The Isenberg School of Management and The UMass Office of Equity and Inclusion are sponsoring a showing of the documentary bias, which will be followed with a question and answer session with the filmmaker, Robin Hauser. Pre-registration for the event is required. Once registered, participants will receive an email with a link to watch the documentary on Friday, March 12. The link will be good until the start of the conversation with Robin Hauser on March 18 at 12 pm. Learn more about the film and the screening here. Register for the event here.
During Black History Month, we highlighted the outstanding contributions Dr. Shirley Malcom has made to increasing accessibility to STEM education and careers for girls and women. This month, Dr. Malcom will be giving the UMass ADVANCE Annual Lecture, and will be speaking on Science in the Time of COVID and America’s Reckoning with Race. Dr. Malcom will be speaking on March 24 at 4 pm. Learn more about the event here. Register to attend Dr. Malcom’s lecture here.
During the last week of Black History Month, we are celebrating Black athletes. Athletes have long inspired greatness in their fellow human beings, accomplishing the impossible as they seemingly defying the laws of nature. Many Black athletes choose to use their platforms not only to inspire, but also to lead, fighting for racial equity, sometimes even in the face of history’s greatest villains.
Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., better known as Muhammad Ali, was an American professional boxer widely recognized as the greatest boxer of all times and one of the most famous American athletes. He was born in Louisville, KY in 1942. Ali began boxing at the age of 12 when he reported his stolen bicycle to a policeman named Joe Martin, who gave boxing lessons at a local youth center. Martin invited Ali to try boxing and soon recognized his talent. At 18, Ali won the gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics and turned professional later that year. In February 1964, when he was only 22 years old, he fought and defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship of the world. He became the first boxer in history to win the heavyweight championship three times. Ali thrived in the spotlight; was known for trash-talking, and often free-styled with rhyme schemes and spoken word poetry. Ali has been described as the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, and as the greatest athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated, the Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC, and the third greatest athlete of the 20th century by ESPN SportsCentury. Inspired by Muslim spokesman Malcolm X, Ali began to follow the Black Muslim faith, became a Muslim, and changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1966. In April 1967, Ali was drafted into military service during the Vietnam War. As a minister of the Black Muslim religion, he refused to serve. As a result, his boxing license was suspended and he was stripped of his heavyweight title. Ali was sentenced to five years in prison but was released on appeal, and his conviction was thrown out three years later by the U.S. Supreme Court. Ali retired from boxing in 1981 and made his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis public in 1984. Throughout his life, Ali focused on religion, philanthropy, and activism. He supported historically Black colleges and spoke about the importance of education. He donated millions to charity organizations and disadvantaged people and was engaged in a number of social justice causes. At the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, Ali was chosen to light the Olympic torch during the opening ceremonies. In 2005, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His life story is featured in the film Ali (2001), and in the documentary film I Am Ali (2014).
Simone Biles is an Olympic gold medalist and World Champion gymnast. She was born in Columbus, OH in 1997, but when her mother was unable to care for her four children and they were placed in foster care, Biles’ grandparents moved the children to the Houston suburb Spring, TX in 2000. Biles and one of her sisters were officially adopted by their grandparents in 2003. Biles began gymnasts at age 6. In 2013, Biles competed in her first international meet, where she placed second. Later that year, she won her first national all-around title and her first world all-around title, making her the first African America to win the world title. In 2016, Biles was named to the U.S. team for the Rio Olympics. She helped lead the women’s team to Olympic team gold, and then won the individual all-around gold, the vault gold, floor exercise gold, and balance beam bronze. After taking a few years off, Biles returned to gymnastics in 2018. At the national championships, she placed first in every event over two days of competition. During the 2018 World Championships, Biles received emergency medical attention for kidney stones the night before the qualifying round. After checking herself out of the hospital, she helped the U.S. team qualify for the team final, while also qualifying for the all-around, vault, balance beam, and floor exercise finals herself. The U.S. team went on to win the team event, and Biles took the all-around title, the vault title, the floor exercise title, silver on the uneven bars, and bronze on the balance beam. This made her just the tenth female gymnast, and first American, to win a medal on every event. She achieved similar results at the 2019 World Championships, where she won 5 gold medals. Biles has had several skills named after her: one on vault, two on balance beam, and one on floor exercise. The Biles II on floor exercise has been given the highest difficulty score of any skill for men and women. However, there has been controversy around the difficulty assignment of some of her scores, with some arguing that the skills are underscored to discourage other gymnasts from attempting to perform the incredibly difficult skills Biles is capable of performing. In 2018, Biles designed and wore a teal leotard at the National Championships to represent the survivors of Larry Nassar’s sexual assault after announcing she had also been one of his victims earlier that year. Along with the other survivors, Biles received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award for speaking out about Nassar. Her list of awards and accomplishments cements her as one of the greatest athletes of all time. She has announced that she will retire after the Tokyo Olympics later this year.
