“We are entering an inflection point in American politics where the conversation of race and Black politics will be a central facet,” Abrams said, “and having the chance to help guide part of the conversation for young people who are studying at Howard University is an exceptional opportunity.”
Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick said the appointment speaks to Walters’s legacy around the topics of Black politics and the role politics plays in African American life. “Stacey Abrams epitomizes that in our contemporary experience, in our society.”
“The work she has been doing on voter registration and voting irregularities, especially in Georgia but across the country, speaks to a lot of what Ronald Walters embodied. This appointment is extremely important for our students,” he said, adding that he hopes it will help them create solutions to those problems.
Howard students have activism embedded in their DNA, he said. “We want to make sure they are good advocates, they understand the issues, that they’re going to be in positions to help make the laws, help to change the laws, but that they are educated in what needs to be changed and why and how to change it. We want them fully equipped to be politically active.”
Abrams, who is 49, has experience as an adjunct professor at her alma mater, Spelman College in Atlanta, and said she has an “extraordinarily strong” relationship with the HBCU and its former president, Johnnetta Cole, a mentor to her. She also has strong ties to the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned a master’s degree in public affairs, and Yale University, where she went to law school.
But Howard is located in a powerful hub of influence in many fields, she said. “Washington, D.C. is an essential part of how we protect democracy, how we think about social policy, how we challenge norms,” Abrams said. “And Howard University is a crucible for how we can engage all of those pieces. And so when they approached me, I was excited.”
Abrams will be using the endowed chair for a variety of things, Frederick said, “everything from teaching students to holding workshops and symposia … and also collaborate with other faculty members as we conduct research about these critical issues as well.”
The creation of the endowed chair was first announced in 2020 when Ronald Walters’s wife, Patricia Turner Walters, gave the university the couple’s collection of African American art valued at more than $2.5 million. The artwork is now on display at the Howard University Gallery of Art. Ronald Walters died in 2010.
Abrams became nationally known for energizing reluctant voters and building support for Democratic candidates with intensive efforts aimed at both rural and urban areas. Some presidential candidates sought out her expertise in voter mobilization in recent years, and she was considered a likely vice-presidential candidate for Joe Biden.