In 1998, a group of dope individuals created Colorlines with the goal of popularizing narratives that center racial justice and the people of color who fight for it. Twenty years—and a slew of clones later—we’re still going strong, highlighting the advocacy and lived experiences of folks who are typically pushed to the margins.

Now, we announce the inaugural class of the Colorlines 20 x 20, a group of transformative leaders who—in the spirit of our mission—use a narrative shift strategy to reimagine what it means to advance racial justice in areas as varied as environmental justice, gender rights, labor, education and religion. This year’s honorees remind us that no matter how dark the tunnel gets, we can always create our own light.

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    The inaugural Colorlines 20 x 20, illustrated by Sinomonde Ngwane

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    The Scholar: Alisa Bierria
    Website
    Academics are often accused of hyperfocusing on theories that don’t apply to real life in real time. Alisa Bierria is not that kind of researcher, educator, activist or writer. Bierria focuses on how women who are victims of domestic and sexual violence—particularly Black women—are treated and perceived in courts, the media and in public. She also develops strategies that can combat the criminalization of these survivors.
    Her work is desperately needed. Nearly 60 percent of people in women’s prisons in the United States have a history of physical and sexual abuse—with that number soaring as high as 94 percent in some prison populations. To address this reality, Bierria co-founded Survived and Punished, a national coalition that aims to support and free criminalized survivors and to abolish the policing, prisons and deportations that feed on their suffering. The coalition holds workshops, benefits and lectures to promote community accountability, while exploring the intersection of gender-based violence and criminalization.
    Bierra is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and founder and coordinator of the Feminist Anti-Carceral Policy and Research Initiative. She is also an assistant professor in the department of ethnic studies at UC-Riverside.

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    The Kid: Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny
    Website | Twitter | Instagram
    At the age when many little girls write to Santa Claus, Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny penned a letter to then-President Barack Obama in 2016. Just 8 years old, she was going to be in Washington, D.C. for the hearings surrounding the water crisis in her hometown of Flint and felt it would “lift people’s spirits” if she could sit down with POTUS and his wife. Obama declined the meeting and instead headed to Flint. With that visit, national attention finally focused on the scandal that had been unfolding for two years in the majority-Black Michigan town—and it happened because of a letter from the not-yet-tween who is now known as Little Miss Flint.
    Today, with residents still using bottled water at home and in schools, Mari believes fully in the power of youth activism. The 11-year-old heads Dear Flint Kids Project, a letter-writing initiative that helps people around the world send positive messages to her city. There is also Team Mari, a group of family, friends, celebrities and other supporters who organize campaigns to assist Flint—from getting 1,000 backpacks to area kids to providing toys to a children’s hospital at Christmas. Mari also has the Don’t Forget Flint shirt campaign. It funds her various ideas, including stocking a local school with basic necessities and working with another to assist an anti-bullying effort. Even without the tees, Mari is making sure the world not only remembers Flint, but that it knows the young survivors of its water crisis are also some of the city’s most resilient, mobilized advocates for change.

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    The Veteran: Miss Major Griffin-Gracy
    Website | Twitter | Instagram
    Miss Major Griffin-Gracy has been called “an embodiment of LGBTQ history.” Applied to most people, this description would be hyperbole. But it truly does tell the story of this veteran trans-rights and prison reform activist.

    Born on the South Side of Chicago, Miss Major’s activism formally began in 1969 when she was a leader in New York City’s Stonewall Riots. That spontaneous clash with police is considered to be the start of the mainstream LGBTQ rights movement. But rather than luxuriate in that legacy, Griffin-Gracy, a prison abolitionist, has been critical of the pace of change. ”If Stonewall would have made a difference, things would be better today,” she recently told HuffPost. “If the [Civil Rights Movement] had been a success, [B]lack people wouldn’t be 85, 90 percent in prison.”

    That intersection between transphobia, racism and the growth of prison populations defines Griffin-Gracy’s activism. She was imprisoned at various points in the 1970s and once had her jaw broken by corrections officers, so she can speak firsthand about the how the prison industrial complex routinely abuses women like her. As an organizer and then executive director of the San Francisco-based Trans Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project for 10 years, she provided direct legal support to incarcerated trans women and gender nonconforming people. After retiring in 2015, Miss Major began planning and raising funds to build the Griffin-Gracy Historical Retreat and Educational Center, more commonly known as House of GG in Little Rock, Arkansas.

