We Are Facing History: Democracy — Past, Present & Future | Facing History & Ourselves
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We Are Facing History: Democracy — Past, Present & Future

A discussion on democracy, civics, and education with New York Times bestselling author and political leader Stacey Abrams.


San Mateo, CA

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Cost:  Free
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Thank you to-chairs Caretha Coleman, Edda Collins Coleman, Debra Engel, and Susie Richardson for hosting us at We are Facing History: Democracy — Past, Present & Future, a discussion on democracy, civics, and education with New York Times bestselling author and political leader Stacey Abrams.

Thank you to everyone who has generously donated to support this event. If you are inspired to support our work, it is not too late to make a gift now.

For more information or to make a gift to the Leadership Circle, please contact Hadiya McCullough at hadiya_mccullough [at] facinghistory.org (hadiya_mccullough[at]facinghistory[dot]org).

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Video of a speaker at a podium with Facing History logo in the background.

Welcome, and thank you for joining us. at We are Facing History-- Democracy, Past, Present and Future. Please join me in welcoming to the stage Facing History and Ourselves President and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Desmond K. Blackburn.


Good afternoon, everyone. Give yourselves another round of applause just for being here, being so spirited, and looking so good. Thank you. And welcome to We Are Facing History-- Democracy Past, Present, and Future. Before we get started, you need to know you're in for an amazing event.

And because you're in for such an amazing event, I think I'd be remiss if we did not acknowledge right away the people responsible for putting on this amazing event, our local advisory chairpersons. I'll call them by name, event co-chairs, head of colleagues Coleman, Caretha-- save your applause. Caretha Coleman, Debra Engle, Susan Richardson. Reception co-chairs, Mansi Shah, Joni Podolsky, and all of our North California advisory board members for putting this on for us today. Give them a huge round of applause.


I never had the honor of speaking with our founder, Margot, before she basically passed. If I did have that honor, I will be thankful. Because it seems as though nearly 50 years ago, she decided to spearhead an organization that was perfectly suited for today, for 2023. For her foresight must've been amazing because I can't think of a time when ensuring students have actual history in the palm of their hands. The good, the not so good, and potentially menacing.

And also, teachers have the tools they need to help students grapple with the current context around them. I can't think of a better time in recent history than right now. This is why the conversation exist. And for all of you to be here in support of us. Yes.


Tell me a little bit about myself. I am celebrating week eight as your President and CEO. Give it up.


But I'm celebrating year 28 as a career-long educator from classroom, to principal, to school district superintendent, hiring adjunct professor. I'm just so passionate about making sure kids have what they need by ensuring teachers have the support that they need. I am the proud son of Jamaican immigrants. One of them who was an undocumented illegal immigrant. And so I know firsthand of the desire of parents in the motherland with less rights and opportunity to want their child to come pursue the American dream, gain citizenship, and take advantage of the opportunity to pursue academic excellence, and the right and responsibility to exercise citizenry by both and being--


So I am a total groupie here this evening because I get to share the stage with another admiral of voter rights. You'll get a chance to hear from her in just a few moments. Before I do that, I want to remind you all of the values that we stand up, that we uphold here in this institution. We create space for each other. We're curious. We listened first. And we listened attentively. We act with empathy. We act with kindness. And last, but certainly not least, we stand up in the face of current atrocities and/or the breadcrumbs being dropped for future atrocities.

I heard a "mm" in the audience. Yeah, a lot of "mms." I'm from Florida. I live in Florida.


I get that response a lot, either laughter or tears. Yes, we are at the center of legislative act reducing the teacher's ability to teach history. We're at the center of legislative acts that are removing materials that instruct on Holocaust education. But more importantly, a period leading up to the atrocity right at the center of those things, right at the center of removing materials from our bookshelves.

But why wait sooner? You got to be here to support this effort because those initiatives are headed to a school or district near you. It's important that you're here. And that you're supportive. I'm going to leave. I just got assigned. It brings me great pleasure to introduce one of our co-chairs, Caretha Coleman, our North area advisor. She's going to continue with the agenda. Thank you so much for being here.


Better? Thank you. Desmond for that introduction. I can't tell you how pleased I am Desmond that you are here with us eight weeks in or not. It's wonderful.

Let me add my personal welcome, certainly, to all of you who made time to be here with us this afternoon. So great to see you. And I look forward also to working with you closely on challenges that we work on at Facing History as well.

As Desmond said, yes, I am a co-chair. I am also a volunteer as a member of the National Board of Directors for Facing History. And for a long time, I was actually an advisory board member here almost from the very beginning of when we started Facing History here in the Bay Area.

As a co-chair of this event, with this particular theme, as Desmond highlighted, We Are Facing History-- Democracy, Past, Present, and Future, I'm delighted. I am so delighted to be here to introduce our keynote speaker, Stacey Abrams. But before I invite her to the stage, I'd just like to share a glimpse of her many accomplishments.

I know that you can read about them and you probably already have. But when I think of Stacey Abrams, I think of this in all capital letters of the word, impact.

Because someone like Stacey, who does so much-- and I would use myself as an example. Sometimes I think I do a lot. But I'm not sure I'm always having impact. And with Stacey, I don't think there's ever a question. And so for someone like that, I think that she deserves some time to be recognized, to show our respect and appreciation at every opportunity. And so that is what I hope to deliver in the next couple of minutes.

So Stacey Abrams is an American politician, voting rights activist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, civic leaderboard, board member, and a prolific, prolific author. She is a sister. She is a daughter. She's a friend. And you put all that together, and it says one other thing, she's a powerful woman. My husband, Ken, and I met Stacey for the first time in 2018, when she became the first African American woman to be nominated for governor by a major party in the United States.