Colin Kaepernick was an NFL quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-2016. He was born in Milwaukee, WI in 1987. Kaepernick brought national attention to police brutality and racial injustices in the United States by protesting the National Anthem before football games by taking a knee. His protests were first recognized in August 2016 during a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. When asked about his protest after the game, Kaepernick is quoted as saying “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.” Kaepernick continued to protest the National Anthem for the remainder of the season, his last season as a player in the NFL. His protests quickly became a movement by other players throughout the League and other professional sports leagues. Kaepernick completed a Million Dollar Pledge for which he personally donated one million dollars to 37 organizations fighting for social justice. He also founded the Know Your Rights Camp to advance the liberation of Black and Brown people throughout the world. The Know Your Rights Camp was designed to create new systems that elevate the next generation of change leaders in the Black and Brown community. Readers are encouraged to read the New York Times articleThe Awakening of Colin Kaepernickto learn more about Kaepernick and his development as a social justice leader.
Althea Neale Gibson was an American tennis player and professional golfer. Gibson was born in Silver, SC in 1927, but moved to Harlem in 1930 where, at age 12, she was the New York City women’s paddle tennis champion. In 1941, she won her first tournament, the American Tennis Association (ATA) New York State Championship. In 1947, she won her first of ten straight national ATA women’s titles. In 1950, Gibson became the first Black player to receive an invitation to the US Nationals (now the US Open) at 23 years old, and her participation was internationally covered. In 1956, she became the first African American to win a Grand Slam title (the French Championships). The following year, she won both Wimbledon (and was the first champion to receive the trophy personally from Queen Elizabeth II) and the US Nationals, then won both again in 1958. She was voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in both years. She also became the first Black woman to appear on the covers of Sports Illustrated and Time magazines. In all, she won 11 Grand Slam tournaments: five singles titles, five doubles titles, and one mixed doubles title. Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. In late 1958, having won 56 national and international singles and doubles titles, Gibson retired from tennis. Earning no prize money at major tournaments and confronted by racial discrimination, from 1964 (age 37) until 1978, Gibson was the first African-American woman to join the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour. In the late 1980s Gibson suffered two cerebral hemorrhages and in 1992, a stroke. Ongoing medical expenses depleted her financial resources until former tennis doubles partner Angela Buxton raised nearly $1 million in donations from around the world. In early 2003, Gibson survived a heart attack, but died on September 28, 2003, at the age of 76 from complications. During the 2007 US Open (50 years after her first victory) Gibson was inducted into the US Open Court of Champions. In 2013, the United States Postal Service issued a postage stamp honoring her. In 2019, a statue was unveiled in her honor at Flushing Meadows, site of the US Open. This was only the second Flushing Meadows monument erected in honor of a champion.
