By Bernard Freeman
Modern Civil Rights Leaders
Too often, discussion of Civil Rights heroes end with figures from history. Important though they may be, new generations have followed in the hallowed footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall. Here’s a look at some of our modern-day Civil Rights leaders.
Ohio State University
Michelle Alexander became a thought leader in the modern Civil Rights era after publishing “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” Her book argues that a prison system that’s disproportionately filled with Black men has replaced discriminatory 20th century laws as the new brand of racial suppression. Dr. Cornel West of Harvard University said it’s a must-read for activists of today in the book’s forward.
National Coalition on Black Civic Participation
A focus on civic engagement brought Melanie Campbell to wider renown, in particular her involvement in the Black Youth Vote! leadership development program.
Black Lives Matter
Patrisse Cullors started Dignity and Power Now to push for police reform in Los Angeles County, while also calling for a more dignified approach to incarceration. She created the original #BlackLivesMatter hashtag after Trayvon Martin was fatally shot in 2012.
This Is the Movement
The widespread protests following the lethal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri didn’t have an official leader but Johnetta Elzie, nevertheless, became one the effort’s most prominent voices. She helped found a digital movement called We the Protesters that tracks police violence and seeks to hold law enforcement accountable.
Color of Change
Color of Change is an enormous web-based group that uses social networking to address the racial issues of our day. Under the leadership of James Rucker and others, it has grown to nearly 2 million members.
Center for Law and Social Justice
Based in the Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York, the Center for Law and Social Justice is just another avenue for Esmeralda Simmons to fight for the rights of the underserved and underprivileged. A longtime advocate for better public education as an attorney, Simmons now provides legal services in the growing area of voter suppression.
Founder and executive director,
Equal Justice Initiative
Bryan Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative to highlight and push back against racial disparities in the justice system, something he’s witnessed up close as a practicing attorney.
Their research has uncovered an astounding 800 lynching incidents that had never been previously disclosed.
How to Celebrate Virtually
With an influx of new coronavirus variants, some may be understandably wary of gathering in larger groups to celebrate Black History Month.
You don’t have to miss this opportunity for reflection and celebration. Here are some virtual ways to take part.
TAKE AN ONLINE TOUR
Virtual tours of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture offer unforgettable at-home history lessons, with online access to more than 3,500 exhibits. You can also click through Los Angeles’ Museum of African American Art, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site and the Gordon Parks Foundation, which showcases his incredible photographs focused on urban life and race relations, among many others. Groups like Unexpected Virtual Tours offer interactive experiences that you can enjoy right at home, too.
DONATE TO A NONPROFIT
Find a Black-led nonprofit, whether local or national, that aligns with your charitable interests. Maybe it’s 100 Black Men of America or Black Girls Code, or an area pet rescue run by an African American neighbor. If you don’t already have a favorite place to direct your donations, search Charity Navigator for a list of nonprofits founded by Black people.
ORDER TAKE OUT
Place a delivery or to-go order from a local black-owned restaurant, or play host to a socially distant dinner party via Zoom or FaceTime. If you’re feeling adventurous, map out a whole new place at eatblackowned.com. Whether sharing an insider tip on a favorite dinner spot or trying something entirely new, you’ll be supporting the dream of an African American entrepreneur, their family and everyone who worked to make your meal perfect.
MAKE A PLAYLIST
Black musicians played a foundational role in America’s music, from the blues and jazz to rock ‘n’ roll and hip hop. Celebrate them all by creating a Black History Month playlist using an online service like Spotify. Looking to expand beyond the acts and albums you already know? Check out NPR’s Black History Month-themed Tiny Desk Concerts, or Spotify’s Black History is Now hub. When you’re done, you’ll have a cool commemorative soundtrack for all of February — or any month.
AMPLIFY BLACK VOICES
Use your personal social-media channels to promote the ideas and works of Black thinkers. Again, these may be figures who are world famous or a colleague who offers something particularly insightful. Diversify your newsfeed, then follow and share posts to amplify and contextualize the African American experience. Go deeper with a search through FindSpark’s expansive list of Black media influencers.