As we learn more about the realities of racial justice in America, we are consistently brought back to the incredible life and work of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King not only faced hatred, he stared it down with persistent bravery. His acts (like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington) and his words and his courage and his conviction led to sweeping reforms like the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, which brought an end to the Jim Crow South and transformed American society for the better. 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
Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis
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. Her organizing and activism brought 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.
Item number 2
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” and can be found providing a much-needed pro-facts, pro-compassion, and pro-justice perspective on CNN. In 2017, Jones hit the road with We Rise, a nationwide tour dedicated to bringing Americans together.
Item number 3
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 are inspiring and developing a new generation of leaders. Agnew has been recognized by both Ebony and The Root as one of the 100 most influential African Americans.
Item number 4
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.
Item number 5
Rev. Dr. William Barber
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!) He recently stepped down from his position as president of the NC NAACP to co-chair the Poor People’s Campaign with Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis.
Item number 6
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 even becoming one of only ten people that Beyonce follows on Twitter).
Item number 7
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 8
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 1.6 million other Floridians, had once been convicted of a felony. Meade’s Say Yes To Second Chances campaign is working to change Florida law and restore the ability to vote to all who’ve paid their debt to society.
What unites each of these change-makers walking in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, Jr.? Their belief is 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 by signing the petition to re-authorize the Voting Rights Act, ensuring all American’s right to make their voice heard.
Then look for opportunities to create positive change in your community. Together, we can make MLK’s dream a reality.