Jesse Owens was Olympic gold medalist in track and field. He was born in Oakville, AL in 1913, a son of sharecroppers Henry and Emma Alexander Owens and grandson of enslaved people. His family of nine moved to Ohio when he was 9 years old, and by the time Owens was a teenager at East Technical High School, he was already breaking track and field records. This was just the beginning of his incredible athletic career. Early on in college at Ohio State University, Owens broke three world records at the Big Ten Conference Championships and became known as the “Buckeye Bullet.” In later years at OSU, Owens went on to win all of the 42 events he completed, including in the NCAA Championships, AAU Championships, and Olympic Trials. Owens became a worldwide hero when he became the first American to win four gold medals at the Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany in 1936. Hitler watched in disbelief and anger as Owens, an African American, blew past the competition and shattered world records, publicly destroying Hitler’s declaration of Aryan racial superiority. In total, the United States won eleven gold medals that year, and six of them were won by Black athletes. President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not meet and congratulate Owens when he returned to the US, which was a disgraceful failure in leadership that should have been met with public outcry at the time. In Owens own words, “Hitler didn’t snub me—it was our own president who snubbed me…the president didn’t even send me a telegram.” It would be many years before Owens was properly credited for these historical accomplishments. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Gerald Ford in 1976. And 10 years after his death, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. His legend is carried on by his daughters Gloria, Marlene, and Beverly through their work with the Jesse Owens Foundation.
Jack Roosevelt (Jackie) Robinson was the first African American to play baseball in the MLB in the modern era. He was born in Cairo, GA in 1919, and his family moved to Pasadena, CA after his father left the family in 1920. Jackie’s older brothers, including the Olympic silver medalist Mack Robinson, inspired Jackie to pursue athletics; he was a varsity athlete in football, basketball, track, and baseball. Jackie attended Pasadena Junior College, continuing to pursue all four sports, before enrolling at UCLA in 1939 and becoming the first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports. He left UCLA just shy of graduating, and pursued a football career in the Pacific Coast Football League. However, the attack on Pearl Harbor had drawn the U.S. into WWII, at which point Robinson was drafted into a segregated Army calvary unit. However, after being court-martialed for refusing to sit at the back of an Army bus, which was supposed to be unsegregated, Robinson was not deployed with his battalion and he ended up never seeing combat. After being acquitted, Robinson was transferred to a base in Kentucky, where he met a former Kansas City Monarchs baseball player. Taking the player’s advice, Robinson wrote to the team, which was part of the Negro American League, to ask for a tryout. He signed a contract in 1945 for $400/month. Frustrated with the lack of structure and role of gambling in the League, Robinson pursued tryouts with MLB teams, which at the time had no Black players. By the end of 1945, Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, negotiated a contract for Robinson in the MLB, and he spent the next season playing in the minor leagues. Robinson was called up to the Dodgers in 1947, scoring a run in his first game at Ebbets Field, and becoming the first athlete to break the color line since 1884. Robinson played for the Dodgers until 1956, and retired as a six-time All-Star, World Series champion (1955), National League MVP, Rookie of the Year, National league batting champion, and two-time National League stolen base leader. His number, 42, has been retired by all MLB teams, and Robinson was named to the MLB All-Century Team. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. After his baseball career, Robinson was active in politics and the civil rights movement, and lobbied for increased diversity among the baseball management and coaching. His life story has been portrayed in several productions, including the 2013 movie 42, featuring Chadwick Boseman as Robinson. Robinson passed away in 1972.
Serena Jameka Williams is an American professional tennis player and former world No. 1 in women’s single tennis. She was born in Saginaw, MI in 1981, the youngest of five daughters, including another tennis great, Venus Williams. Williams moved to Compton, CA, where she started playing tennis at age 4. Her rise in tennis was meteoric, reaching world No. 1 for the first time on July 8, 2002. Now 39 years old, she holds 23 Grand Slam singles titles, the most of any player in the Open Era, and second only to Margaret Court. She also holds the most Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles combined among active players. Williams gave birth to her daughter in September 2017 by emergency C-section, and suffered a pulmonary embolism after giving birth. When Williams returned to tennis in March 2018, she wore a catsuit while playing in the French Open, which aided her recovery from pregnancy. When her outfit was banned by the French Tennis Federation, she returned in a tutu. That same year, Williams made it to the finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Just last week, Williams reached the semi-final of the Australian Open, where she lost to Naomi Osaka, who ended up winning the tournament. Williams has won the Laureus Sportswoman of the Year award four times, and was named Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated magazine in 2015. In 2019, she ranked 63rd in Forbes’ World’s Highest-Paid Athletes list. Williams is also an entrepreneur with a designer apparel line named Aneres. In 2002, People magazine selected her as one of its 25Most Intriguing People. Essence magazine called her one of the country’s 50 Most Inspiring African Americans. Seeking to improve educational opportunities, the tennis star formed the Serena Williams Foundation which helps build schools in underprivileged areas around the world.