I'm sure you all remember that. Although, she didn't win that very hard fought campaign, the way that campaign was managed helped to energize voters across the state of Georgia. And I actually believe elsewhere.

She's perhaps most well-known for her work in promoting voter rights, as Desmond was talking about, and encouraging political participation, especially among communities that are traditionally underrepresented in the political process.

Stacey served 11 years in the Georgia House of Representatives. Seven of those as Minority Leader. As a nonprofit founder, she's launched multiple organizations devoted to voting rights, of course. Training and hiring young people of color. And tackling social and economic issues at the state and national levels, including verified action, their account, and the Southern Economic Advancement Project.

She's a dynamic and inspiring speaker, as I'm sure we will all experience today. And Stacey Abrams has been the recipient of numerous awards for her work, including public service, being named a MacArthur Foundation fellow in 2020 for that purpose.

I mentioned that she is a prolific writer. Stacey is a four-time, four-time New York Times best selling author with 15 books to her credit with all these other things that she's doing.

So be sure to pick one of her books up today because we have them for you. Truly. I'll allow you to go out.

Her recent book, Our Time Is Now, part of the title, couldn't be more consistent with Facing History's mantra of people make choices and choices make history. More recently, just barely a month ago, Stacey was appointed as the inaugural Ronald W. Walters endowed chair for race and Black politics at Howard University.


And in this role, among other things, Stacey will engage Howard University's extraordinary students in a conversation about where they can influence shape and direct critical public policy decisions that we face in our country. The same kind of work that we do here at Facing History. As the president of Howard puts it, Stacey Abrams has proven herself an essential voice, an eager participant in protecting American democracy not just for certain populations, but for everyone, for all of us with a fundamental right to make our voices heard.

People who know me will tell you that I'm big on how people show up. And Stacey shows up every time. Her words and actions are always aligned, always aligned. She epitomizes what it is to be an upstander. A term that we use dearly here at Facing History. And she's a model for how to make change happen.

In so doing, she inspires not only the next generation, but those of us who've been around a while too.

And I think when you listen to her, you can't help but feel a call to action. So in other words, she inspires me.

I'm sure that you'll walk away today thinking, what can I do? What can I do individually? What can we do together? So as I said, this is just a glimpse of what Stacey does. Now, if you're lucky, and you listen closely, you'll also get a flavor of who she is. And when you put that together, it's really, really powerful.

The one other thing that I'd like to add is that when I called Stacey's office to see if she would do this for us, first, hey, what's going on? Oh, nothing. But a lot. And then I have this idea. There's this event that we're having at Facing History. We would love for you to be our keynote speaker, of course.

And I didn't get an immediate yes. But I somehow always knew that directionally, if there was any way that could happen that Stacey was looking for a way to say, yes. And that's the way she shows up. And I so appreciate her being with us and donating her time today. So please help me welcome to the stage, Stacey Abrams.


Thank you, Caretha, for a very generous introduction. Thank you, Desmond, for leaving me a few things to say.

But before I begin, can you help me thank the interpreters who are going to be--


Thank you to the staff and those who pull this together. I promise I'm not going up and down the microphone.

So I'm 17 years old. It's OK. I told you. It's not my fault. I didn't do it.


You guys ready for me?


I'm just going to project my voice. And if the microphone drops out like it's doing, I'm either going to be really loud or saying something very meaningful. And you just missed it.



I was going to sound all brilliant. And you would just about different things. But thanks for doing your job. So 17 years old from a student at Spelman College in Atlanta. My older sister is a student at Agnes Scott College, which is in Decatur, Georgia, a few miles away.

When Andrea first went to Agnes Scott, I went to go and visit her because I wanted to see what college looked like. And she was on this idyllic campus. Rolling green lawns and lush. They had a quiche bar. I'm like, what is that? It's not how we grew up. You go outside, there were bookstores. There were coffee shops. And she was having a grand old time.

So when I went to college, I was expecting the same thing. I went to Spelman. And on the campus, we had those lush green lawns. We had a pretty nice cafeteria. No quiche bar, but whatever.

But when you go outside the gates, there weren't coffee shops. And there weren't bookstores. There were liquor stores and gas stations. Where Andrea went to school, the median income was mid to upper levels. Where I went to school was the oldest housing project in the state of Georgia.

The difference was palpable and meaningful. And it was aggravated. You see, for me, the conversation had to be, why where she lived when her students went outside, they were expected to enjoy themselves. And we were expected to survive.

And so I became annoyed. And being the daughter of Robert and Carolyn Abrams, I went to go and find out whose fault it was. So I went to City Hall. And in 1991, I'm the 17-year-old college student going to city council meetings. More importantly, I was going to zoning committee meetings. Don't clap for zoning meetings.


I appreciate the thought. So if you've ever been to a zoning committee meeting, it is one of the most incredibly boring things you can do. You're listening to numbers and codes and flats and lines. And it is one of the most powerful tools in government that people don't understand.

And I sat through those meetings, listening to, time after time, communities that I cared about being ignored so that people who wanted to make a little extra money could situate their poisons and their problems as close as they wanted to people who didn't have the power to fight back. Fast forward to the end of my freshman year in college, and the Rodney King decision happened. And when the Rodney King decision came down, yes, it created a firestorm here in California. But that firestorm reverberated across the country, including in Atlanta, including where I was in college.

Andrea was at Agnes Scott. She was still in school there. And while there was anger and angst, there was outrage. In fact, there was such outrage there were protests. And in response to the protest where Angie went to school, people were upset. Where I was in school, they shut down the freeway. Tear gassed our campuses. And did news stories about how we were all rioting.

