February 19, 2021
I believe that when we think of Black History Month we automatically reflect upon the civil rights leaders of the past. It has been a pleasure the past two weeks to share with you profiles of Black leaders in academia, science, and innovation.
Leaders such as Medger Evers, Marcus Garvey, Stokely Carmichael, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have made undeniable impacts on the Civil Rights Movement, and I invite you to learn more about them here: https://www.biography.com/people/groups/civil-rights-activists. Today, I want to share with you the background of some individuals who continue to champion civil rights today.
Bryan Stevenson (1959 – )
Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), Stevenson is a lawyer who, along with his organization, fights for human rights in the criminal justice system. He has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and won against excessive punishments, abuse of the incarcerated, and racial disparities in sentencing. He was also a leader in the creation of two cultural sites opened in Montgomery, Alabama, in 2018, the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
Melanie Campbell (ca. 1960 – )
An active leader in civil and women’s rights as well as the social justice movement, Campbell’s primary focus is the right to vote. She leads the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation which works to encourage black youth to vote and to fight voter suppression efforts nationwide. A dedicated mentor, Campbell also strives to empower black women via her Black Women’s Roundtable by providing skills and resources to counter the social issues in their communities.
Michelle Alexander (1967 – )
A civil rights lawyer, college professor, and author, Alexander wrote a 2010 bestseller, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” raising awareness of the disproportionate number of arrests of black people. The book has been called “the bible of a social movement.” She has also served as the Director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU of Northern California.
James Rucker (ca. 1969 – )
With a background in the Silicon Valley software industry, Rucker is chairman and co-founder of ColorofChange.org, an online group with more than one million members who are dedicated to political lobbying for African Americans. He has also co-founded Citizen Engagement Laboratory (CEL) which is a gathering of people and projects seeking to advance a cultural shift and transform society.
Lateefah Simon (1977 – )
In 2003 Simon was the youngest person, at 26, to ever receive the “Genius” Award from the MacArthur Foundation as executive director of the Center for Young Women’s Development (CYWD), a program in San Francisco, CA, designed to give girls from troubled backgrounds the opportunity for better lives. She has also been an organizer and spokesperson for Rock the Vote and continues to make strides for racial justice.
Abram X. Kendi (1982 – )
The founding director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, Kendi is an historian and author. He was named to Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020. His book, “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” interprets the highs and lows of the civil rights movement over the years and recommends realistic steps to wipe out racism and bigotry.
These individuals are each making a difference in the struggle to end racial discrimination and are continuing to draw attention to areas where improvement and advancement for equal rights is necessary. If you are feeling inspired and would like to contribute, I encourage you check out this list of civil rights nonprofits and charities in the Pittsburgh area:
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
– Marcus Garvey