During the third week of Black History Month, we are focusing on Black artists. From singers/songwriters and playwrights to photographers and fashion designers, Black artists have captured Black culture in their songs, plays, photographs, and clothing designs. And along the way, they have broken down barriers, whether based on race, gender, or sexuality. Please join us in celebrating these icons.
Devin Allen is a photographer and an activist. He was born in West Baltimore, MD in 1988. Through his camera lens, he walks us through the streets of Baltimore and illuminates the beauty of the people who live there. Each photograph tells a story that tears down the false and racist narrative that dehumanizes and demonizes Black communities, which the news media has spent years constructing. He shows the world the truth, capturing the magnificence of Black moms, dads, children, and grandparents, while simultaneously revealing the harsh injustices these communities face. The illegal arrest and subsequent murder of Freddie Gray by Baltimore city police officers led to the “Baltimore Uprising” in April 2015. The narrative was to be the same: blame the victim for the violence placed upon him, blame the community from which he comes, and blame the protesters for the uprising, delegitimize the cause, and focusing on property damage rather than human rights. Allen’s photograph of the event changed that narrative. In it, we see a single unarmed Black man running away from an army of heavily armored, militarized police. The photograph was on the cover of Time Magazine, with the title America, 1968 2016 What has Changed. What Hasn’t. D. Watkins describes why Allen’s visual gifts hold so much power for us in his introduction to Allen’s book, The Beautiful Ghetto. Watkins writes that we see “beautiful images that conquered the false narratives produced by multiple media outlets, humanized the broke and misrepresented residents of Baltimore, and truly honored the life and legacy of Freddie Gray.” Recently, Allen’s artistic activism and photography of Baltimore’s youth athletes helped launch a new and exciting collaboration with Under Armour. A portion of the profits from his new limited-edition shoe collection will go to the company’s expanded partnership with Wide Angle Youth Media, which is a Baltimore-based nonprofit that works with youth interested in media arts.
Sam Cooke was a singer, songwriter, producer, and entrepreneur. He was born in Clarksdale, MS in 1931. His contributions as a musician paved the way for later artists, including Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Billy Preston. Cooke began his career as the lead singer of The Soul Stirrers at the age of 15. He remained with the gospel group for more than a decade, producing the classics “Nearer to Three,” “Touch the Hem of His Garment,” and “Jesus Gave Me Water.” In an attempt to reach a wider audience, Cooke began his transition from gospel to the more secularized soul and pop genre as a solo artist in 1957. He quickly became world-renowned, reaching the top 40 hits chart for pop and R&B on numerous occasions. Cooke also made important contributions to the Civil Rights Movement by refusing to perform for segregated audiences, one of the first real efforts in civil disobedience that helped kick off the Civil Rights Movement. Cooke produced “A Change is Gonna Come,” which became the anthem for the Civil Rights Movement. Readers are encouraged to read the biography Dream Boogie: The Life and Death of Sam Cooke by Peter Guralnick. You can find an insightful excerpt of Dream Boogiehere.