As one of the students who was organizing protests, we were not rioting. We were simply engaged in public demonstration of our displeasure. We're creating a little bit of a kerfuffle. And I organized my fellow students to call the television stations to make them correct the record. Because they were reporting as though things were happening that were not happening. This is before the internet. And so I just had all of my friends get on the phone and call the TV stations, and actually give them accurate reports.

And at some point, they said, well, you have to tell us who you are. And one of my friends came running in. And she's like, well, they want to know your name. They want to know our names. I'm like, don't give them your name. Just tell them you're Stacey. I did not think it through.

And so you had 28 students across the campus calling into the TV stations as Stacey Abrams. Eventually, they caught on. And they called me into the president's office. And I got invited to come to a community meeting that was being simulcast by all the television stations.

And I tell you the story because this was my first engagement with true democracy and the powers that-- because they shut down the campuses, they sent a police car to come get me. And I organized my life to never get into a police car. But I got in the car. And they took me to the simulcast. And I go in there. And there are all these powerful people that I've seen on TV and read about in the newspaper. And they were all there to pontificate about why young people were outraged, why the reaction to the Rodney King verdict was so volatile.

And I raised my hand to offer my input. I was wearing my cleanest T-shirt and my nicest jeans. I thought I looked good. And I stood up and I blamed the mayor. The mayor of Atlanta, at the time, was Maynard Jackson. He'd been the first Black man ever elected, first Black person ever elected as a mayor of a major Southern city, and, certainly, the first one of Atlanta. And I proceeded to explain to him all the things he was doing wrong.

And he proceeded to completely dismantle my arguments and embarrass me on television. And I sat down vanquished and embarrassed. I'm thinking, well, maybe, I shouldn't have said anything. But a few months later, I get a call. And I'm summoned back to the president's office. And on the phone is Mayor Maynard Jackson, who has created an Office of Youth Services in response to my argument that he wasn't doing enough for young people.

And he said, not only have I created this Office of Youth Services, I want to hire you to come and work for me. So I can do it better. And that was my first step--


I'll tell you that story for three reasons. Number one, we have the responsibility to speak up and speak out, regardless of what the consequences are going to be. I spoke up-- and Maynard Jackson wasn't a small man. He's like 625.


He was the youngest person elected mayor. He had been in power. He had survived things and accomplished things. And he expected a certain amount of treatment. And I was a righteously indignant 17-year-old telling him all the things that he did wrong. But that was my job. My job was to speak to him and tell him what I saw from the ground. Because sometimes, when you get power, it moves you away from the people who elected you in the first place.

My second responsibility, the second thing I learned from that moment was that sometimes, no matter how righteous and right you are, people aren't going to listen. You have the responsibility to speak. But people don't have the obligation to believe you. And we sometimes think that because it sounds so good in our heads-- and has that ever happened to you, where you have this amazing like you are brilliant in your mind. And when you speak aloud, you are expecting the cinematic music to rise behind you. And really, all you get is, sit down.

And then the third thing I learned in that moment was that it may take time. But things do change. And while he invited me to come and serve in this office, it didn't change overnight. And there are still challenges facing the city of Atlanta. Young people still face issues. But in that moment, I had the opportunity to put my money where my mouth was. I didn't just demand that he make change. He offered me a chance to show up and make that change real.

And so I'm here today because what I began as a 17-year-old, I have failed to shake. I am now 49. I am still speaking truth to some people that are in power. I still say things that people listen to and more often that they don't. And I still find that no matter how hard I fight, it may not turn out the way I expected. That doesn't give me the right to shut up.


As we face history, as the young people in this audience think about the role that you play in our democracy, I'm going to give you three additional lessons to use. Everyone else can listen in. But this is for them.

Number one, be fierce. Everyone say, be fierce.

Be fierce.

We have to be willing to be fierce enough to say aloud the truths that we're told to shut up about. We have to be willing to call attention to the issues that we see that others may not. And we have to be willing to bear the consequences of our voices.

So often our silence is used against us. They will tell us that we don't care because we don't shout. They will tell us we don't care because it doesn't change. But our responsibility is to be so fierce in our belief that good is possible that we refuse to be quiet. Now, our voices may sound different. Our language may not be the same. And how we communicate may distinguish itself from what we thought in our heads. But our responsibility to be fierce is to confront the challenges we see, to not let them tell us that our history isn't real, that our challenges aren't true, that someone isn't a human because they've decided to demonize them for political gain.

We must be fierce in our truths and fierce in our confrontations. We have to speak up. But it comes at a cost. Being fierce means that you are willing to do the work. But you also have to be willing to meet the consequences of that work. And that leads me to number two. And your parents are going to be like, this is a terrible one. But I'm right, just follow me.


The second one is be failures. Everyone say, be failures.

Be failures.

So if you're going to be fierce, it's not going to always work. You guys may have heard. I applied for this job not once, but twice. I've wanted this job as governor of Georgia. I wanted the opportunity to lead a state that I know is capable of more. And two times on the national stage, I failed. I did not get the job. And there are those who castigate me and say, well, why did you try? You should have sat down after the first time. You should have done something else.

And the reality is I didn't try because I needed it. I tried because I was obliged to do so. You see, if all you want is a title, then that's one thing. But if you want to do the work, then we have the responsibility to try.


You have the responsibility you put action behind your voice, to put activity behind your demands. I stood for public office knowing that I was trying something that literally no one like me has ever done. There is no roadmap. There has never been a Black woman governor in the history of the United States of America. That's not a good thing.


