This week we’ve kicked off our Black History Month celebration by considering the politics of the moment: namely, all that’s at stake in this year’s midterm election, and the politicians to keep an eye on as it all unfolds. But real change takes it absolute root in a realm beyond mere politics, and in the fertile soil of passion and activism. To truly reflect on the Civil Rights Movement and racial progress in America is like touring a constellation of the brightest, most radical and defiant activists in human history. Douglass. King. Parks. X. There is no Black History Month without these figures. So as we situate ourselves firmly in 2018, it only felt right to highlight some of the best minds doing it at the moment: working for the people, and shedding light to the issues that need to make their way into the discourse from every city to D.C. The list isn’t exhaustive — there are too many amazing people out there for one article — so hit us up with names we’re missing at @RevoltTV. On that note, let’s get started.
Jesse Williams. The Grey’s Anatomy star had been busy enough as a humanitarian to take home the BET award for his service in 2016, though his speech that night was truly a level-up moment. There are people more on the trenches, but whether he’s seated on the board of the civil rights group The Advancement Project or simply leveraging his platform for change in the most visible of ways, he remains, in every sense, one to watch.
The man of the ever-present blue puffer vest, DeRay rose to prominence in the wake of the Michael Brown police shooting in Ferguson, becoming a recognizable face of the Black Lives Matter movement on the front lines and the nightly programming of cable news. In 2016, DeRay attempted to take his activism to elected office with a run for Baltimore mayor, and though he didn’t get the votes he needed, placing sixth in the primary, at the age of 32, his future is wide open.
Afro-Latinx activist Rosa Alicia Clemente has packed a lot of movement into her 45 years, working as a journalist and hip hop activist and landing herself as the vice president on the Green Party national ticket in 2008. In that election, she had to bow to a Chicago Senator by the name of Barack Obama, but Clemente keeps the fire burning, and most recently saw a boost in her profile with an appearance at the side of the Susan Sarandon at the 2018 Golden Globe awards. Her work focuses on voter engagement, making this her prime time.
In 2006, sexual assault survivor Tarana Burke started a foundation to help at-risk women share their stories. The organizing phrase she coined for their efforts: “Me too.” Over a decade later, those words evolved into the hashtag that has become a viral reckoning for abusive sexual predators exploiting positions of power, and an empowering moment for women around the world to share their stories and claim their strength and agency. All eyes are on Tarana, as she became one of Time Magazine’s People of the Year, and helped kick 2018 off for all of us — literally — by dropping the ball on New Year’s Eve in Times Square. She followed that up by accompanying Michelle Williams at the Golden Globes to spread the word even further. What’s next for the activist? Plans to make the Me Too website even more powerful a tool for survivors. “Our website will be a more comprehensive website and a community resource for people around sexual violence,” she says. “It will be a destination for people who are looking for support and those who want to do work around sexual violence in their own community both offline and online. As the year goes on we hope to offer training and workshops around the topic.”
Charlene Carruthers, 30, is an extraordinarily experienced activist in the realms of black, queer, and youth issues. She has cemented that status with galvanizing work as the national director of the Black Youth Project 100, a coalition of 18 to 35-year-olds “dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all black people.” We’ll be hearing much more of her voice in 2018: Carruthers’s book Unapologetic: A Black, Queer and Feminist Mandate for Our Movement is due in August. We can only imagine the conversations it will stoke.
When Tamika Mallory, one of the national co-chairs of the Women’s March, took the mic during the Hip Hop Vs. Trump panel at RMC 2017, she commanded the room with the voice of a seasoned grassroots community organizer. When she tried to fly back to New York later that weekend, she wound up in a seating dispute with American Airlines which catapulted her onto the front pages. Now in 2018, with another successful set of Women’s Marches already in the bag, what comes next? With a lifelong history of protesting (her parents were active with Rev. Al Sharpton) and a track record of combating gun violence in New York City, Tamika’s bona fides are right to tackle the myriad issues we’ll be seeing in midterms 2018. We’ll be seeing her on the frontlines, per usual.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement is a structurally decentralized movement — the notion is that anyone can be a part, wherever they are, by rallying around the hashtag and upholding the central precepts. But the movement founded somewhere, and that somewhere was, in part, with Alicia Garza, who co-founded BLM and has continued her progressive activism on multiple fronts (including LGBTQ issues). She’s anti-Trump, and in 2016, she voted Bernie in the primaries (and wound up voting Hillary in the general. That said, she tells us she’s not “pro” any candidates so much as she is “pro” specific issues. Keep an eye out for her endorsements and positions through the 2018 midterms, into the 2020 presidential showdown.
Shaun Harper is dedicated to the intersection of education, race, and activism. He’s become the go-to expert in the space in terms of research and practical solutions, often enlisted as a consultant when college campuses breakout in the sort of race-based tension we see too often. There’s a reason he’s the most sought after in the game: in 2015, while a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, Harper was named to the advisory committee of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a program by President Obama aimed at improving the lives of young boys of color nationwide. As of last year, he’s moved west to become a professor at University of Southern California, where he will be launching the USC Race and Equity Center. Whenever you think about issues surrounding the trends, developments, and structural issues facing black youth in America’s educational system, chances are Harper’s already thought about them, has published something about them, or will soon. It’s good to have people like him in the game.
Brittany Packet found her voice as an activist for racial justice when injustice put her hometown on the map. The Missouri native took to the streets of Ferguson after the police killing of teenager Mike Brown, and she’s been busy since, working on Campaign Zero with Samuel Singyangwe, Deray McKesson, and Johnetta Elzie, and penning editorials for various publications. She was pro-Hillary in 2016; the midterms and 2020 are wide open.
Every movement needs facts, and facts rest on data, and that’s where data scientist Samuel Singyangwe comes into effect. After graduating from Stanford, where he focused his studies on racial issues in America, Samuel linked with Deray McKesson and Johnetta Elzie to address police violence by compiling a database tracking its incidence (called Mapping Police Violence) and co-founding an organization to address these issues called Campaign Zero. Young and vital, he and his crew met with candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016; expect the same from the front-runners in 2020, if not sooner.
St. Louis native Johnetta Elzie’s ascent into activism came from taking to the streets of Ferguson in the hours Mike Brown was shot, and firing up her Twitter account to report on the violent aftermath. Her citizen journalism inspired her to take on more activistic roles, leading her to link with Deray Mckesson, Samuel Singyangwe, and Brittany Packnett on Campaign Zero. There’s a lot at stake in the coming midterms; expect this journalist/organizer to find a mic in the process.
Black history can never be forgotten, but the future of our Black America is something to be shed light on. Black culture’s ownership of its leverage and economic impact in sports, film/television, fashion, and music is being unapologetically claimed. Get ready for the #NewBlackRenaissance.
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