Daniel Day, known as Dapper Dan, is an African American fashion designer and haberdasher from Harlem, New York. He was born in Harlem in 1944. By age 13, he financed his first store by gambling. From 1968–1974, he toured Africa as part of a program at Columbia University and the Urban League. Back in New York in 1974, he first sold shoplifted items out of his car. In 1982, he opened Dapper Dan’s Boutique on 125th Street, between Madison and Fifth Avenues, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He soon faced racism and prejudice, and struggled to buy textiles and furs. As a result, he taught himself how to create his own designs, inventing a new process for printing onto leather, and designed jewelry and luxury car interiors. Using logos from luxury brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Fendi, the opening of his store in the early 1980s coincided with the rise of hip-hop music. Day ventured into hip hop fashion in 1985, when he first styled LL Cool J and Eric B. & Rakim. He also created looks for The Fat Boys, Salt-N-Pepa, KRS-One, Bobby Brown, Jam Master Jay, Big Daddy Kane, and Jay-Z, and for athletes including Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather, and Diane Dixon. Day’s illegal use of logos in his custom-made designs led to the demise of his first store in 1992. He was shunned by the mainstream fashion world for decades, though he continued to work as a designer for several clients, including Floyd Mayweather. In 2017, Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele designed a jacket based on a well-known Dapper Dan design for Diane Dixon in 1989. Social media reacted when Dixon shared a photo of the Gucci jacket next to a photo of her in the original one. Dixon requested that Dapper Dan receive credit, especially due to Gucci not stating the jacket to be a homage to Dan’s work until after they drew criticism. In 2017, Day and Gucci collaborated for a line of men’s wear. In 2018, Day opened “Dapper Dan of Harlem,” the first luxury house fashion store in Harlem on Lenox Avenue, in partnership with Gucci. Dan is included in Time magazine ‘s 100 Most Influential People of 2020.
Stormé DeLarverie was a performer and bodyguard, recognized as the ‘guardian of lesbians in the Village,’ and is widely believed to be responsible for sparking the Stonewall Riots. DeLarverie was born in New Orleans, LA in 1920. After a difficult upbringing as the daughter of a white man and Black woman, she moved to Chicago and lived as a straight man in her 20s. It was in Chicago that DeLarverie began to perform in The Jewel Revue, which was the first racially integrated drag revue in North America. Billed as the show with 25 men and 1 woman, the audience was expected to determine which performer was the woman. DeLarverie performed as the debonaire MC and became the revue’s musical director from 1955-1969. DeLarverie’s prominence and her striking androgynous look inspired other lesbians to begin wearing clothing that had previously been considered only for men. Her three-piece suits are now recognized for influencing gender-nonconforming women’s fashion. On June 28, 1969, DeLarverie was at the Stonewall Inn during the police raid, and is often credited with throwing the first punch to protect her friends. After Stonewall, DeLarverie left the Jewel Box Revue and lost her partner of 25 years. At this point, DeLarverie became an advocate for LGBTQ rights and worked as a bodyguard at lesbian bars in the Village in New York City. She worked as a bouncer at lesbian bars for 30 years until she was 85 years old. She passed away in 2014. More about DeLarverie and her life is detailed in an episode of The Nod called The Cowboy of the West Village.
Lorraine Hansberry was a playwright and writer. She was born in Chicago, IL in 1930.Her father, Carl Augustus Hansberry, founded Lake Street Bank, one of the first banks for Black people in Chicago, and ran a successful real estate business. Her uncle was William Leo Hansberry, a scholar of African Studies at Howard University. Through these two, many prominent African American social and political leaders visited the household during Hansberry’s childhood, including sociology professor W.E.B. DuBois, poet Langston Hughes, actor and political activist Paul Robeson, musician Duke Ellington, and Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens. At age 8, Hansberry’s family deliberately attempted to move into a restricted neighborhood. The family was threatened by a white mob, which threw a brick through a window, narrowly missing Hansberry. The Supreme Court of Illinois upheld the legality of the restrictive covenant and forced the family to leave the house. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision on a legal technicality. The result was the opening of 30 blocks of South Side Chicago to African Americans. Hansberry moved to New York City in 1950 to begin her career as a writer. She was the first African American female author to have a play performed on Broadway. Her best known work, the play A Raisin in the Sun, highlights the lives of Black Americans living under racial segregation in Chicago. At the age of 29, she won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, making her the first African American dramatist, the fifth woman, and the youngest playwright to do so. Hansberry worked at the Pan-Africanist newspaper Freedom, where much of her work concerned the African struggle for liberation and its impact on the world. Hansberry’s writings also discussed her lesbianism and the oppression of homosexuality. She died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 34. Hansberry inspired the song by Nina Simone, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”, which was also the title of Hansberry’s autobiographical play.
