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Photo credit: Joshua Spruiel, City of Atlanta

Atlanta has a Mayor Named Keisha

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms talks about her decision to run, how her spirituality factored into that choice, balancing family and what she wants for the City of Atlanta

Deya Smith-Taylor

Listen to Deya Smith-Taylor interview Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms:

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Deya Direct: Madam Mayor, congratulations.

Mayor Lance-Bottoms: Thank you so very much.

Deya Direct: Talk to me about what your win means to you?

Mayor Lance-Bottoms: It is just a testament to what's possible when you trust God and you walk in your calling. And for me it really was about overcoming fears and overcoming the narrative and parameters that other people try to place upon me. And just knowing that really got placed in my heart to do something much bigger than I ever thought I would do for myself.

Once I embraced it and then I put the work in; now I sit here today as the 60th mayor of Atlanta.

Deya Direct: You said something really important, you talked about God and what was inside of you. The ideal for anyone is to fulfill purpose. It's one thing to get the calling; it's another thing to answer it. Can you give me a sense of what that story looked like from the moment where you said, I need to do this. And then you actually decided to do it.

Mayor Lance-Bottoms: It really is its own chapter in a book. And it started in 2008. I was a part time magistrate judge and I knew that it was time for me to either move up or out. So I challenged an incumbent for his seat on the Superior Court bench. It didn't make sense to anybody, but I prayed about it and I knew that God's answer to me was to run. And my prayer was God if it be your will I win and if not show me what else you have in store. I lost that race. I almost won and it really was again this fearlessness because I didn't have sense enough to know that I shouldn't challenge an established incumbent.

And I remember after that race sitting on the middle of my floor cross-legged and going OK God I did it. Now what? And a year later the person who represented my City Council District retired after 32 years. And I remember thinking what would you do if you weren't afraid to fail. And during the course of the race for the judgeship I went all across the county, I had to go into different communities and I was struck by what you got when your community had a voice and I said the only thing stopping me is I didn't want to be embarrassed, didn't want to fail again. I ran. There were nine people in that race and I won without a runoff and almost immediately after joining city council people started planting the seed about my running for mayor.

But that was not what I had in my mind and nothing I thought about and nothing I was even interested in doing so it really became this process of why people think that I could be mayor? Then, do I want to be mayor and then the Lord confirmed for me that I should do it. And in November of 2015, I kept praying and I prayed every single day and I prayed throughout the summer and I kept thinking, Lord I need an answer because people were getting in the race and I was sitting in church and the sermon that day gave me my confirmation and I was so overwhelmed by the confirmation that I should run that I couldn't even leave my seat. After church was over and it's a reason that in the course of this very nasty long campaign I didn't waver because I knew that I was doing what I was supposed to do. And even during the course of the campaign it was okay Lord I want to win; but if it's not your will then so let it be.

And the night of the election the runoff was the first time that I really thought that I might not win.

And on this screen flashed up we were 50/50. There were three precincts still out. And that's when I just dropped to my knees and I just began to pray and I said Lord please don't let me get this close.

Like don't, please don't do that to me. And you know the rest is history expressing faith is not new to African-Americans. And yet if you look at it from a party perspective traditionally as of late you only hear it really from Republicans whether it manifests itself that way or not.

Deya Direct: So you've talked about your relationship with the Lord very clearly, openly and authentically. So how has that played itself out when you say that you got a confirmation? And I'm asking this question not just for your story, but because so many people from a spiritual perspective. Are looking for confirmation to know that they're going in the right direction. How did you get your confirmation and then feel confident about owning it from a spiritual perspective?

Mayor Lance-Bottoms: I think that God speaks to us all day every day. I think really it's a matter of us listening and I'm not you know I'm not this perfect saint by far. Nowhere close and I'm not a a holy roller, but I'm very grateful that when I've listened I've always [followed] what God has placed before me confidently and I really think a lot of that goes back to generational prayers. My grandmother was a woman of extreme faith. So I can't take the credit. I think I'm the beneficiary of a lot of prayer and a lot of work that was done by other folk before me. That being said, it is such a part of me that I can't help talking about my faith. We have to put the work in. And so it's it really extends beyond what my faith is.

But how do I show that faith and how I work and what I believe. And there are things that you know I'm the beneficiary of even in terms of the stability financial stability of our city and a lot of that is in great part and great credit to my predecessor Kasim Reed who really focused on driving the ship financially for the city. So I now have the ability to give a community focus in a way that over the past eight years we didn't have a luxury of doing so. Part of that is a huge part of it is faith but that's only the beginning. Now it's about the work and how does that translate and how does that permeate to our communities.


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