 2018's Dirty Computer, many began to notice the shift in Monáe's artistry and fashion, which some widely praised.
Although the now 37-year-old rarely addressed the reason behind the transformation over the years, that would all change when Monáe sat down with radio personality Angie Martinez on her IRL podcast earlier this month.
During the interview, Monáe --who was promoting her latest album, "The Age of Pleasure"-- opened up about her mental health struggles, how she would cope, and why she chose to live in freedom.
Janelle On Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Suits All the Time
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In the May discussion, the "I Like That" vocalist revealed she suffers from anxiety, which she claimed would occur around "winter to spring."
Monáe added that when she has her bouts with anxiety, she tends to turn to food as a coping mechanism. Further in the interview, the "Lipstick Lover" singer disclosed that her emotional eating habits caused a weight fluctuation and that she could no longer fit into the suits she once wore earlier in her career.
Monáe explained that even though she tried to diet and exercise to return to her smaller figure, she ultimately stopped and made peace with herself with the help of therapy because she acknowledged that she isn't the same person she was nearly a decade ago and shouldn't try to be even if it was a highly "celebrated" version.
"I'm petite, but it can get thick... When I couldn't fit them suits anymore, and I was like, 'Oh my God, what is going on?' I would be dieting, running, or exercising, trying to fit into [it]. I'm just like, 'No. No, we're here. This is where we are.' We [are] not about to be utilizing life trying to be an old version of ourselves. No matter how celebrated that version of me was. I'm here. I'm here," she said.
Janelle On Freedom
As the topic shifted to freedom and what that meant to Monáe, the "Primetime" vocalist shared that in this new era of her life, she enjoys it because she can boldly express herself however she wants and honor who she is as a person right now.
Monáe also revealed that she had found ways to become a better artist and the best version of herself because of her freedom.
"What is the new version of freedom? What does that feel like? That's usually when I feel the most free is when artistically, I can honor exactly who I am right now," she stated. "I feel most free as a human when I can honor exactly who I am right now."
Monáe's fourth studio album, The Age of Pleasure, is set to be released on June 9.
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