Eunice Kathleen Waymon, stage name Nina Simone and often referred to as the High Priestess of Soul, was a uniquely versatile and tremendously talented singer, songwriter, musical arranger, pianist, and civil rights activist. She was born in Tryon, NC in 1933, and began playing the piano by ear at the age of 3, ultimately becoming the pianist in her minister mother’s Methodist church. She was trained as a classical musician, attending the Juilliard School of Music in New York. She was denied admission to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and had to abandon her dreams of becoming a professional classical musician. Instead, she performed in clubs, and quickly became in high demand due to her unique piano style combining jazz, blues, and classical music, as well as her compelling vocal stylings. At that point she changed her name so that her mother would not find out she was working in bars. Simone eventually signed with recording companies, and her covers of songs by Nat King Cole, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, and Billie Holliday became smash hits. Part of her repertoire included protest songs about the civil rights movement, and some were banned in the South. Her courage in taking risks to her career came in part from her despair about the church bombing in Birmingham, AL, and the murder of Medgar Evers. She was part of a group of artist-intellectuals in Harlem that included Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, and James Baldwin. She wrote Young, Gifted and Black in honor of Hansberry. Simone spent time traveling for several years, but recording companies begged her to make another album. One she made for CTI and another under the Elektra label were wildly successful, cementing her legacy. Nina died in her sleep at her home in France in 2003.
Raven Wilkinson was the first Africa-American woman to perform with a major ballet company. She was born in New York City, NY in 1935 and began taking dance lessons at age 5. At age 9, she began training with what became the Ballet Russe School with teachers from the Bolshoi Theatre. Wilkinson auditioned for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo three times before being accepted on a six-week trial contract at age 20. By her second season, Wilkinson became a soloist with the company, performing across the U.S. As a light-skinned Black woman, Wilkinson faced many challenges when the company toured the segregated South. White-only hotels would not allow her to stay with the dance troupe and Ku Klux Klan members would disrupt their performances. As her notoriety spread, the company prevented her from performing in Southern states and she was informed she would not be able to advance in the company. After leaving Ballet Russe in 1961, Wilkinson struggled to find a company willing to hire her. Following a brief retirement, Wilkinson joined the Dutch National Ballet as a second soloist in 1967, where she performed until 1974. After moving back to the U.S., Wilkinson performed with the New York City Opera from 1974 to 1985, and remained as a character dancer until 2011, when the company disbanded. While Wilkinson is recognized as breaking the color barrier in American ballet, it is essential to note that she was required to wear pale makeup while performing. Wilkinson became a mentor to Misty Copeland, the first Black principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre. Wilkinson passed away in 2018. Her biography is included in the documentary Black Ballerina, which contrasts the experience of three former Black ballerinas with three younger Black dancers currently pursuing careers in ballet.
Black History Month: Celebrating Social Justice Leaders
During the second week of Black History Month, we are celebrating Black social justice leaders. These individuals have been pivotal leaders in the anti-slavery, civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQIA+ rights movements. Please take a few minutes to read about the seven inspiring people highlighted below and join us in honoring the contributions each has made.
