Before Stacey Abrams changed Georgia politics, she learned hard work in Mississippi

Before Stacey Abrams changed Georgia politics, she learned hard work in Mississippi

Editor’s note: This story first published on May 25, 2018 (Mississippi Today), after Stacey Abrams won the Democratic nomination for Georgia governor. Abrams, who grew up in Mississippi, has received national attention for her organizing efforts ahead of the 2020 presidential election and U.S. Senate races in Georgia.

Stacey Abrams, who won Georgia’s Democratic nomination for governor, grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where she and her five siblings learned about service to others from their United Methodist minister parents.

The Rev. Carolyn Abrams said she and her husband, Robert, who both now live in Hattiesburg, tried to teach their children to strive “to make things better for others. Education was key, family and God. You go to church, go to school and look out for each other.”

She said those views are central to her daughter’s political philosophy.

Stacey Abrams, 44, has received national attention in recent days after winning the nomination by a convincing 53-point margin. She is the nation’s first African American woman to win a major party’s nomination for governor and would be Georgia’s first female governor if elected in November.

Carolyn Abrams said her daughter attended pre-school through 10th grade in Gulfport after the family moved back home to Mississippi from Wisconsin. Carolyn Abrams was at the University of Wisconsin on a fellowship.

In Gulfport, Abrams said she and her husband were involved in various ministries, for the homeless, the poor and those in detention. She said their children always participated and would even perform plays at the juvenile detention centers.

“These things, I think, stayed with her,” said Carolyn. “The world could be better. I know she brings this with her in politics.”

The Abramses moved to Atlanta in 1989 where both parents pursued graduate degrees at Emory University. The parents later moved back to Mississippi where they served churches in south Mississippi in the United Methodist Conference. Stacey is not the only one of the Abrams’ children to excel. One sister is a federal judge in Georgia while others include a college professor.

In a statement from the campaign, Abrams father, referring to this daughter “as the best thing that has happened in Georgia since peanuts,” said: “I knew from a very young age that Stacey would be special. Throughout her childhood in Mississippi, I watched a young girl grow into a leader dedicated to service. Carolyn and I raised our children with the understanding that we must work everyday to do right by others”

She is known by numerous members of the Mississippi Legislature.

Former state Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, who was the minority leader in the Mississippi House, said he had met Abrams several times.

He said Abrams “will be a powerful governor for the people of Georgia. Of course, I am proud to say she is from Mississippi.”

Williams-Barnes said she called Stacey Abrams to congratulate her after the primary victory. Mississippi Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-Gulfport, said her parents and Abrams’ parents have been friends for many years. The Abramses were mentors for her parents, RoseMary Hayes Williams and Theodore Williams Jr., when like the Abramses, they opted to become United Methodist ministers. Williams-Barnes said Carolyn Abrams did the eulogy for her mother’s funeral.

“She is excited,” Williams-Barnes said. “We have a lot of hard work ahead of us to ensure she is elected governor of Georgia.”

But Williams-Barnes said she is not surprised by Abrams’ success. Besides being a politician, Abrams is also an author and attorney.

“She comes from a family with deep roots in Christ and a belief in hard work,” Williams-Barnes said. “Her success does not surprise me at all.”

Black Christian News Roundup

Black Christian News Roundup

Why do White Christians Vote Republican, and Black Christians Vote Democrat? Phil Vischer


  • ‘My ideals are driven by my faith’: Raphael Warnock on his Senate runoff race (NBC News)
  • Kamala Harris, America’s first female vice president-elect, makes history (The19th/Republished on Urban Faith)
  • Black Christian leaders on impact of 2020 racial protests, riots on America’s future (The Christian Post)
  • Georgia runoff gives new life to U.S. Senate bid of pastor of Martin Luther King’s church (Reuters)
  • Atlantans react to Biden win as he leads Trump by nearly 10,200 in Ga. (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
  • Pastor Paula White Calls On Angels From Africa And South America To Bring Trump Victory (USA Today)


  • Juan and Lisa Winans Say Faith and Commitment Are Keys to Marriage During COVID Quarantine (eurweb)
  • A Loving Chastisement for America (The New York Times)
  • Families of gun violence victims gather to grieve and pray (Akron Beacon Journal)
  • Local research and treatment program Black Church Project wins federal funding (Yale News)
  • Claiming the fullness of faith: Halley says Gospel is best hope for healing (Arkansas Democrat Gazette)
  • One of America’s First Black Churches is Being Excavated in Virginia (Atlas Obscura)


  • Mercy Amba Oduyoye Centers African Women Within Christian Theology (Sojourners)
  • Detroit Pastor Addresses Controversy Over His Move to Israel (The Jewish News)
  • Sudanese Christian, Muslim Leaders Agree to Promote Religious Freedom  (VOA News)
  • Malawi announces plans to be first African country in decades to open embassy in Jerusalem (The Christian Post)



‘Homeless Jesus’ sculpture goes viral after 911 call

‘Homeless Jesus’ sculpture goes viral after 911 call

‘Homeless Jesus’ at Newman College in Melbourne, Australia. (Kaitlin Wynia Baluk), Author provided

Recently, a life-size bronze sculpture of Jesus, called Homeless Jesus, went viral after someone made a 911 call about a homeless man on a bench. The bronze sculpture by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz depicts Jesus, identifiable by the wounds on his feet, sleeping on a street bench wrapped in a blanket.