And when I stood for the office the first time, I was the first Black woman to get that far. When I became the Minority Leader in the Georgia House of Representatives, I was the first woman to lead a party in the history of the state of Georgia. And when people clapped, I'm like it's been 240 years. We should have caught up by now. But part of being failures means that you tried. People who have always succeeded have not done much.

When you fail, it means you refuse to sit still. You refuse to be silent. You refuse to be complacent. Failure is the sign that you did something. And when we face history, when we try to change history, when we try to make history, we are obliged to understand that failure is a part of the job. I don't mind being the best loser I've ever met. I'm really good at it. I've practiced a lot now.

And the reality is that when I lose, I lose by making progress. I lose by changing narratives. I lose by doing things that other people never thought they could. And because I did, they think again that maybe they can. Failure is not a badge of shame. It is a badge of honor, if you fail in the pursuit of good, if you fail in the pursuit of life, if you fail because you're trying to do more.

But it's also embarrassing and there are memes about it. And sometimes, it becomes discomforting. And so if you are being fierce, and you are being failures, the third thing you must do is-- join with me and say, be friends. Say, be friends.

Be friends.

When you see the ticker tape saying, you have lost again, when you try something and it doesn't work, when you demand action and the powers that be denied, there is no greater solace and no greater strength than to be friends, than to have people around you and near you who see you, who believe in you, who bolster you, and who remind you of who you were before you started, and who you will be again when you get through the pain.

I am blessed to have extraordinary friends. We have people who have been with me from the very first time I decided I was mad about something. Friends who become allies in later years. I have friends who agree with me on everything. And friends who I agree with on almost nothing. And both sides are important. So often we surround ourselves with people who reinforce everything we think to be true. And that's important.

But I also have friends who challenged my thinking, who questioned my beliefs, who pressed me on my values. And they make me better at being me. They make me better at leading. They make me better at thinking. They make me better at winning. Because when the only truth you know is your own, then you are going to be caught off guard when you meet a truth that is just as strong on the other side.

And so if you truly want to change history, if you want democracy to be real, we must be friends with people with whom we do not share everything. But we share something. We share a common humanity. Sometimes, it's a skin tone. Sometimes, it's a gender identity. Sometimes, it's just we both like the same TV show. It doesn't really matter.

Being friends is about not what you get from the other person. It is what you were willing to give to them in your pursuit. You see, I have friends because I do my best every day to be a good friend to them. I'm terrible about communication. I am not going to remember to call you back. And for those of you who are under 40, phones actually make phone calls.


I may not email with the regularity that I should. But you always know, if you need me, you can find me. I test myself to make certain that my friends know that I am there for them. Because when I need them, I need it not to be a one-way street. I need it not to be that they show up for me, but can never count on me to show up for them. And if we're going to take it a little bit more broadly, the pursuit of democracy, the pursuit of Justice is about being friends with those who don't know anyone cares about it.

They don't believe that anyone sees their pain, anyone shares their struggle, anyone knows their needs. And so friendship is not just about a personal connection. It is about our cosmic connection to one another. It is about serving and standing with those who don't even know we're out there. But we know we are their friends. We know we are there to defend them. We know that our allyship makes their lives a little bit better. And thus, we are better. We must be friends with those who are downtrodden and disassembled, with those who are maligned, and who are marginalized. But we must also be friends with those who think that what they want is more important than what we need. Because the only way we change their minds is by showing them who we are.

Friendship can be deeply selfish. But it is also one of the most powerful tools of change I have ever known. Friendship is more than just a moment. It is a way to live your lives. I need you to first be what?


And then be?


And finally?


And now, I am finished. Thank you so much.


Now, I'm supposed to take some questions out loud.



I'm Lauren, and I'm a junior at Castilleja. I was wondering about how we celebrate democracy and attribute progress to legislative changes buttressed by voting. But sometimes, the legislative systems themselves are flawed and filled with loopholes-- for example, Brown v. Board of Education and its implementation. So how can we make systemic change? And is democracy the answer in this world?

That's a very complicated question. I'm fairly certain there is a really good book that's going to give a much better answer than I do. But let's start with the end of the question. Democracy is the most extraordinary system that we can devise. It is not a perfect system. Because democracy is a construct. It's an idea. It is this idea that we are all going to suspend our own narcissistic selfishness in order to sublimate our needs for the needs of others.

Sometimes, we get what we want. Sometimes, we don't. But the whole point is that we agree that strangers we have never met are going to get to decide what we get to have. And if we do it right, we coast in the same direction.

The alternatives are so much worse. The alternatives are autocracy and fascism. The alternatives are monarchy and having people decide they know better. And we don't even get a voice. And so democracy is indeed the best system. It's just a deeply flawed system because it relies on people. And people have some problems. But with that in mind, my approach has always been this. One, is I don't treat voting and legislation.

Voting is not magic. Voting is medicine. In magic, you do it. And things get better. You elect someone. And they do exactly what they said on that little poster they sent to your house. They do exactly what they said in that debate. And you're like, yeah, do you remember being at the debate? They do what they say they're going to do. And all the people, who said they were going to do the same things, do it together. And all the bad people go away. That's magic. That never happens.

Voting instead is medicine. Democracy is how we administer that medicine. We have ills in the society. Those ills will metastasize and get worse, if we do not treat them. And so we vote. And we participate in democracy as our constant act of taking our medicine of treating our ills. And the reality is not all medicine works the same way for everyone. And sometimes, the medicine fails. And sometimes, the challenges we have, we become resistant to it. And it can't do what it used to do. And that means we've got to start finding new medicines. And we've got to keep experimenting. And we wait for you all to get old enough to vote so you can get better at it than we are.