    Stonewall was nearly 50 years ago, but Miss Major’s voice is just as loud today. Why? Because, as she says in “Major!,” the 2018 film that documents her life, “when the dust settles, I want a whole bunch of transgender girls to stand up and say, ‘I’m still fucking here.’”

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    The Entertainer: Mona Haydar
    Website | Twitter | Instagram
    Mona Haydar calls herself many things. Among them: mother, poet, wife, rapper, activist, mountain girl, solar power lover and tireless God-enthusiast. But when the Syrian-American wrote her rap song “Hijabi (Wrap My Hijab),” which was declared one of the 25 top feminist anthems of all time by Billboard and whose video has more than one million views on YouTube, she was none of these things. Haydar was simply a woman who wanted a drink on an airplane. The flight attendant, she explains, “didn’t say anything or smile, but she poured me a cup of Coke. I just thought, I don’t want any Muslim girl to feel this way. To feel ignored or cast aside. I just never want anybody to have that heartache.” With her soda, she sat and penned “Hijabi” during the flight.
    The song’s lyrics show that things have changed since the time Haydar and her husband set up a stand in Cambridge with signs that read “Talk to a Muslim” and “Ask a Muslim.” Instead, on “Hijabi” she lets it be known that if you want to discuss her religion and culture “I need that PayPal, PayPal, Paypal/If you want education.”
    What anyone paying attention can learn—for free—is that Haydar’s song is an ode to what she has called “a badge of honor,” the hijab, and is a self-esteem call-to-arms for every woman. “I’m just out here like, we can be beautiful in all of our shapes and forms,” she has said about the video, where an eight months pregnant Haydar is surrounded by other hijab-wearing women of all skin tones and the same unshakeable confidence.
    Haydar grew up in Flint, Michigan, but is currently living in Harlem with her husband and two sons. She just released her debut EP, “Barbarican.”

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    The Healer: Mushim Ikeda
    Website | Twitter
    Mindfulness asks that a person turn their awareness to the now, that their internal focus go to the sounds and stimuli of the moment. Activists are often thinking in the past (what wrongs have transpired) and the future (what actions can be taken to right these grievances). Mushim Ikeda believes that this organizing and activism must embrace the present tense if it is to truly bring about societal transformation. And so the Buddhist teacher instructs people of color, social justice activists and women in mindfulness and meditation.

    It is self care, but to Ikeda, it is a path to justice. She has said that before one can embody Dharma, the eternal law of the universe, we must ask ourselves “whether we can embody our own body.” Through meditation, we can come closer. Ikeda is the community coordinator of Oakland’s East Bay Meditation Center, whose mission is to foster liberation healing, social action, and inclusive community building. She also serves on its board of directors and teaches there.

    Ikeda became a Zen Buddhist in 1983, moving into a temple in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She learned the necessity of resistance early, as a member of the only Japanese-American family in her native rural Ohio and a girl coming of age during the Cold War, Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War. Prior to Buddhism, Ikeda was also a poet. These pieces of her—the socially engaged writer and Buddhist practitioner—formed the whole of the instructor whose teachings offer a relatable, humorous and penetrating approach to Dharma and social transformation.

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    The Politician: Pramila Jayapal
    Website | Twitter | Instagram
    In 2016, Pramila Jayapal became a member of Congress representing Washington’s 7th district, which includes most of Seattle. But way before her name appeared on any election ballot, she worked tirelessly to protect immigrants and people of color made vulnerable by anti-immigrant sentiment, Islamophobia and systemic sexism.
    Jayapal knows firsthand what it is to be an immigrant. At age 16 she left her family in Chennai, India. She moved to Washington, D.C and ended up in Chicago to pursue her undergraduate and MBA education. Post-graduation, she worked on Wall Street, but in the aftermath of 9/11 she stepped fully into the role of activist, founding the nonprofit Hate Free Zone (now OneAmerica). Today, it is one of the largest immigrant advocacy organizations in the U.S.
    Aside from having the most successful voter registration drive in Washington state history, OneAmerica sucessfully sued the Bush administration in 2003 to stop the illegal deportations of thousands of Somalis. Jayapal went on to launch We Belong Together, a campaign centered on immigrant rights through a gender lens.
    In the time of Trump, Jayapal became the first Indian-American woman elected to the House of Representatives. She uses her platform to fight for women’s, immigrant, civil and human rights. She was the primary sponsor for a bill that safeguarded contraceptive coverage for women on Medicaid and has backed other legislation that protects the most easily disenfranchised. She has written that we are living in a political time “for crystal clarity and courage.” Clearly, Jayapal lacks neither.