Tarana Burke is the founder of the Me Too Movement, a movement that raises awareness of women who have experienced sexual violence. Burke was born and raised in the Bronx, New York where she was highly involved in her community. During her childhood, she joined an organization called 21st Century that provided her the opportunity to promote initiatives that focused on racial discrimination, housing inequality, and economic justice. As a survivor of rape and sexual violence herself, Burke’s efforts are directed toward providing victims of sexual violence the resources and support to heal from their trauma. Burke has received numerous accolades for her work, including Time Person of the Year (2017) and the Sydney Peace Prize (2019). Burke continues to spread her message through public speaking events and as the Senior Director at Girls for Gender Equity.
Laverne Cox is an actress and LGBTQIA+ activist. She was born in Mobile, AL in 1972 and studied creative writing and dance at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. While a student at Marymount Manhattan College, Cox switched from dancing to acting, and began pursuing a career in television and film. After appearing on I Want to Work for Diddy in 2008, VH1 worked with Cox to create TRANSform Me, which made Cox the first Black transgender person to produce and star in her own TV show. Cox gained international recognition for her role as Sophia Burset on Orange is the New Black. In 2014, she became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy for this role. Sophia Burset is a trans woman in serving time in prison for stealing credit cards to pay for her transition, and the role gave Cox an opportunity to connect with the show’s audience and to speak out about trans rights. With her Time magazine cover titled The Transgender Tipping Point, Cox was able to help bring the trans rights movement to the forefront. Later in the same year, she executive-produced and narrated the documentary Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word, which won a Daytime Emmy in 2015. In addition to her trailblazing accomplishments, Cox has advocated for trans rights, focusing in particular on the intersection with race. She continues to bring attention to the violence that trans people experience, including the high homicide rate among trans women, as well as the disparity in unemployment, which is particularly devastating for trans people of color. Cox has received numerous awards for her LGBTQIA+ advocacy work, including the Claire Skiffington Vanguard Award from the Transgender Law Center and the Stephen F. Kolzak Award from GLAAD. Cox has a new podcast launching this month with Shondaland Audio and iHeartMedia called The Laverne Cox Show.
Frederick Douglass was one of the greatest activists, orators, and writers of all time. He was born in Talbot County, MD in 1818. For nearly 60 years, he championed civil rights through his leadership in the abolitionist movement, fighting for indigenous and immigrant rights, and advocating for voting rights for women. Douglass was born into slavery and was torn from his family at a young age, first from his mother Harriet Bailey when he was an infant, then from his grandmother Betsy Bailey at the age of six. When he was 20 years old, he escaped from slavery by traveling to Havre de Grace, MD by train and then through Delaware up to the safe house of David Ruggles in New York. Thereafter, he changed his birth name of Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey to Frederick Douglass. It was in New York that he married Anna Murray, a free Black woman he met in Baltimore, and the couple moved to New Bedford, MA and five children together. After his wife’s death in 1882, he later married a white activist, Helen Pitts, in 1884. Despite enduring a lifetime of physical violence and trauma, first as a slave and later during the abolitionist movement, Douglass was fiercely dedicated to advocating for human rights and democracy in America. He taught one of the most valuable lessons that remains especially poignant today: the pursuit of a free and just democratic nation is not easy. It is not stagnant. It is an ongoing and difficult “messy” process that requires constant vigilance and reevaluation. “Without a struggle, there can be no progress.”
John Robert Lewis was a civil rights activist and American politician, representing Georgia’s 5th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives from 1987 until his death in 2020. He was born near Troy, AL in 1940. Experiencing racism and segregation as a student, he met and was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Billy Graham. In 1961, Lewis was one of the 13 original Freedom Riders on interstate buses from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans. This group challenged the policies of Southern states that imposed segregated seating on buses, violating federal transportation policies. Lewis was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In this role he engaged in the Nashville sit-in movement that led to the desegregation of lunch counters and organized bus boycotts and nonviolent protests supporting voting rights and racial equality. Lewis was one of the “Big Six” group leaders who organized the 1963 March on Washington to end legalized racial segregation in the United States, asking for President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson’s leadership on the issue. In 1965, Lewis led the first of three Selma to Montgomery marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, during which state troopers and police attacked Lewis and the marchers. In the incident known as “Bloody Sunday,” Lewis’s skull was fractured, leaving scars on his head. Lewis was arrested and jailed more than 40 times while nonviolently advocating for desegregation. Between 1966-1977, Lewis held various leadership roles in New York City and Atlanta, including the Voter Education Project. During his time representing Atlanta in Congress, Lewis supported other minoritized groups and opposed both the Gulf War and the US armed invasion in Haiti. John Lewis received many honorary degrees and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2011.