With replicas located in prominent urban locations, such as Buenos Aires, Capernaum, New York, Madrid, Melbourne, Rome and Singapore, Homeless Jesus now dots the globe. There are six replicas in Canada alone.

On Oct. 12, 20 minutes after a replica of the sculpture was installed at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Bay Village, Ohio, a community member called the emergency department, mistaking it for a person in need. Saturday Night Live lampooned this story in a skit on their Oct. 17 show.

‘Homeless Jesus’ 911 call appeared on ‘Saturday Night Live’ on Oct. 17, 2020. (Saturday Night Live)

But this is not the first time the statue made headlines.

In 2013, news outlets told a rags-to-riches story: how this sculpture was rejected by prominent churches, only to be requested and blessed by Pope Francis.

In 2018, news outlets covered its presence as it “stopped a runaway dump truck from crashing into pedestrians.”

I have spent the past two years looking at the news coverage of this religious public artwork to try and figure out why both faith-based organizations and secular media are fascinated by it. I examined interviews with faith leaders at organizations with a Homeless Jesus and online news articles that reference it.

Religious viewers

Regardless of one’s religiosity, viewers are captivated by the image of a Jesus as a homeless figure. For faith-based organizations, Homeless Jesus is a symbol that communicates and teaches viewers about core Christian beliefs.

Schmalz produced this sculpture as part of a series that visually depicts a passage from the Bible found in the Gospel of Matthew 25:35-45. Here, Jesus tells his followers that they are caring for him when they tend to the needs of those who are sick, poor, naked, hungry, thirsty, imprisoned and strangers.

For those familiar with the story of Jesus, the sculpture’s message may appear ostensibly obvious. Yet the sculpture asks them to take this message literally and to pay attention to the dignity of those less privileged.

Likewise, those on the margins of society may feel comforted by the notion that Jesus (considered by some to be the Son of God, and by others, a wise prophet) identifies with their situations.

Faith-based organizations that install a Homeless Jesus replica say they choose to do so because they want to make a bold public statement about their social convictions.

Secular viewers

Despite an unfamiliarity with or ambivalence toward the story of Jesus, Homeless Jesus may still resonate with secular and non-Christian viewers. The sculpture presents symbols with universal meanings: a street bench and a body trying to say warm, wrapped in blanket. These symbols say something about physical vulnerability in a public space. When combined, they become an icon of homelessness.

a bronze sculpture depicts a person wrapped in a blanket with an hand stretch out palm turned up as if asking for food or money.

‘When I was Hungry and Thirsty’ by Timothy Schmalz at St. Stephen in the Fields in Kensington Market, Toronto, Ont. (Kaitlin Wynia Baluk), Author provided

Bronze sculptures are often reserved for historic monuments and statues of community heroes. When this medium is combined with an image of homelessness, it generates a clear and powerful message. The unusual combination asks viewers to see those who are homeless as people with dignity, worthy of being sculpted. At the very least: they are worthy of safe and affordable housing.

This sculpture is a challenge to the dominant tendency to ignore the needs and stories of people who are homeless. The homeless population is often perceived as “natural losers” in a competitive market economy. Capitalism justifies the presence of extreme poverty in affluent societies. Homeless Jesus presents an alternative narrative.

Religious art can communicate insight

Homeless Jesus, and its spot in the limelight, demonstrates how religious public art can play a role in promoting the ideas of an equitable society.

Back in the ‘70s, critical theorist, Herbert Marcuse, said art can oppose oppressive ways of thinking, behaving and speaking. As a scholar who left Germany shortly before the onset of the Second World War, Marcuse understood the horrors that arise when a population uncritically serves the interests of the elite.

According to Marcuse, art that offers alternative perspectives and challenges social norms, can create spaces where people can identify and question oppressive social systems.

Jürgen Habermas, another key critical theorist who is still active writing and theorising today, proposed that although religion can be prescriptive, it can also provide an alternative perspective on social reality. He said religious and secular citizens should be willing to learn from one another.

Habermas suggested that at formal levels of political decision making, religious individuals should work to translate their ideas into a language that their secular counterparts find accessible.

Homeless Jesus exemplifies how religious public art can communicate a religious belief in a manner that is respectful of and intelligible to a diverse secular audience. Religious public art can be an avenue for faith-based organizations to meaningfully contribute to the bettering of social life.The Conversation

Kaitlin Wynia Baluk, PhD Candidate in Health and Society, McMaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.