As we learn more about the realities of racial justice in America, we are consistently brought back to the incredible life and work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The moral leadership he provided, the movements he led, the words he spoke and wrote, and the courage he displayed brought about sweeping reforms like the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, which ended the Jim Crow South and transformed American society. He was an activist who paid the ultimate price for standing up for a fair and just world.
The Struggle Never Ends
Today, the gains we’ve seen in racial equity, LGBTQ rights, gender equality, environmental stewardship, and beyond appear more fragile than at any time in recent memory. We wanted to look at the inheritors of King’s legacy, the activists who are continuing his never-finished struggle and carrying his dream forward. Join us in getting to know the leaders of today’s fight for fairness, justice, and freedom. And be sure to click the links throughout to learn more—these activists’ powerful work is worth getting to know.
Item number 1
Inez Bordeaux’s life changed forever when she was locked up in St. Louis’s notorious Workhouse jail. Like 90% of the Workhouse population, Inez was there because she couldn’t pay bail. A nurse and a mother of four, she had persevered through poverty, domestic violence, and homelessness, but she told us that her stint at the Workhouse almost broke her: “The Workhouse is the first time I felt hopeless. I was worried that I wasn't going to make it out of there.” When Bordeaux was finally released, she decided to join the movement to close the Workhouse and dedicate her life to ending cash bail and using the money we spend on jails, prisons, and police to reinvest in our communities.
Item number 2
When you take a look at everything Bryan Stevenson has accomplished in his life, you might think they ought to make a movie about it. Well… they have. Two movies, actually. Stevenson never sought the spotlight, but after a career that includes arguing (and winning) cases before the Supreme Court, creating a museum and memorial about the history of lynching in America, giving a TED Talk that became a viral hit, and founding the Equal Justice Initiative, which works to end mass incarceration and free wrongly convicted inmates from prison, he can no longer avoid it. Called the “most important civil rights lawyer since Thurgood Marshall,” Stevenson is seeking nothing less than the dismantling of Jim Crow’s legacy.
Item number 3
After George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin, Alicia Garza drafted a long response on Facebook, writing "Black people, I love you. I love us. Our lives matter, Black Lives Matter" and her friend, Patrice Cullors, shared the piece with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Black Lives Matter has gone on to become a nationwide, and even worldwide, movement for social, societal, and political change. Garza also works with the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NWDA) and Supermajority (a group dedicated to building women’s power), and is a principal at Black Futures Lab.
Item number 4
Rashad Robinson is president of Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization. Robinson joined Color of Change as executive director in 2011 and immediately began redefining what digital activism means, as well as broadening its influence and power to effect lasting change. Robinson has become well known for balancing media savvy with a deep and genuine engagement with grassroots activists (as well as for his love for wearing hats), an approach that has seen Color of Change score some serious victories over the years. We’ve worked with Robinson and Color of Change many times and are proud to be partnering with them again today on ending systemic racism and transforming the criminal justice system.
Item number 5
Philip Agnew, a dynamic speaker, activist, and organizer, founded the Dream Defenders in 2012, after the killing of Trayvon Martin in a Florida suburb. The Dream Defenders “are dedicated to defending the dream etched in our memories by Dr. Martin Luther King,” and to do that they work to inspire and develop a new generation of leaders. Agnew left the Dream Defenders in 2018 and has been traveling the country ever since, speaking, educating, rallying, and trying to connect with people who social-justice movements have not yet reached. He’s been recognized by both Ebony and The Root as one of the country’s 100 most influential African Americans.
Item number 6
Van Jones, with his singular voice and focus, is digging into the Messy Truth like few other commentators today. He has founded or led a mind-boggling number of social justice organizations, including Color of Change, Rebuild the Dream, and the Dream Corps. Jones worked for the Obama White House as a “green jobs czar,” frequently advocates for criminal-justice and prosecutorial reform, and can be found providing a much-needed pro-facts, pro-compassion, and pro-justice perspective on CNN, where he hosts the Van Jones Show and the Redemption Project.
Item number 7
In 2005, Desmond Meade was homeless, addicted to drugs, and feeling suicidal. Then he turned his life around. He checked himself into rehab. He pursued his education, ultimately graduating from Florida International University College of Law. But despite transforming his life, he still could not vote. Why? Because he, like 1.4 million other Floridians, had once been convicted of a felony. Meade’s remarkably successful Second Chances campaign changed Florida law and restored the ability to vote to all who’ve paid their debt to society, and for that he was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2019.
Item number 8
Rev. Dr. William Barber
Our friend Rev. Dr. William J. Barber has been called “the closest person we have to Martin Luther King, Jr. in our midst.” He is a minister in North Carolina, where his weekly protests, called Moral Mondays, against NC voting restrictions drew thousands of supporters. When he speaks out about reviving the heart of our democracy you can’t help but believe it’s possible. (You really do need to hear him speak!) In 2018 he stepped down from his position as president of the NC NAACP to co-chair the nationwide Poor People’s Campaign with Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis.
Item number 9
Linda Sarsour, born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, is a Palestinian Muslim who the New York Times called a “Brooklyn homegirl in a hijab.” Sarsour is the cofounder/CEO at MPower Change. She helped shut down the NYPD program that spied on Muslims, worked to get NYC public schools to honor two of Islam’s holiest days, and was named a Champion of Change by the Obama White House. In 2017 she helped organize the Women’s March, one of the largest mass protests in history.
Item number 10
DeRay Mckesson became one of the most well-known Black Lives Matter activists after he quit his job at the Minneapolis Public Schools and drove to Ferguson, MO, following the shooting death of Michael Brown. He devoted himself to becoming a full-time organizer, earning praise from former President Obama and Hillary Clinton (and becoming one of the very few people Beyonce follows on Twitter). He wrote a memoir in 2018 describing why, despite all the threats to our civil rights, he remains hopeful that things can and will change.
Item number 11
Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis
Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis is an ordained Presbyterian minister who has been working with and for the poor over the past 20 years. She is co-director of the Kairos Center, which is dedicated to bringing religious and community leaders together to end poverty. Her organizing and activism led her, together with Rev. Dr. William Barber, to launch the Poor People’s Campaign, a National Call for Moral Revival, in 2017, which seeks to build upon the work of MLK’s original Poor People’s Campaign and unite the poor of all races to eliminate systemic racism, systemic poverty, and environmental degradation.
What unites each of these change makers walking in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, Jr.? Their belief that America can live up to its highest ideals, but that it takes all of us chipping in. That means that you are part of the solution, too. Take action below. Then look for opportunities to create positive change in your community. Together, we can make MLK’s dream a reality.