Anti-Racist Role Models

The struggle against racism necessitates role models for our children more than ever. They should learn about these anti-racist role models from the past and the present.

School districts across the United States devote a month to teaching students about the Civil Rights Movement’s most influential figures, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. 

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The moment is right now to introduce your tweens and adolescents to lesser-known activists whose activity not only affects their lives directly but can also inspire them to find their form of resistance.

Racism and anti-Blackness have a long history in this country. Here are five anti-racist role models to present to our students as they return to virtual and physical classrooms for the year.

Bayard Rustin

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Martin Luther King Jr.’s go-to man on policy issues, Bayard Rustin (1912–1987), was one of the brilliant organizers of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where the reverend made his “I Have a Dream” address. Unapologetically gay, Rustin spoke up for the civil rights of his fellow Black LGBT individuals.

Nonviolent direct action initiatives were started by him and King as co-founders of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). 

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To counter Supreme Court decisions on interstate segregation in transportation, Rustin was arrested in 1947; this set the stage for the 1961 Freedom Rides. Rustin received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2013 as a posthumous honor.

Rigoberta Menchú Tum

K’iche’ activist and organizer Rigoberta Menchu Tum was born in Guatemala in 1959 and has been active since.  The Nobel Peace Prize was granted to her in 1992. To recognize her efforts to advance the rights of indigenous peoples around the globe. 

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It all began as a teenager when she was embroiled in the fight for women’s rights. She taught Indigenous people how to resist military tyranny through the Committee of the Peasant Union (CUC). 

While working overseas, she constantly focused on the lives of those who had been disadvantaged by colonization. After she was forced to quit her homeland due to death threats. 

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After that, she was named a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in 1996. There are no myths or ruins in the woods or zoos. She told an interviewer in 1992 to be treated with respect rather than being objects of hate and prejudice is something we all strive towards.

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson

The organizer Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson (1985–present), is a proud Affrilachian who grew up in Southeast Tennessee (Black Appalachian). When she was in high school, she embarked on a project to reenact some of the Freedom Rides. 

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Her upbringing, however, taught her to question everything and hold others accountable through action. With Chicago Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Project South, she worked extensively on environmental justice issues in Appalachia. 

The Highlander, Research and Education Center has never had a female executive director in its 88-year history.

Grace Lee Boggs

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Grace Lee Boggs (1915-2015), the daughter of Chinese immigrants, was a philosopher and a racial and social justice campaigner whose work elevated the problems of Black women and girls. 

As a result of her marriage to activist James Boggs, she co-founded the Detroit Summer movement, a grassroots effort to bring together Detroiters of all races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds to revive the city. 

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The James and Grace Lee Boggs School in Detroit is a community-based charter that aims to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and cultivate creative and critical young thinkers dedicated to liberating their neighborhoods. It is founded on the philosophy that “the only way to survive is by taking care of one another.”

Ziad Ahmed

Ziad Ahmed, an American-Muslim-Bangladeshi student activist, describes himself as such. “What matters to you and why?” is a question he received on his application to Stanford University.

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He responded, “#BlackLivesMatter” 100 times. Later, he told NBC News, “The admissions officials needed to understand my frustration with the lack of justice and its importance. The hashtag expresses my anger at the court system’s inability to protect the Black community from violence, systematic injustice, and political marginalization.” 

Ahmed manages Redefy, a nonprofit that inspires young people to fight for justice. He advises institutions to help them become more inclusive.

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Kenrya Rankin’s work as a mother, an anti-racism champion, and an anti-oppression advocate amplifies her life experiences and activism. It transforms the narrative about who is entitled to liberation, justice, joy, and dignity in the United States.