Two Black protesters, wearing masks and holding signs that read, "Black Lives Matter" and "Justice for Floyd."

Leaders in Racial Justice: The Past, Present, and Future


For Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, AMAZEworks shared a social media series reflecting on racial justice work spanning from the Civil Rights Movement to today. We sought inspiration from Civil Rights leaders of the past, reevaluated the dominant framing of MLK’s work in the present, and celebrated young leaders investing in their future. In our reflections, we were moved by the deep impact of individual action.

Our first post focused on past racial justice advocates, highlighting Civil Rights leaders who are less well-known but made a significant impact on the movement. Its intention was to shift focus from seeing MLK as the sole leader of the Civil Rights Movement, acknowledge other important figures, and recognize the importance of community members in social justice movements. We featured Bayard Rustin, Claudette Colvin, and Dion Diamond, whose impact helped pioneer the Civil Rights Movement and make an impact in communities and across the nation.

Black-and-white headshot of Bayard Rustin wearing glasses. Text reads, "Bayard Rustin was a major leader of the Civil Rights Movement. He pushed for nonviolence to be centered in the movement and organized the March on Washington As a Black, gay man, his contributions were often hidden, but Rustin refused to hide his identity, stating 'It was an absolute necessity for me to declare homosexuality because if I didn't, I was part of the prejudice.'" Green background with tan curved lines.
Black and white headshot of Claudette Colvin smiling and wearing glasses. Text reads, "Inspired by her school lessons on Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth during Black History Month, Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on the bus for a white woman at 15 years old. Colvin's reverend said to her, 'I think you just brought the revolution to Montgomery.' Her act of protest preceded the Montgomery Bus Boycott and led to bus segregation laws being overturned in court." Green background with curved tan lines.
Black and white zoomed in image of Dion Diamond surrounded by white people harassing him while he sits in a restaurant. Text reads, "At 15 years old, Dion Diamond started entering spaces designated 'whites only' and having private sit-ins. He faced dozens of arrests. He still protests and speaks out today. In a 2018 StoryCorps interview, Diamond said, 'Any time I pick up a historical publication, I feel as if a period or a comma in that book is my contribution.'" Green background with curved tan lines.

Our second post reflected on the narrative of King’s influence in the present. MLK is remembered differently today from how he was perceived in the past and during his lifetime. Most of us generally remember the words and actions of MLK in a positive light. We commend his focus on nonviolence and see him as taking “appropriate” measures in his Civil Rights work. We celebrate his actions and speeches that coincide with this understanding of him. Today, it is hard to imagine disagreeing with MLK and his goals of racial justice.

However, during the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. and countless other community members were met with violence, arrests, and hate. King was criticized for vocalizing his opinions that countered those widely accepted, such as his stance on the Vietnam War. We shared MLK quotes that we see less often but feel especially important to remember in the state of our world today. With his words in mind, we asked ourselves: What work needs to be done to reevaluate and deepen our understanding of peace, conflict, and justice? 

Text reads, "A riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed ot hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not yet been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity." A heading below reads, "'The Other America'" speech: March 14, 1968. Green background with curved tan lines.
Text reads, "So I have tried to make it clear that it is wrong to use immoral reasons to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends." Heading below reads, "'Letter from Birmingham Jail:' written April 16, 1965." Green background with curved tan lines.
Text reads, "If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I don't want it. Peace is not simply the absence of conflict, but the existence of justice for all people." Heading below reads, "'When Peace Becomes Obnoxious' speech: March 18, 1956." Green background with curved tan lines.

The final post uplifted young people making change today and investing in our future. Racial justice work is still necessary and will continue to be necessary, and young people have always been integral to that work. We highlighted Zyahna Bryant, Thandiwe Abdullah, Winona Guo, and Priya Vulchi because of their social justice efforts. The insights and actions of these leaders built the foundation for big change. We look to them and countless other young change makers for inspiration and hope for our future.

Headshot of Zyahna Bryant with her hair in braids and wearing a cheetah print shirt and purple jacket. She looks to the right with a hand pulling her braids to the side. Text reads, "Zy Bryant organized her first protest when she was 12 years old for Justice for Trayvon Martin. At 15, she created a petition to remove a Confederate statue, which no longer stands today, and led to the removal of others throughout the country. 'Do not wait until we have passed or reached our breaking point to honor us or to give our well-deserved flowers. Honor us while we are well...'" Green background with curved tan lines.
Headshot of Thandiwe Abdullah with her hair in poofy pigtails and two small braids framing her face. She is smiling, and her chin rests atop her hands clasped together. Text reads, "Thandiwe Abdullah does not remember a time before going to protests with her mother. She was inspired to engage other young people in racial justice activism and helped found the Black Lives Matter Youth Vanguard, helping successfully remove random searches from LA schools. 'I think [young people] should be leading the work of dreaming of something better for ourselves.'" Green background with tan curved lines.
Image of Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi smiling. Text reads, "Approaching the end of high school, Guo and Vulchi realized that they had never had a substantive conversation about race in their classrooms. They took a gap year to travel to all 50 states to initiate these conversations, leading them to publish the book, 'Tell Me Who You Are: Sharing Stories of Race, Culture, and Identitiy,' and found the nonprofit, CHOOSE, to promote racial literacy." Green background with tan curved lines.

Racial justice work continues because of the resilience of our community members and leaders of our past, present, and future. Because this work is continually met with resistance, we need to channel resilience by caring for ourselves and reframing our approach to this work. 

We have found inspiration and gratitude from learning from our past, investing in our present, and looking to our future. We hope these racial justice leaders bring you hope and inspiration to continue your commitment to justice, through individual acts and collective action, big and small.

To read through all of our posts, find AMAZEworks on Instagram (@amazeworks1996) and Facebook (@amazeworks).

Bulleted black text against a tan square reads, "'I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin's Life in Letters' by Michael G. Long; 'Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice' by Phillip Hoose; 'Dion Diamond: Reflections on 60 Years of Civil Rights Activism' StoryCorps Interview." Green background with tan curved lines.
Bulleted text reads, "'Who Designed the March on Washington?' by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on PBS; 'Before Rosa Parks, There Was Claudette Colvin' by Margot Adler on NPR; 'Dion Diamond: Reflections on 60 Years of Civil Rights Activism' interview on StoryCorps; Photo of protest from Library of Congress; Bayard Rustin photo by Allan Baum with New York Times." Green background with curved tan lines
Bulleted text reads, "; 'Charlottesville's Robert E. Lee Monument Is Coming Down, Thanks to Me and Black Women Like Me' by Zyahna Bryant; 'Thandiwe Abdullah is Leading the Next Generation of the Black Lives Matter Movement' by Carolyn Twersky on Seventeen; Photo of protest by Bonnie Arbittier with San Antonio Report; Guo and Vulchi photo by Nataraj Vulchi." Green background with curved tan lines

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