Sen. Raphael Warnock's New Children's Book Celebrates 'Preparation and Purpose'
Sen. Raphael Warnock grew up in Savannah, Georgia, the 11th of 12 children born to pastor parents. He long ago followed them into the pulpit — he's been the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta since 2005 — but recently has forged his own path in politics, winning a special election in 2020 to serve in the U.S. Senate, a seat to which he was re-elected in 2022.
Now he adds children's book author to his résumé with Put Your Shoes On & Get Ready! In the picture book, illustrated by TeMika Grooms and published Jan.10, Warnock recalls the advice his father always doled out — even when waking up sleepy kids on Saturday mornings. "You didn't sleep late in my house," Warnock told PEOPLE. "He had a fierce work ethic."
Warnock, who is the father of two children of his own, talked with PEOPLE about the process of writing his new book and the lessons his parents taught him about race, resilience, and hope for a better future.
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This is a lovely book about your childhood and your family and your growing up. What made you decide to write this book for kids?
The book is about both preparation and purpose. It's about getting yourself ready for what life sends your way. And it's an affirmation of my belief that there's a place for each of us in the world. Part of life is finding the shoes that fit our feet, so we can get going. It's inspired by my dad, who woke me up every morning with the same message: "Get up. Get dressed. Put your shoes on."
That's a mantra I've taken through life: that you have to show up and be ready, and that it's important to be yourself. Put on your shoes, and the shoes that fit your feet. That sense of purpose, the recognition that we all have gifts and something to offer to the world, is something that I want to share with every child. And I'm inspired to do it in this children's book, both as a pastor and a senator, but also as a dad.
There's a page in the book that I think is really important, in which your parents are telling you about what it was like growing up Black during segregation. What did you take away from those conversations when you were a kid?
It gave me a sense of identity, and it helped me to understand the world that my father knew as a young person. So it was a part of my awakening and consciousness about what it means to navigate the world as a Black person, as a person of color. But I think what I'm struck by is that my dad was never bitter. He was still resilient and hopeful, while at the same time, very clear-eyed about the complex reality of our country along racial lines.
My dad was born in 1917. So by the time I came along, he had already lived through the Civil Rights movement. He had already endured the absurdity of Jim Crow segregation, as exemplified in that one episode that I lay out in the book, where here he is a World War II veteran, wearing his soldier's uniform and asked to give up his seat for a young white teenager. The skin he was wearing was more consequential, and important for some, than the uniform he was wearing.
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So that is just one of those family stories that ground you in the reality of who you are and the work that we must continue to do. But my dad also lived to see Barack Obama become president. I went to the inauguration. I remember talking to him on the phone while he was at home in Savannah, and I was standing there in the freezing cold watching the first Black man be inaugurated as President of the United States. And I could hear and feel the pride over the phone, and that's part of my story and the American story.
What do you tell your own kids when you talk about the world as it is, the world as you might hope it to be?
It's something I'm navigating right now as a dad, because, let's face it: as a parent, you want your children to enjoy the beauty and the magic and the innocence of childhood. My daughter is six and my son is four. And I'm navigating right now, how do you explain certain things? But I think the care that you have as a parent is what comes through in the way I tell that story in the book.
And so, if you don't mind, one last question that's political. After midterms, which have left us with a Democratic-led Senate and Republican-led House, with all these standoffs looming, do you still have hope that Congress can get to work and get things done?
Yes, I do remain hopeful. I'm very clear about the political reality. But I came to Congress in a 50/50 Senate, and I think that when the history of the 117th Congress was written, it will be clear that this is one of the most productive congresses in modern history. We got major bipartisan legislation passed on everything from investing in industrial manufacturing, to historic investments in veterans benefits, to the inflation — well, the Inflation Reduction Act, that was [just Democrats]. But a very, very productive Congress over bipartisan infrastructure.
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That's certainly been my goal. I'm the 18th most bipartisan senator in the Senate. I think that's quite an achievement when you think about the fact that I was number 100 last Congress in terms of seniority, and everybody knew I was up for re-election. And yet, I was able to convince enough of my Republican colleagues to work with me that I'm ranked as one of the most bipartisan senators in the Senate, working with Republicans on everything from maternal healthcare to helping farmers to overcome red tape and get their products to European markets.
So with a six-year term, I remain hopeful that I can continue to do a lot of bipartisan work. And I think when you center the people, rather than the politics, you can get almost anything done.
Put Your Shoes On & Get Ready! is available for purchase at bookstores now.