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    The Labor Organizer: Saru Jayaraman
    Website | Twitter | Instagram
    It was clear that Saru Jayaraman was making a difference when she became persona non grata at top dining establishments. As president and co-founder of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), Jayaraman fights for equality for workers in the restaurant industry, which is entrenched in racial discrimination and unfair pay practices. So it is not surprising that the best restaurants—ones that bring in lots of money but don’t offer paid sick time or more than $2.31 an hour to employees—would not want to see her. Especially because one of Jayaraman’s protest methods of choice is to have crowds stand outside of a restaurant wearing chef’s aprons and holding signs that read “Hungry for Justice.”
    Jayaraman, the daughter of Indian immigrants who grew up near Los Angeles, did not set out to change an industry when ROC United launched in 2001. Instead, like many Americans, she wanted to help New Yorkers who were reeling from the 9/11 attacks. Workers from Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center, reached out to her because she was an organizer and they needed support after being displaced. ROC United’s success with the New Yorkers led to restaurant workers from across the country contacting them. Over time, ROC United has won more than $10 million for workers in cases involving back wages, sexual harassment and stolen tips and wages. Jayaraman is also a leading advocate in Fight for $15, the national campaign to raise the minimum wage. Jayaraman does not just want workers to make fair pay; she wants restaurants to transform how they operate. Her 2016 book “Forked: A New Standard for American Dining,” argues that restaurants can survive and be profitable while compensating workers fairly. In 2006, ROC United opened Colors in Manhattan, which calls itself “a socially conscious restaurant” to put her ideas into practice. And today, after years of other restaurateurs wanting her gone, they are seeing the wisdom in her beliefs. As things slowly shift, she has been called the “tip of the spear” that is cutting through the inequality that plagues the industry.

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    The Accidental Activist: Jeri Jimenez
    Twitter
    When most people run for political office, they attempt to erase anything that could be perceived as negative from their past, lest it make them unelectable. When Jeri Jimenez ran for Portland city council in 2012, she detailed her years as a sex worker. Her past was not a political pothole, but the impetus for her activism.

    In 1989, Jimenez was introduced to the world of sex trafficking after leaving her violent husband. She was gang raped by 10 men who then held her prisoner in a locked room, only allowing her out at night to make money for them as a prostitute. Months later, she escaped. College, another abusive relationship, a prison term, and 14 months in a homeless shelter with her children followed.

    Jimenez describes not having a home as her life’s turning point. She became a union organizer and also began speaking to church groups about having been a sex worker. Her intention was to change the narrative about people who survived human trafficking by giving them a face and a story, to make them a person standing in front of them rather than a random name in a newspaper. After women began approaching to tell her that they, too, had been trafficked, she began a survivor’s group. Her run for Portland city council showed that it was possible to heal, move on and help others.
    Jimenez lost the election, but her activism has not slowed. She went on to serve as the coordinator for the city of Portland’s Diversity and Civic Leadership Program. A member of the Klamath tribe, she is an environmental justice advocate fighting for cleaner air and water for Native Americans. She also continues to speak out against human trafficking, particularly as it affects Indigenous communities. After having her agency and freedom stripped away, Jimenez keeps speaking out to give everyone a voice.

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    The Journalist: Nikole Hannah-Jones
    Website | Twitter

    Plessy v Ferguson. Brown v. Board of Education. Fisher v. University of Texas. History books have dedicated pages to the Supreme Court cases that legally ended American segregation. Waterloo, Iowa, native Nikole Hannah-Jones uses her investigative reporting to detail how, as she has written, “Legally and culturally, we’ve come to accept segregation once again.”
    Hannah-Jones has covered racial injustice for publications including ProPublica, The Atlantic, Essence and The New York Times Magazine, where she is a staff writer. Specifically, she chronicles the continuing breakdown of desegregation measures at the nation’s schools and how racial segregation in education and housing are maintained through legal channels.
    In 2016, as one of the nation’s few Black investigative reporters at a leading outlet, she co-founded the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Journalism to teach reporters of color the data and investigative skills they need to compete. One year later, she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship—the coveted “Genius Grant”—for her reporting on school segregation.

    When Hannah-Jones writes about school districts, demographics and court cases, it is not with detached emotion. She is a storyteller, recrafting these socioeconomic, race-driven realities into relatable narratives. “True integration, true equality, requires a surrendering of advantage, and when it comes to our own children, that can feel almost unnatural,” she has written. Hannah-Jones held herself under this spotlight—this tightrope of privilege, consciousness and parenting—in one of her most personal pieces, an article for The New York Times magazine on selecting a school for her then-4-year-old daughter.