I told you a story from when I was 17. That was a long time ago. It was 32 years ago that I started fighting. And it might make you think, what's the point? But my grandfather, my mother's father, was born 25 years after the end of slavery in Mississippi. In the single generation, my mother became the first person in her entire family to finish high school. And in the second generation, I became the first Black woman to stand for governor in the history of the United States.

I have a sister became the first Black judge in the history of the state of Georgia, the first Black woman judge in Georgia. I have a brother who's a social worker. A brother who's figuring stuff out. I've got a sister who's a computational scientist. I've got another sister who's a professor. And that's in two generations. And so the persistence of my belief in democracy is a lived understanding that it is not perfect. In fact, sometimes it is mean and vile and wrong. But more than anything, it's an opportunity to get more done.

And so yes, I continue to believe in democracy. I continue to invest in democracy. But I also believe in holding the people who get the power accountable. Because sometimes, the best way to change out the medicine is to change out the people who are administering it.


I'm a student. My name is [INAUDIBLE], and I'm entering my senior year at ARISE High School. And my question for you was, how would you build morale within a community to combat the defeatist, attitude, for example, oh, my vote doesn't matter or nothing's going to change?

I pushed back-- and you didn't say this. But too often, we hear people say, oh, they're apathetic. People aren't apathetic. They are despairing. They feel both helpless and hopeless. If you grow up in generational poverty, you have a legitimate reason to deny and doubt all the things people tell you. So I mentioned how successful my parents have been. My mother called us the genteel poor. We had no money. But we watched PBS, and we read books.

But we also did something my mom referred to as urban camping. That's when the lights got cut off. And we didn't have running water. And so I grew up without much. And I don't forget that.

And so the first job I have is someone who stands for office and asks for people to participate is to not pretend that it's magic, to not pretend that if you vote this time things are going to get better. No, they probably aren't. Because the people who don't want you to have more are also voting. But the difference is we sit down when they stand up. We go silent when they shout. And if we want there to be any opportunity for us to balance the scales, we've got to be just as loud in our demands for good as they are in our demands that we get nothing.

And so I don't think that you argue with someone that say, your vote doesn't matter. I think you point out that if it didn't matter, why do they worked so hard to stop from being heard?


Hi Miss Abrams.


My name is Jay. And I'm ARISE senior at Notre Dame San Jose. And my question is, we often hear that young people are the future. But in our Facing History group, we talk about the importance of multi-generational change or movement making. How do we create solidarity and connection between different generations to create that change?

Well, look around. You guys have done a really good job. You've got these folks here. But I live in a multi-generational house right now. It's technically my house. But my parents live there with me right now. My dad was sick a few years ago. I invited them to come for two weeks. It's been two years. And they are raising my niece who is 16. So she's my borrowed teenager. I plan to give her back.

So I live with a 16-year-old and two 74-year-olds. And I'm 49. And we are the lived experience of multi-generational democracy, whether it's trying to figure out what we're going to eat for dinner, or when I was running for office. It was the fact that my parents made phone calls for me. My mom made calls because she was having some trouble with her hips. My dad knock on doors. And Faith corrected all of my social media.

But the reality was I invited them in, both into my house and into the work I do. One of the best ways to create multi-generational effort is to invite the other generations to be there. But not expect them to be exactly where you need them to be when they show up. One of our largest challenges in this moment is that we have so many different generations coexisting, where the technology that we have is not the technology that so many of us grew up with. Or the language we use has very different meanings.

I swear, sometimes I'm like, Faith, I need you to train-- you just use the whole sentence and I understood the word, A.


But I have to ask. I'm like, can you tell me what you meant? I don't presume that I know. And so part of it is just the basics. It's creating space for people who were here before. They're not going to forget everything they knew and everything they experience when they want to be a part of it. So it's creating space and having grace. The space says, I'm going to let you be who you are, if your intentions are good. And the grace is, you're going to get it wrong. But I'm going to still believe that have the best intentions.

But that has to go both ways. It's not enough for us to ask young people to give us space and grace. It is also to offer the same. I learned from my parents. And I learn from my niece. There are conversations I never had that she is grappling with. I didn't have to hide under desks because of school shootings. We were ducking and covering because we thought nuclear war was coming. But those different conversations still matter because both of us experienced fear.

My parents didn't get to hide under desks because they went to segregated schools where they didn't have enough desks to go around. And there's a lesson to be learned from them as well. And so part of it is making sure we not only know the punch lines. We know the story that created that narrative. The story that created that prejudice. The story that created that fear.

The best way for intergenerational progress to be made is for us to actually hear one another, integrate what we need, accept what we don't, and push back. Yes, but don't push back so hard that you shove them out of the conversation.

Thank you so much.


I really appreciate it.


Hello. My name is [INAUDIBLE]. I'm a rising senior at Castilleja. My question is, engaging voting has historically been seen as unimportant. How can we successfully educate and whatever young people, including myself, to recognize the significance of voting and gain a deeper understanding of government procedures and empowerment to actively engage in civic activities?

Again, you guys are asking really simple basic questions. Great.


So that's a really thoughtful question. So here's the first thing. People don't care about your politics. They care about their lives. And we spend so much time trying to convince people to vote by saying, well, you should do it because people die for the right. Or you should do it because we're angry at the other guys. People vote when they know their lives can get better. And this goes to the earlier question. The most effective way to engage people in voting is to tell them what they get if they do, and what they're going to face if they don't.

And so often, it becomes so atmospheric. And it just sounds like noise. One of the most effective things that we were able to do in Georgia is-- I talk to people about voting when there are no elections. I don't wait until the election time. Because then, it's about my guy versus your guy, or my girl versus your girl. I talk to them.

