Senate candidate Reverend Raphael Warnock speaks in Athens, Georgia on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020 as part of the "Get Ready to Vote” student rally with Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz. Warnock's campaign completed a statewide tour of Georgia, making stops in Atlanta, Athens and Augusta ahead of the January 5 Senate runoff election. (Photo/Taylor Gerlach; taylormckenziephotography.com)

As “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder played, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock jumped on the back of a truck wearing a blue suit, rainbow polka dot tie and a smile on his face. 

“This is a defining moment in American history,” said Warnock as he kicked off his rally to inform voters before the upcoming Jan. 5 runoff election in Athens on Friday afternoon. Warnock is running against Republican incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

Warnock is touring cities across Georgia and stopped by 40 Watt Club to speak on the importance of the runoff election and his values. The rally featured several other speakers including city commissioners, students and organization members.

“What America looks like is at stake,” said University of Georgia junior political science major Quin Thomas, who also spoke at the rally.

Warnock is campaigning on making changes and improving  climate, health care and education. He aims to continue to fund the Pell Grant, maintaining low-interest student loans and allowing young adults to remain on their parents' insurance until the age of 26. 

Growing up, Warnock was one of 12 children and said he went to Morehouse on a “full faith scholarship.” 

He was able to receive a Pell Grant, low-interest student loans and a work-study job, which all helped him graduate from college. By recognizing the hardships of modern college students, he said he is able to relate to students and knows how to help those with student loan debt. He vowed to help students if he is elected to the U.S. Senate.

“The eyes of the nation are on Georgia right now,” said Jeremiah de Sesto, a member of Georgia 4 Blue Senate, which is a political student-led coalition. 

Warnock was born and raised in Savannah and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology. He went on to complete his Ph.D. and become ordained. He currently serves as Senior Pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. 

“I’m going to take the values that enform my faith into the U.S. Senate,” said Warnock.“Values like justice, and truth-telling for a change.”

He spoke about the importance and significance of the Georgia Senate runoff election. If Warnock and Jon Ossoff are elected, the Senate would consist of 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats and two Independents who vote with the Democrats. A Democrat would be the new Senate Majority Leader and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would be the deciding vote for any presented ties. 

“We want change,” said Athens resident Tambra Joyner. “We need someone like Warnock in D.C.” 

Reflecting on his childhood, Warnock shared an anecdote about his father that represents how he will work for Georgians if elected. His father woke him up at dawn every day as a child to “get moving,” Warnock said, and he's grateful for his father’s values that were instilled in him at a young age.

“I’ve spent my whole life trying to be ready and I’m ready to be the next United States Senator from the great state of Georgia,” Warnock said.

 Near the end of the rally, an individual began shouting at Warnock.

“Aren’t you glad you live in a free country where we have freedom of speech? Where everybody can speak, even if they’re obnoxious. This is America,” Warnock said.

Various speakers emphasized that flipping Georgia blue for the presidential election is not enough. 

“We must come together and vote for Warnock,” said Joyner. 

In an interview after the event had ended, Warnock emphasized the importance of young voters in Georgia.

“I would remind young people that when you look at all of the movements in our country, young people are often making a difference. They’ve been able to turn the dial on change through their youthful idealism, their energy and their ideas and we need that now in America in this important turning point,” Warnock said.