    As a part of the solution, Hannah-Jones has also lent her name to the $300,000 fundraising campaign to build a monument in Chicago to Ida B. Wells, the daring Black investigative reporter whom she calls her hero.

    Desegregation measures are often presented as poor children of color crowding the classrooms of the rich and White. But, as Hannah-Jones stresses in the title of her upcoming book, “The Problem We All Live With,” segregation harms everyone.

     

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    The Voice: Shereen Marisol Meraji
    Website | Twitter
    Shereen Marisol Meraji says that the best career advice she ever received was from a veteran radio journalist who told her, “When you see a herd of reporters chasing the same story, run in the opposite direction.” This idea of focusing on the polar opposite of those around her defined her first years at National Public Radio, when all of her (White) co-workers spoke a language she did not know, one derived from The New Yorker and musicians like The White Stripes. One co-worker micro-aggressively—though the room read it as hilariously—asked the Puerto Rican-Iranian Meraji if all of her ideas came from “Latino dot net.”
    She is the one laughing now. As a co-host on NPR’s Code Switch podcast, Meraji no longer has to go home and cry while binge-reading back issues of The New Yorker. Instead, she uses the podcast about race and identity to tell stories that resonate with any person of color who has changed how they present themselves—often without realizing it—to adapt in a different cultural space. She’s explored everything from why a historically Black college in West Virginia is 90 percent White to why Latinx women are the most powerful and hardest-to-target consumer group in America.
    Before the podcast, Meraji worked on the radio program Marketplace, where she covered stories about the growing American wealth gap. With Code Switch, she is now in a space as comfortable as her earliest days at NPR were awkward. The show, she has said, “is very close to my heart because one thing I have to do in my reporting, what I’m drawn to is getting the voices of people who are living their lives and experiencing life being Brown.”

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    The Storyteller: Wendi Moore-O’Neal
    Website
    It is a trusted adage that if we don’t learn from the past, we are destined to repeat it. But Wendi Moore-O’Neal does not believe in using the past as a cautionary tale—instead, she sees it as rich material to nourish and inspire Black people to create an even richer future. For 25 years, the New Orleans native has worked as an activist, facilitator, educator and organizer for justice organizations, from community-based ones to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

    But in 2016, Moore-O’Neal had a reckoning: She decided that her upbringing should become the foundation of her consulting practice. Her father had been a field organizer for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and he founded The Free Southern Theater. Moore-O’Neal grew up listening to his stories and surrounded by performers who melded movement work with song and dance. Today, Moore-O’Neal’s Jaliyah Consulting (Jali, in the Mende language, is a caste of people who tell stories as keepers of history) uses story circle facilitation, visual art and freedom songs to support the missions of social and economic justice groups.

    “I love sharing freedom songs because you don’t have to be a great singer to get something out of doing something together,” says Moore-O’Neal, who is the subject of the documentary “This Little Light.” “We need practices that uplift the spirit and grow our sense of our collective power to participate in collective struggle.”

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    The Writer: Alan Pelaez Lopez
    Website
    When Alan Peleaz Lopez was five years old, they moved with their family to the United States from Oaxaca, Mexico, as an immigrant of undocumented status. They soon began making and selling jewelry to earn money. In 2011—politicized by the failure to pass the DREAM Act—they slept on the steps of the Massachusetts State House for 11 days and 12 nights to protest the criminalization of immigrants in the state.
    The disparate threads of art, immigration and protest that began when they were just five are now woven together to create an activism that is both focused and vast in its breadth. Peleaz Lopez is an Afro-Indigenous LGBTQ immigrant rights activist, multimedia artist and educator. They credit Black immigrants from the Caribbean and Latin American with shaping their Black and queer vision for liberation. And their words have become a singular, searingly beautiful—at times autobiographic—mouthpiece for the movement. Stanzas like “during the crossing // we were faced with // the reality // of what it means // to be Black and Indian // in an Empire // that constantly measures us // on production // production // and production. // our blood // a sustenance // for those // who deem us ‘illegal.’”
    Though the world of a poet is often solitary, Peleaz Lopez is collaborative as an organizer. They are on the steering committee of the Black LGBT Migrant Project. As a Ph.D student at UC Berkeley, they coordinate the Center for Race and Gender Arts and Humanities Initiative and cohost Culture Fuck, a space for queer, trans and intersex artists of color. In 2013, Pelaez Lopez won the Youth Courage Award for uplifting the voices of LGBTQIA+ undocumented immigrants in the United States. This year’s Pushcart Prize nominee’s first full-length poetry collection is “Intergalactic Travels: poems from a fugitive alien.”