The very first project I created, the New Georgia Project, which became known for registering hundreds of thousands of voters, started out because I was helping people sign up for health care. I lived in a state where the governor refused to allow people information so they could sign up for the Affordable Care Act. He made it nearly impossible for people to get federal money. So they could go and knock on doors and tell people how to sign for health care.

And for families that had never had health insurance, the ACA was a huge deal. But it was also deeply confusing. If you've never had health insurance, you had no idea how to sign up for it. And even though the federal government thought about it and said, we're going to give you money called navigators. Because the other party didn't want them to have it, they refused to let the navigators operate. So I went out and raised some money and hired 69 people from across some of the poorest counties in Georgia, took them to a hotel. And over three days-- I didn't kidnap him-- I invited them.

But we went to a hotel. And I trained them using assistance from SEIU and others in and how to talk to one another about health care. We got thousands of people to sign up for health care because someone who looked like them, who had their experiences talked to them. And from that, I then had the same people go back out and say, now, do you want to register to vote? Because some of your friends didn't get health care because we don't have this other program.

And because we have those conversations, more people realize, well, maybe it's worth voting. So that's a very long way of saying this. We have to connect the dots. For you as a student, you know that the resources in your school are directly tied to who sits on your school board. For your friends, their futures will be determined by who's in charge of the jobs they get, and the monies that come, and how much they can make.

And so instead of it being about one party versus the other, it's got to be about their lives. We get people to vote when people understand who's in charge of, but who's also responsible for the stuff you want that you can't have, and who's responsible for the stuff you need that you could have more of, if more people who shared your vision and your values have those jobs. That's what I do.

Thank you.



I'm Yaretzi, a rising senior at ARISE High School. For my question is, it's a very simple question. What inspired you to do what you do?

I'm glad you think that was simple.


Yeah. I love my parents. My mom and dad are two of the most extraordinary people I've ever known. And I have five brothers and sisters who are my best friends. But when I describe what happens in my head when I think about what I do, my mantra is this. One, is be curious. I like knowing stuff. I want to understand how things work. And part of what inspires me is curiosity. How can I learn more? How can I do more?

The second is I like solving problems. I do not like stuff being broken when there's a possibility of fixing it. And it really frustrates me when we get used to things being broken so much so that we just assume that's the only way it can be.

I grew up in a community where things were always broken. And the thing is, if I went-- as I mentioned about the school I went to in high school, I had friends who at the high schools where things were never broken and kids who went to schools or things were always broken. And so for me, it's how do you solve problems. So it's, how do you be curious in solving problems? And then fundamentally, what my parents raised me to hold as my single truth is how do you do good.

Doing good doesn't mean good is going to stay. It doesn't even mean to do good is going to work. My job isn't to fix everything. It is to try. And what inspires me is the trying. Trying to learn, trying to solve problems, trying to do good. And if I wake up every morning and find a way to accomplish those things, then I am inspired to get up the very next day.


Thank you to our students for their wonderful questions. Our Q&A has wrapped. So, hopefully, you enjoyed taking their questions.

Thank you, guys. Thank you so much.


Thank you again, Stacey. That was amazing. And thank you for our student leadership group for your questions. They were quite extensive. My name Raquel España. And I'm the executive director of the Northern California region of Facing History. And I'm excited not only to have been able to hear Stacey, but to also introduce our next speaker, Hannah Nguyen. Hannah is an educator committed to empowering youth to be leaders in their communities and learners for life.

She is currently the Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity, and Justice at Castilleja High School, an independent girls school in Palo Alto. She's also an alumni of Notre Dame High School in San Jose. And had the opportunity to participate in Facing History classroom as a student. Welcome, Hannah.


Good evening, everyone, or afternoon is it? What time is it? Thank you for having me. Thank you to Stacey Abrams for such a riveting and fierce keynote. Thank you to the incredible students for your teachers. And thank you to the team at Facing History for giving me the opportunity to share my story with you.

I won my first science fair when I was 10 years old. I presented a trifold with wires running through it and batteries and light bulbs taped sloppily to the cardboard surface. It didn't look great. But I was still proud of it because I knew how to explain it. I knew how to describe electric currents and explain simple circuits. I knew why the light bulb did or did not light up. I knew what I was talking about. Because as a child, I could always connect with science and math, how concrete they felt, how much I saw myself in them.

They were my favorite subjects for these reasons. In education, the term, light bulb moment, is commonly used to denote when something clicks and a student successfully grasps a concept. I experienced many light bulb moments in my math and science classes. But tended to dwell in darkness in my least favorite subject, history.

I cared the least about history class for much of my early years in education. I didn't feel connected to what I was learning. Let alone, recognize its very real impact on my life and my community. Whereas, I felt warm excitement in the light of my STEM classes, I felt emptiness in the hollow words of my history textbooks.

Thankfully, I'm not giving a speech about how much I dislike history at a Facing History and Ourselves event. I am here to tell you about how Facing History transformed my life as a student and, ultimately, educator. During my sophomore year, my high school, Notre Dame San Jose, adopted Facing History curriculum into our humanities courses. My teachers that year mainly taught one of Facing History's core resources, Holocaust and Human Behavior, which uses primary sources and personal reflections to examine the challenging history of the Holocaust and explore questions about human choices in how they shape our world.

Because I was learning this history through the lens and voices of those who directly experienced it, I felt for the first time a connection to what I was learning in my class. It was no longer about memorizing an array of dates and names for a test, but about deeply exploring the lived experiences and unimaginable circumstances endured by real people with real stories.

But these lessons were not easy. They forced me to confront the horrors of genocide and the consequences of unchecked hatred and prejudice. I remember leaving each class fired up, feeling rage, confusion, and disgust at the dehumanization that had unfolded. But through that process, I also found hope. I discovered that even in the face of unfathomable darkness, there are individuals who rise above and stand up for justice.