DeRay Mckesson is a civil rights activist, educator, and author. He was born in Baltimore, MD in 1985, and graduated from Bowdoin College in 2003 with a degree in government and legal studies. He also holds honorary doctorates from The New School and the Maryland Institute College of Art. A leading voice in the Black Lives Matter movement and a co-founder of Campaign Zero, Mckesson has worked to provide citizens and policy makers with commonsense policies that ensure equity. He has been praised by President Obama for his work as a community organizer, and has advised officials at all levels of government, both domestically and internationally. Mckesson is the author of On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope, a memoir about his life as a Black Lives Matter organizer. He hosts the award-winning weekly podcast Pod Save The People, which creates space for conversation about issues related to justice, equity, and identity. He was named one of the World’s Greatest Leaders by Fortune Magazine in 2015 and one of the 30 Most Influential People On The Internet by Time Magazine in 2016.
Harriet Tubman was an abolitionist who risked her life guiding slaves out of the South to freedom in the North along the “Underground Railroad.” She was born Araminta, or “Minty,” in 1822, the 5th of 9 children enslaved with their parents on a plantation in Dorchester County, MD. Like many enslaved people, she endured horrific abuse at the hands of her masters and those to whom she was leased. She barely survived a fractured skull received when she tried to protect a small boy under threat from an overseer. The injury left her with headaches and visions that she interpreted as religious guidance, and that caused others to view her as a seer. She married freedman John Tubman in 1844, but because Harriet was still enslaved, she (and any children they might have) would be owned by her abusive master Edward Brodess. When Brodess died and Harriet faced being sold away from John in the settling of the estate, she escaped to the North, thinking John would eventually follow. However, he stayed and took another wife instead. Her heartbreak became a resolve to help others reach freedom. She had learned from her father how to navigate the Chesapeake Bay waterways and where safe houses were located. She met abolitionist John Brown in Canada in 1858, and they worked together until he was executed at Harper’s Ferry. She moved to Auburn, NY, earning funds by lecturing at abolitionist and women’s suffrage meetings. She fought for the Union in South Carolina, becoming the first women ever to lead an armed raid behind enemy lines, liberating 700 enslaved people in the process. Denied pay for her services to the Union army, she struggled financially until she had aged enough to receive a pension. She died in Auburn, NY at the age of 90.
Cordy Tindell (C.T.) Vivian was a minister, writer, and close friend and lieutenant of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement. He was born in Boonville, MO in 1924. While studying for the ministry, Vivian joined Prof. James Lawson’s class on Gandhi’s non-violence movement. Several members of the class, including Vivian and John Lewis, began organizing lunch counter sit-ins and civil rights marches in 1960s Nashville, and then became Freedom Riders registering Southern Blacks to vote. Vivian worked for the civil rights organizations SNCC and SCLC. His 1970 book Black Power and the American Myth was the first book on the movement to be written by a member of Dr. King’s staff. Vivian went on to become a major figure in Atlanta, founding the Black Action Strategies and Information Center (BASIC), and, with Anne Braden, the Center for Democratic Renewal (initially known as the National Anti-Klan Network), a multiracial organization fighting white supremacist activity. Later, he founded the C. T. Vivian Leadership Institute, Inc. In 1994, he helped establish and served on the board of Capitol City Bank and Trust Co., a Black-owned Atlanta bank. President Barack Obama awarded Vivian the National Medal of Freedom in 2013. Vivian died in 2020 on the same day as his compatriot John Lewis. He was the first Black, non-elected man to lie in state at the Georgia State Capitol.