10 years later, McBath turned grief over her son’s death into political career

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, left, and U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams speak to a reporter after an event in Washington marking the one-year anniversary of the Atlanta spa shootings. McBath is a key member on the House Judiciary Committee when it discusses gun policy.

Credit: Nathan Posner for The AJC

Credit: Nathan Posner for The AJC

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, left, and U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams speak to a reporter after an event in Washington marking the one-year anniversary of the Atlanta spa shootings. McBath is a key member on the House Judiciary Committee when it discusses gun policy.

On the day Lucy McBath won a third term in Congress, she was thinking most about the person who inspired her path in politics but who didn’t live to see it happen.

“Jordan, I love you more than you could ever know,” McBath wrote in her election night message to supporters. “This fight is for you. It is for all the children we have lost, and the families who will never be the same.”

Jordan Davis, McBath’s son, would be 27 years old if he had lived. But he was gunned down 10 years ago on Nov. 23, Black Friday that year, at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida. Jordan and his friends had been confronted by a man who complained about the loud rap music coming from their car.

McBath and other Black women who had lost sons in high-profile gun incidents became known as “Mothers of the Movement.” Her gun control advocacy led her to state capitols and the halls of Congress.

It came unexpectedly yet naturally for McBath, whose parents were also activists and NAACP leaders who took a young McBath with them to attend the March on Washington.

“I didn’t really understand that I had a political natural talent, and I’m still learning and still growing every single day,” she said. “But I think just the basic need to care for people, to care for my community and to provide for them like a mother does — provide nurturing and care and support and safety — I think that’s where it really stems from.”

By 2018, McBath had decided to run for the Georgia House after urging from state Rep. Renitta Shannon. But on Valentine’s Day that year there was another shooting in Florida; this one at a high school that left 17 children dead. They were the same age as Jordan when he was killed.

McBath had grown frustrated by the lack of action on gun control and decided the best way to make an impact was not at the state House but the U.S. Capitol.

She challenged incumbent U.S. Rep. Karen Handel in a swing suburban Atlanta district and won. Two years later, she beat Handel again in a rematch.

Ahead of the 2022 race, Republicans redrew McBath’s district in a way that would make it tough for any Democrat to win. So, she switched to run in the neighboring 7th Congressional District, setting up an incumbent vs. incumbent primary against U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux.

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath celebrates with her husband, Curtis McBath, at her primary election night party in May at the Hilton Atlanta Northeast. McBath won a three-way Democratic primary after moving into Georgia’s 7th Congressional District after the GOP-controlled General Assembly redrew her 6th Congressional District to make it more Republican-friendly. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

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Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

McBath won the contest easily, and in the general election she garnered 61% of the vote to earn a third term in office in a district based in Gwinnett and north Fulton counties.

McBath says her mission is still the same.

“Gun safety will always be the No. 1 priority for me,” she said.

Health care issues come second for the breast cancer survivor. Addressing inflation, care for veterans, public education and affordable housing are among her other interests. She said they all center on the same theme that boils down to being Jordan’s mom still, 10 years after his death.

“When I say that I am a mother on a mission, that’s because I am,” she said. “I look at the work I do as being a mother. So what I’ve always done, I will continue to do. The families in Gwinnett and Johns Creek, they want to have what’s best for their families and to take care of their loved ones.”

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, who represents the district to the south of McBath’s and serves with her on the House Judiciary Committee, says she has been a force on the panel when it comes to gun policy.

“She’s a persuasive person,” he said. “And it’s not based on all rhetorical skills. It’s based on a life experience and sincerity and determination.”

McBath, who often is among the Democrats mentioned as a possible contender for statewide office in Georgia, says she has no plans to seek leadership positions or attempt to raise her profile in Washington. Beyond serving her new constituents in the 7th District, the biggest job she has accepted is serving as the Democratic co-chair of the National Prayer Breakfast, one of the few bipartisan events organized by members of Congress.

Last year, she read Scripture during the event’s closing. A tearful McBath read from Philippians Chapter 4: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

McBath visited Jordan’s gravesite earlier this month; cooking Thanksgiving dinner no longer interests her. Instead, every year around this time, she and her family take a cruise to the Caribbean. They focus on celebrating Jordan’s life instead of mourning his death.

Today, McBath is somewhere on the ocean where she will toast to being a mother still.

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, bottom left, and her family take a cruise to the Caribbean every Thanksgiving to celebrate the life of her late son, Jordan Davis, who was shot and killed on Nov. 23, 2012.

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Credit: handout