I also found parallels to the racism and xenophobia that still exist in our world today. It made me realize that history is not just a distant memory. But it shapes the world that we live in now. These lessons challenged me to confront my own biases and to make choices that actively work towards creating a more just society. This was the year that I made a choice and answered my calling to become an educator.

At the age of 14, a fire had ignited within me fueled by the rage and conviction I felt in my Facing History lessons. And I knew that I wanted my future students, who are sitting in the audience today, to experience history the way I did, not just learning it, but finding connection to it, understanding how it relates to their world, and discovering the power they have to make choices and, ultimately, history.

In my junior year, I continued my journey as a student in my US history class. If you know me, you know that a core part of who I am as an educator stems from my experiences as a second generation Vietnamese American and daughter of Vietnamese refugees, who learned two very different stories of the war from her parents and her history textbook.

While the textbook was explaining an event that belonged to my past, I didn't feel as though I belonged to it. It failed to explain my parents' painful stories and silences that punctuated my childhood. It also failed to humanize them and include the ways that they still manage to find joy, laughter, and community amidst a backdrop of tragedy. Because of Facing History's emphasis on oral history, I had the opportunity to interview my parents and learn a fuller picture of the Vietnam War through their stories.

These conversations with my parents were and still are to this day, one of the most difficult I've ever had. But they were critical in transforming my understanding of my history and myself. Knowing that I could reclaim this history and seeing myself in it gave me a sense of empowerment. This experience ignited my passion to uplift other forgotten counter-narratives in my future classroom. I made a commitment to myself to show my students how history lives and breathes beyond the pages of a textbook and help them see themselves within its lessons.

In my final year of high school, I had the opportunity to take electives as a senior. One of the many privileges you get as a senior. Freshman year Hannah would have probably elected to take more math and science classes. But I actually chose a class taught by our social studies department chair at the time, Miss Da Silva. Yeah, give it up for Miss Da Silva.


The class was called contemporary social issues which is known today at Notre Dame as ethnic studies. To explain how excited I was for this class, I will say that anyone who's ever taught me knows that I am a back row kind of student. But in this class, I made sure I sat front and center. I was fired up to go to that class every day, even as a second semester senior. And in this class, we analyze the historical roots of systemic oppression and drew connections between our analysis and social justice issues in our present.

I, especially, love the days when Milton Reynolds, senior program associate-- yeah, give it up for Milton-- senior program associate of Facing History at the time would visit our class as a guest speaker. I remember one day, he was teaching us about the eugenics movement. And my mind and pen were racing as I thought, this is the smartest person I've ever met. And I need to write down everything he's saying because I don't understand half of it. And I need to research more later.

This class showed me how much I still had to learn before I could take action or try to solve the issues that I cared so deeply about. And this was also the year, I realized that being a history teacher and a social justice advocate are inseparable. As an educator, it is my responsibility to push students to understand that the world was shaped by people who came before. And that it could be reimagined and reshaped into something new. Like Miss Da Silva and Milton, I wanted to build a classroom community where students can face history with courage and compassion. And understand the power in using lessons from history to imagine and build a better world.

Today, because of Facing History and my incredible teachers, I'm proud to say that I am the educator I always dreamed of becoming when I was a high school student. After graduating with my masters, I taught ethnic studies at ARISE High School in East Oakland. Shout out to my students. And modeled my classroom off the learning experiences that have so greatly influenced me. In my ethnic studies class, students actively engage with primary sources and counter narratives to explore the experiences of marginalized communities that are rarely represented in our mainstream history textbooks.

In honoring those who came before us and the roles they took in fighting for social justice, my students developed a critical lens to reflect on their world, and the critical literacy to begin writing the role that they play in transforming their community.

In my current role as the Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice at Castilleja School in Palo Alto, I am applying these principles of critical consciousness in workshops with my student leaders using a participatory action research framework to empower students to first, listen and learn about equity issues in their community before collaborating to take action towards systemic change.

And through the Facing History student leadership group program, I'm so excited to be bringing my students, past and present, together to engage in these critical conversations about student activism and grateful to have the opportunity to continue working with the educators who have shaped me. Miss Da Silva, my first ethnic studies teacher. And Trevor Gardner, my coach and mentor when I was the ethnic studies teacher at ARISE.


Reflecting on my journey with Facing History, past, present and future, has illuminated a core reason why I'm an educator. In education, the term, light bulb moment, is commonly used to denote when something clicks. And a student successfully grasps a concept. I often hear that these are the moments that we, as teachers, chase the ones that make it all worth it. As an educator, I do know the joy that comes with witnessing those moments. Seeing that switch flip, the wires connect, and hearing that triumphant, oh, I get it now.

But I would argue that they aren't the reason I do what I do. The moments that energize me as an educator are the sparks of passion, the embers of hope, and the fires to ask more questions and create change. It's the moment during a lesson on reconstruction and the prison industrial complex when my class cries out, what the heck? That's messed up. Shortly followed by, why did this happen? And how can we change things?

Or when a student interviews a community activist about the displacement happening in Oakland and asks, what can I do? Or my student leaders create an action plan to reimagine campus accessibility and equity and ask, who can we work with to make this happen?

In a time where so many try to dim our students light and keep future generations in the dark, beyond chasing light bulb moments, I hope that we will nurture the sparks, fan the flames, and fuel the fire within our students. Encourage their relentless pursuit of answers, their audacious dreams, and their unwavering commitment to make a difference.

