Senator Raphael Warnock Says He's Still the Little Boy He Was Growing Up

Georgia's first Black senator has a new children's book called 'Put Your Shoes on and Get Ready!' all about how he grew up and found his calling.

Portrait of Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock

Megan Varner/Getty Images

The public knows Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock as the boundary-busting Black politician from Georgia who calls himself a “pro-choice pastor” because of his nuanced position on abortion. He became Georgia’s first Black senator despite swaths of ultra-conservative constituents, supports low-cost education, public programs, and has modeled his career after Martin Luther King Jr. The Washington Post called him one of the Democratic Party's "most impactful voices."

But, in an interview with Kindred by Parents, the senator said that long before his 2021 win he was a Black boy who benefited from public programs like Head Start and lived in public housing. Like many other little boys, he was inspired by the big shoes his parents wore and wanted to grow up to fill them. It’s that story, one about vocations and diligence, that is chronicled in Warnock’s first children’s book, out Tuesday, called Put Your Shoes on and Get Ready!  “‘You’ve got to put on the right shoes for the work you’re meant to do,’” the colorful pages read.

Warnock says the book’s title was inspired by something he heard from his father throughout his childhood. “My father was a preacher and a junk man, and he worked very hard at both jobs. And every morning without fail, he would come into the room and tell me to wake up, get dressed, put my shoes on,” he says. “For him, it had to do with being prepared [and] the recognition that there's something special and unique for you to do in the world. And in a real sense, life is about finding your shoes and getting to do the work and the project that gives you joy and fulfillment.”

Lessons about purpose and patience from both of his parents framed his perspective through many challenging ages and stages. The book follows a young Warnock as he prepares for each new undertaking, first by putting on the shoes he’ll need to wear, and, next, by making sure that they fit.

As the 11th of 12 children, finding a niche was sometimes tricky, as one might imagine.

“A couple of my brothers were pretty good athletes…that basketball court was a fixture in our neighborhood. So I spent time on the court. I can tell you I had the ugliest jump shot in the neighborhood. But it went in. My friends still tease me about it,” says Warnock. “I figured out early on, that I was not going to be drafted for the NBA. So, I identified something else to do.”

Book cover for "Put Your Shoes On and Get Ready" By Rev. Raphael Warnock

Penguin Randomhouse

Once he identified that something, Warnock says he worked on science kits and projects from Radio Shack with a friend and says those interests ultimately led him to his position in the Senate.

He also remembers the shame of being racially profiled as a preteen because his hands were in his pockets at a grocery store but said he felt inspired to create change for others instead of discouraged, because of his parents’ care. He’s trying to raise his own children with their same durable values.

“I spend most of my time just trying to affirm their humanity. I spend time just helping them to know that they are as beautiful and as brilliant and as capable as anybody. And I think my parents did that for me,” says Warnock. “And in a real sense, it inoculated me against the kinds of self-hatred that can come as a result of growing up a brown kid or a Black kid. Or as a girl or as a gay kid. Having parents who love you and affirm you helps— it doesn’t solve it, doesn't cure it. But it certainly helps.”

Warnock says when he thinks about what he’s been able to achieve, he knows it’s the result of what “his parents poured into him” and the kinds of good policies that he continues to advocate for in the Senate.

“I'm a United States Senator, but I'm still that kid who grew up in public housing in Savannah, Georgia,” says Warnock.

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