“Georgia State University College of Law had such a great deal to do with why I stand here as mayor of this city,” said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (J.D. ’94) at a reception in her honor by the Ronald J. Freeman Chapter of the National Black Law Students Association (BLSA) on Wednesday, Feb. 28. “Georgia State helped create a work ethic in me that really has made all the difference.”
“BLSA students wanted to do something to honor you because they saw in your accomplishments, their own potential,” Tanya Washington, professor of law and BLSA faculty adviser, said to Bottoms. “They saw in what you were able to achieve a foreshadowing of their own success, and I think that’s important.”
She didn’t do well her first semester at law school, Bottoms said. Her husband Derek Bottoms (J.D. ’94), whom she met during her first year at Georgia State Law, motivated and pushed her to focus on her studies.
“Derek said to me what we should all say to each other: ‘You can do it, you are smart, and you are able, and you wouldn’t be here if you couldn’t make it,’” she said.
By her second year, the mayor was working full time and participating in an externship with improved grades. “[I realized] it wasn’t about being liked. It wasn’t about having a good time,” said Bottoms, a former BLSA member. “It wasn’t about knowing people. It was really about what I did for myself and how I believed in myself.”
She shared her story for those students who wonder whether they can make it, she said. “Your degree from Georgia State can get you anywhere in this world,” Bottoms said. “Don’t ever doubt that, don’t ever run away from it, and celebrate all that you’ve been called to do.”
“I stand here telling you that you can and you will. And you will do more than you could ever dream of when you leave this place because you will be equipped to literally change the world,” she said. “Being elected the 60th mayor of this city has truly been the greatest honor of my life … because I get to make a difference.”
Because she didn’t love practicing law, Bottoms didn’t fully appreciate the value of her law degree and legal training until she joined the Atlanta City Council and worked with others who lacked the legal background.
“You do think differently. You do anticipate differently. You know that details matter,” she said. “You know if something is a minute late, then it is no good. You know there is a difference between an ‘and’ and an ‘or.’”
As mayor, one of the first things she did was sign an ordinance to end cash bail for most minor, nonviolent offenses handled by Municipal Court. Mawuli Davis (J.D. ’02), of Davis Bozeman Law and a member of the mayor’s Transition Team, and Tiffany W. Roberts (J.D. ’08), adjunct professor and deputy director of the National Institute for Teaching Ethics and Professionalism, were among those advocating for reform.
“The first time we talked about [cash bail reform], I said, ‘I don’t know enough about it.’ But because there were people in this room who knew about it and brought it to my attention, it has already made a difference,” Bottoms said. “So, what I say to you is, if there are things you are passionate about, don’t keep it to yourself because it can make a difference in people’s lives—it will make a difference in people’s lives. My charge to all of you, is don’t be afraid to fail. Ask yourself ‘what is that thing I’d do if I weren’t afraid to fail.’”