And to my students, I want you to know that the frustration and anger that you feel and the curiosity and hope that you have for change is powerful. It has the power to overwhelm circuits on a cardboard trifold and ignite fires. And perhaps, those fires won't win a fifth grade science fair, but they will light the way to a better, brighter future. Thank you.


Thank you, Hannah. And thank you Stacey Abrams. So powerful. I am Edda Collins Coleman. I'm chair of the Facing History California advisory board, Northern California advisory board, and a member of the National Board of Directors. I'm also on the host committee today. And I want to say, thank you so very much one more time to my fellow host committee, members, and advisory board members, Caretha Coleman, Debra Engle, and Susie Richardson. Thank you so much.


I am proud to be here with you this afternoon hearing from Stacey Abrams and our students about how urgently we need our communities and, especially our young people to take action in order to keep our democracy strong. The importance of democracy is something I learned at a very early age. I grew up in a small town in Springfield, Illinois and was raised by a mother who taught me early on that education and advocacy are the only ways you can really change your trajectory in life.

At Facing History we call that combination of education plus advocacy, civic participation. On Saturdays, instead of going to baseball games like the other kids, I remember canvassing for US senators with my family. Politics and advocacy were very much a part of my childhood dinner table conversations. Those same conversations are now taking place at my family's dinner table. My husband, Bernard, and I have three girls who are here today ages 13, 10, and 4. And we're doing having those same conversations at our dinner table.

When we move to the Bay Area few years back, two different sets of friends said, you have to learn about Facing History. When we did, we're absolutely blown away. Our first introduction was at a benefit dinner. We were listening to Kobe Johnson, a high school freshman talk about how Facing History sparked his fight to change the names of two middle schools in Palo Alto named after white supremacists. It brought tears to my eyes. I thought of our own daughters who were feeling that same sparking with our conversations.

The fact that Facing History has been working tirelessly for decades to make sure teachers are equipped to educate all young people, not just in academics like history, social studies, and English language arts, but with the tools and resources to fight bigotry and hatred. I just couldn't believe an organization was so focused on the whole child.

The day after the benefit dinner, I sent an email to Facing History that read, we need more Facing History in the world. How can I make that happen? Five months later, I was in the San Francisco Bay Area advisory board. I joined Facing History motivated to ensure my children and other children would have access to these resources. There are moments that activate you. When you see something an injustice or wrong and you don't have resources, or even the words to be an upstander.

That is what Facing History does so very well. They create resources to help talk about difficult moments in history and history in the making. Their current events resources are lifeline for teachers and for parents. These days, when it feels like we hear about another hateful action almost daily, whether it's an incident of anti-Semitism, racism, violence against the LGBTQ community, lies that lead to extreme polarization or bullying in our schools, Facing History is there sending an email with resources and guiding teachers with the difficult task of talking about our complicated world with their students.

The Bay Area is a beautifully diverse and progressive place. But no place is safe from the undercurrent negativity and hatred that is getting louder and growing by the second. Thanks to Facing History, teachers, students, and families are now equipped and empowered with the tools to effectively create positive learning out of very, very painful moments.

The only way to change these things, as I learned from my own mother, is through education and activism, through civic participation. We can change these things with Facing History. How? By teaching our young people how to think critically, to connect scholarship to their own lived experiences, and to be upstander and not bystanders. Facing History is leading the way to building a society of people who care about one another, who stands up for one another, who are guided by a moral compass.

As a parent, as a citizen of this community, and as a staunch believer in our democracy, I'm asking you today to support Facing History with me. Our goal is to raise $100,000 at this event for Facing History. These funds will bring Facing History in more classrooms in our community here and throughout Northern California. Making a gift will lift up and support more educators like Hannah and more students at schools like ARISE in North Dame. And most importantly, it will help more students discover what they can do as upstanders.

So please join me in making a gift. Pull out your phone and I'll tell you two ways to make a donation. On your program cards, we'll find a QR code here, which will take you directly to our donation page, where you can make a gift with a credit card. Or you can click on the page to make a pledge. Raise your hand, if you need assistance. And someone from our team will help you.

However, if you prefer to donate cash or check or make a pledge by paper, there's a remnant envelope in your program as well. We will give everyone a moment. I see phones out. This is good. And I am a mom so I can be very, very patient.


Thank you for joining together to inspire the next generation of students and teachers. I hope you're all as charged as I was with my first Facing History event. I invite you to stay involved and be a part of bringing Facing History to more students. Keep an eye out for an email from Facing History. They'll share ways to stay engaged. Please stay for the small reception right outside.

And if you are a member of the leadership council, please visit the checkout table for a special recognition. Mingle, talk to a staff member student or board member. We'd love to get to know you. Thank you so much for joining us today. And have a wonderful, wonderful day. Thank you, everyone.


View the Event!

Watch We are Facing History: Democracy — Past, Present, and Future with Stacey Abrams

Scenes from the 2023 South Bay Fundraiser

Stacey Abrams delivers her keynote address.

Facing History CEO Desmond K. Blackburn, PhD, welcomes guests to the 2023 South Bay Fundraiser.

Stacey Abrams and members of the Facing History Student Leadership Group.

Northern Californian Executive Director Raquel España introduces Facing History educator Hannah Nguyen.

Facing History alumna and educator Hannah Nguyen delivers an impassioned speech about the impact of Facing History.

Facing History CEO Desmond K. Blackburn, PhD, speaks with guests during the event reception.

Facing History Educators

Featured Speakers

Stacey Abrams

New York Times bestselling author and political leader

Stacey Abrams

Hannah Nguyen

Educator and Facing History Alum

Hannah Nguyen headshot

Please note: The views expressed by guest speakers, both at our events and on external platforms, are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Facing History & Ourselves.