Inspiration: 8 of the most influential civil rights leaders of today

Top: Bryan Stevenson, Laverne Fox, Patrisse Cullors, Chad Griffin Bottom: Alicia Garza, Melanie Campbell, Nihad Awad, Ayọ Tometi

By Gillian Ramirez, Alliance Intern from UC San Diego

The Alliance is highlighting important figures in the modern civil rights movement. Thanks to USA Today for showcasing their top 19 activists, of whom we have selected eight (in addition to Van Jones and James Rucker who we featured last week) inspiring people who deserve recognition:

Bryan Stevenson is a public interest lawyer and Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, which is focused on fighting injustice in the criminal justice system and seeks to reduce mass incarceration, racial disparities in the justice system and punitive punishments. 

Patrisse Cullors is one of three co-founders of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, coining it in a #BlackLivesMatter hashtag in response to the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin. She and her two co-founders received the Sydney Foundation Peace Prize for “building a powerful movement for racial equality.” She also founded the group Dignity and Power Now in 2012 to fight for law enforcement in LA County and for the dignity and power of incarcerated people.

Ayọ Tometi, an active member in the immigrant rights movement, is both the co-founder of the BLM movement and Executive Director at Black Alliance for Just Immigration

Chad Griffin is a past president of the Human Rights Campaign and founder of American Foundation for Equal Rights, which works for LGBTQ rights. In 2013, he brought a contentious lawsuit which helped to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage. 

Laverne Cox is an actor who is at the forefront of the transgender movement, well-known for her role in “Orange Is the New Black”.

Nihad Awad, a leading Muslim voice in America post 9/11, is a co-founder and CEO of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country’s largest Islamic advocacy organization. The group monitors hate crimes and discrimination against Muslim Americans, as well as counseling and advocating for people who have experienced religious discrimination.

Melanie Campbell is currently serving as the CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, part of her more than 20 years worth of work towards youth and women’s rights. The formation of her youth-focused leadership program Black Youth Vote! played an influential role in the 2012 election. She also actively runs the Black Women’s Roundtable which advocates for policies to advance women, including appointing them to high-level positions in government. 

Alicia Garza, the third co-founder of BLM, is now the Special Projects Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which works to bring dignity and fairness to millions of domestic workers in the US. Her intersectional identities, black and queer, also inform her as she works to bring individuals like her at the forefront of popular narratives of black movements.

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