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    The Justice Crusader: Marlon Peterson
    Website | Twitter | Instagram
    In the opening of his 2016 TED Talk, Marlon Peterson says it’s critical “to push us to question even when it makes us uncomfortable.” What does the Brooklyn native question?
    Everything. It is the motivation behind his work as a criminal justice reform advocate, to question, answer, question again and act.
    Twelve days before his 20th birthday, Peterson was sent to prison for 10 years for his role in a robbery. It was, he says, a sentence “to irrelevance, the opposite of humanity.” Still, behind bars, Peterson collaborated with a friend and educator to create a letter-writing mentorship program with middle school students. Through their letters, including ones in which they called him a “hero,” Peterson began to question how he saw himself, how he could be better and what he could do to contribute to society. He questioned how he could feel relevant.
    He spent his last five incarcerated years heading the Transitional Services Center, creating programming for men who were about to released. The letter-writing program led to him co-founding HOLLA (How Our Lives Link Altogether), an organization that creates opportunities for cultural, social and political development for youth of color.
    After being released in 2009, he went on to graduate from New York University and to co-found the street-level gun-violence prevention group Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets. In 2015 he formed the social justice consulting firm The Precedential Group, which addresses what he describes as “the trauma revolving around the intersections of race, gender, violence, police violence and community violence.” A former Soros Justice Fellow, Aspen Ideas Festival Scholar and TED Resident, Peterson currently hosts “Decarcerated,” a podcast that enables formerly incarcerated people to tell their stories and showcase their work and ideas. Peterson has written for a range of publications including Gawker and Huffington Post. In his writing, speaking, organizing and hosting, Peterson not only continues to question, but to empower people to shape their own answers.

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    The Gender Rights Advocate: Candi Brings Plenty
    Twitter
    To understand Candi Brings Plenty’s activism, it is necessary to understand Two-Spirit. The term was created in the 1990s by a group of Indigenous LGBTQI+ leaders in response to homophobia. Two-Spirits are the people who identify as LGBTQAI+ and are from Turtle Island (North America, Central America and South America). There are 17 Two-Spirit societies in the United States.
    Candi Brings Plenty is a Two-Spirit of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe. She grew up on a reservation where her queer identity was fully embraced. “Throughout all of Indigenous Turtle Island, there is an acceptance of the fluidity of sexuality, and an acknowledgment of a spectrum of genders,” she has said. It was not until she left the reservation as an adult and moved to Portland that she experienced discrimination.

    But Brings Plenty did not return to the reservation—she reached back into her Lakota culture to become a gender rights activist for Indigenous LGBTQAI+ people. “Colonization created this derogative stigma for Two-Spirit people,” she has said. Her work is to reclaim and honor the pre-colonization beliefs.
    Today, Brings Plenty is CEO of Two Spirit Nation and incorporates traditional and intergenerational practices as guidance. She is also director of Portland Two-Spirit Society and headed the Two-Spirit Camp during the No DAPL movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016. Her advocacy, though future-thinking, is in truth about offering a homecoming for Indigenous LGBTQAI+, a place to rest and be celebrated.

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    The Techie: Samuel Sinyangwe
    Website | Twitter | Instagram
    About 1,200 people are killed each year by the police. Black Americans are three times more likely to be killed by cops than Whites—and twice as likely to be unarmed. By themselves, the numbers are harrowing and depressing. But coupled with the vision of Samuel Sinyangwe, these same statistics become a powerful means to dismantle inequality.

    Sinyangwe is a policy analyst and data scientist who works with the Human Rights Data Analysis Group and co-founder of We the Protesters, a digital space for activists to access tools and resources. Through developing data-driven strategies, We the Protesters seeks to end systemic racism in America. Platforms include Campaign Zero, which offers policy solutions to improve police/community interactions and ensure accountability to limit police violence. He also spearheads Stay Work, which organizes would be activists into national work groups.

    People who are not on the frontlines also benefit from his interactive activism. In April, Sinyangwe tweeted a thread—that later inspired a Colorlines op-ed—that showed parents, step-by-step, how to access Department of Education data to determine if their school discriminates against Blacks and other marginalized groups. He then advised them, “When you present data showing Black students are more likely to be disciplined, you will inevitabl[y] find people who try to say that it’s because Black students misbehave more. That’s a racist lie. Be prepared to shut them down with the facts.”
    Facts are Sinyangwe’s weapons. He continues to find digital ways to share them with us all.

