Voting rights activist LaTosha Brown says the Senate runoff results in Georgia represent how mobilizing and harnessing the power of Black voters can help forge a new political landscape.



All today, all tonight, we are with you, tracking events unfolding in Washington at the Capitol. Those events are unfolding in real time, and we will keep you updated on everything we know as we know it. We do want to turn for a moment to the other gigantic story unfolding, the one here in Georgia where Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock have won their runoff elections, giving their party control of the U.S. Senate.

Reverend Raphael Warnock will become the state's first Black U.S. senator. And earlier today, I went to his church, Ebenezer Baptist, here in Atlanta. This, of course, was Martin Luther King Jr.'s church. It's where John Lewis was buried last year, the civil rights leader and Georgia congressman. And so it seemed a good place to start to hear what was on people's minds today.

Right outside the church, we bumped into Jonathan Davis. He is a sales rep, 34 years old, lives nearby. And we asked how's it felt to have the eyes of the whole country on Georgia this week.

JONATHAN DAVIS: I feel like there's a transition or a movement. And so Georgia has really been on the forefront of that. And it's just something that me, as an African American male - it gives me a sense of pride.

KELLY: Well, just up the block from where we're standing is Warnock's campaign office. So I asked Davis for his reaction to Warnock's win.

DAVIS: It's something special to me because I feel like I'm being a part of almost the second civil rights movement or something new, something just fresh. So it's exciting.

KELLY: Around the corner, we stopped to chat with Terri Sims and her 19-year-old daughter. They were looking at a wall of plaques honoring Martin Luther King. And the significance of the moment was not lost on them either.

TERRI SIMS: This is history. People forget this is literally what made - helped make Atlanta. This is what helped put Atlanta on the map, so we need to bring back our history, good and bad. We have to be able to understand that history was made by good decisions and bad decisions, just like life.

KELLY: Well, the Democrats' performance in the Georgia runoffs was powered again by Black voters. So earlier today, I called up LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the group Black Voters Matter. I had last seen her three days ago at a get-out-the-vote event in a big parking lot. This morning, she was at home.

When you woke up this morning and these were the headlines, I just wondered, does it feel real?

LATOSHA BROWN: You know, you're assuming that I woke up this morning. You're assuming that I went to sleep.


KELLY: That you weren't up all night glued to the results coming in.

BROWN: No, I literally - I may have taken a couple of catnaps, but for the most part, I would look at the TV. I was like, what is it now? What is it now? When I woke up this morning, though, let me tell you what I felt. I felt resolved. This has been such a tough, tough year for this country and a particularly tough year for Black people, from seeing the police shootings of unarmed men and women, from the COVID-19, how it's disproportionately impacted our community, to see this blatant, open racism that Trump has been propagating. Like, all of those things have had such a - and continue to have such a dramatic impact, you know, on our community.

So to see Black voters come out in record numbers in spite of all of those things and, to add a cherry on top, in spite of voter suppression and to literally be, like, the center driver in the engine in this country, once again being on the vanguard of democracy and literally not only for the state of Georgia, but really being able to create, I think - open up a new way of thinking about the political landscape in this country for America.

KELLY: Yeah. Well, I was going to ask you why it was this moment where this has all come together for your effort. I mean, you nodded at the role of the summer protests. There's, you know, the implosion - I don't think is too strong a word to use - of the GOP in Georgia, much of which was true in November. What has changed since then that pushed your effort over the edge now?

BROWN: You know, I think it's quite simple. I mean, I think the name of my organization says it all. It's three words - Black Voters Matter. And I think that after we saw a state like Georgia, that had been solid Republican, flip in November, I think it opened up an avenue for people to see what was possible, that it was no longer a question or debate whether Black voters, in fact, matter. People felt a sense of momentum. That part of that win opened up the space around what would be possible. And I think that in addition to that, folks start feeling as what Cliff and I wanted to do with our work. We wanted people to...

KELLY: Your co-founder of Black Voters Matter. Go on.

BROWN: We wanted people - we wanted Black voters in particular - to feel a sense of their power and their agency and, in spite of all odds, what we could do in pushing this country forward.

KELLY: I want to ask about the role of one other person here. Among the headlines in the Atlanta paper, the Journal-Constitution, today is, this is the revenge of Stacey Abrams. Do you see it that way?

BROWN: You know, I don't know if I see it as the revenge of Stacey Abrams. I see it as poetic justice - that here it is in 2018, this election that she literally energized and worked hard and really was able to bring together a multiracial, multigenerational coalition.

KELLY: You're talking about Stacey Abrams's race for governor here in Georgia in 2018.

BROWN: And quite frankly, those of us who were doing work on the ground with this excitement and the energy - we're very confident that that race was stolen from her. It was taken from her. And so instead of her moving from a space of spite and revenge, as Donald Trump moved, she did something very different. She operated in a sense of integrity. She redirected her energy. And she actually went deeper. So what I think happened is more so than seeing it as revenge, I see it as poetic justice.

KELLY: What is the significance to you personally of Raphael Warnock being elected as Georgia's first Black United States senator?

BROWN: (Singing) Well, the first thing I did right was the day I started to fight. Keep your eyes on the prize and hold on. Hold on.

That is a song that my grandmother used to sing. That is a song that I would hear in the church. That is a song that Raphael Warnock becoming a Senator is almost like a culmination of all those aspects of a Southern Black experience for me - of how at the intersection of our faith, at the intersection of social justice, at the intersection of our belief that if we stand on the side of right, we can overcome any obstacle.

So I think I am extremely excited about him winning because of what he represents. He represents Black Southerners that against the odds, that in a space that has been the home for the Confederacy, the space that has been the root - right? - for white supremacy and white nationalists, that where the Southern strategy was born, that there is a new Southern strategy that is being implemented, that is being fueled an engine by people of color. And Black folks are on the vanguard.

KELLY: Well, LaTosha Brown, I hope your grandmom - I don't know if she's with us or if she's looking down on us, but I hope she heard that today.

BROWN: I hope so, too.

KELLY: LaTosha Brown is co-founder of Black Voters Matter here in Georgia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.