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    The Body Image Warrior: Sonya Renee Taylor
    Website | Twitter | Instagram
    “I’m sorry my butt is large, my breasts are small, my hair is kinky, my skin is dark.” This is the internal conversation for too many Black and Brown women. But there are fewer saying sorry now, largely because of Sonya Renee Taylor, the founder of the self-love movement The Body Is Not An Apology.

    It started with a conversation. A friend of Taylor’s, who believed that her cerebral palsy made her too un-sexy to ask the man to wear a condom, thought she was pregnant. Taylor’s response to her: “Your body is not an apology.” Her friend, she realized, was not the only one apologizing. So the spoken word artist wrote a poem that told the listener “do not ask for it to be pardoned as criminal, the body is not a crime, is not a gun, is not a lost set of keys, a wrong number dialed.”

    In 2011, Taylor, posted a photo of herself on Facebook in which she weighed 230 pounds. She was wearing a corset and she captioned it “unashamed, unapologetic.” Within a day, it had gone viral and women were posting their own unapologetic full-body shots. Since then, there is a digital magazine, a 2018 book, “The Body is Not An Apology” and Taylor’s work as a trainer and consultant.
     

    Perhaps the most radical part of Taylor’s movement is that she does not count it as victorious if it only helps one of the many. “I have very little concern for your individual self-esteem and self-confidence,” she has said. “By itself, it will not change the world.” Because she believes that discrimination, social inequality and injustice are manifestations of our shame with the body, she knows that people who love themselves more will be best equipped to love—and uplift—others. No questions asked, no apologies offered.

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    Photograph: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Stephon Marbury of the Boston Celtics attends Game Two of the 2009 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Orlando Magic at Staples Center on June 7, 2009, in Los Angeles, California.

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    The Educator: Maribel Valdez González
    Website
    In 2017, Maribel Valdez González’s face became famous, though her name did not. A photographer friend submitted her image to artist Shepard Fairey, who was creating his We the People series of protest posters in response to the presidential election. As the president, who kicked off his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists, took office González became a symbol of a proud, defiant Mexican American.

    González may not have had national name recognition, but she was more than famous to many who had been in her classroom. As an English teacher at Armando Leal Jr. Middle School in Harlandale, Texas, the San Antonio-born daughter of Indigenous Xicano parents advocates for anti-racist, anti-bias and culturally relevant instruction. She weaves social justice topics throughout her curriculum and uses restorative justice practices in hopes that students in conflict will become empathetic, engaged community members. González is also a program coordinator for Education Amplifier, a national professional development program that strives to engage students in dialogue around American identity and human rights. She participated in designing the program, including its resources and tools for teachers.

    In and outside of the classroom, Gonzales is the teacher she needed when she was growing up and getting bullied at school because she is Mexican. And though she has said that “teaching young people to become literate, critically opinionated and empowered is my life’s work,” she does this work in a way that uplifts the kids being bullied and the ones doing the harm.

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    The Nonprofit Attorney: Keith Wattley
    Website | Twitter
    It is possible to be legal counsel for someone serving a life sentence in prison with an air of defeated attachment. Or it is possible to be the polar opposite, like Keith Wattley. The founder and executive director of UnCommon Law—a nonprofit that provides advocacy and education to equip the incarcerated to improve their life prospects—has dedicated much of his nearly 20-year career representing lifers at parole hearings. His success hinges on his belief that the work involves being not just an attorney, but a life coach, counselor and family therapist.
    The penal system requires that for someone serving a life sentence to be released early, they must demonstrate personal transformation. Yet this same system does not offer counseling—making it necessary for the incarcerated person to have the abilities of a superhero not just to survive their sentence, but to also transform themselves. That superhero is Wattley. Aside from attending parole hearings, he spends months, sometimes years, with each of his clients prepping them. He helps craft a detailed plan to get them out of prison and counsels family members on how to be a supportive community to
    keep them out.

    UnCommon Law has been instrumental in getting 180 people serving life sentences released. Further proof that the 2018 Obama Foundation fellow’s comprehensive strategy works is that only one person has returned to prison, and it was for an “immigration violation.” Wattley has also represented thousands of people in impact litigation and individual matters. But his most transformational work is perhaps that he pays it forward, training lawyers and law students to be advocates.