Taking inspired leadership to the next level
As The Wakeman Agency concludes our celebration of bold and innovative agents of change and progress during Women’s History Month, we’re proud to spotlight five women who are making the world a better place in various spheres. From fostering economic viability by providing the homeless with a greater sense of agency to trying to level the playing field when it comes to racial inequity, these leaders have made not only a name for themselves, but also for the social change causes they advance each day.
“Women in social change have historically been overlooked,” says Vanessa Wakeman. “Many women are committed to fighting injustice on their own terms. And these are just a sampling of the countless examples of women we salute.”
Wife, mother, network news commentator, academician and author Melissa Harris Perry dons many hats as an outspoken voice for the disenfranchised and underrepresented. The MSNBC network news host and author of the conversation-starting Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes and Black Women in America and Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought also serves as professor of politics and international affairs at Wake Forest University. Harris-Perry has become a fixture in the media for her fearlessness, braving discussions on gender, race, politics and history with her signature and powerful combination of decorum, diplomacy and dignity. She is a highly sought public speaker and thought leader, advancing various causes and serving multiple organizations, including Chef’s Move.
Each One, Teach One
Nadia Lopez was the first principal ever credited as the most influential person in the life of someone profiled on the Humans of New York Facebook page and visual advocacy project. A student named Vidal said of her: “[O]ne time, she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.” The energy and optimism of that comment ignited a campaign unto itself, where thousands across the country rallied behind the yeoman’s work of the Mott Hall Bridge Academy principal and raised more than $1 million. Those funds seeded a new scholarship program, and Vidal – the student who unknowingly awakened a groundswell of support for an educator who cared enough to make a difference one life at a time – has been named its first recipient.
Cloth, Consistency, Community
The Empowerment Plan is the brainchild of savvy social entrepreneur Veronika Scott, who founded the Detroit-based nonprofit organization to combat homelessness through individual agency and collective action. Currently and previously homeless individuals find a way out by making and manufacturing coats – now to the tune of 9,000 since the cause started in 2011. Scott started as an industrial design student and, today, the waterproof, self-heated coat she masterminded can be transformed into a sleeping bag for the less fortunate still braving life on the streets.
As the national hue and cry for higher pay for fast food workers heats up, activists like Saru Jayaraman have been both behind the scenes and at the forefront of a movement designed to improve lives by dismantling disproportionate wealth disparities. The author of Behind the Kitchen Door, Jayaraman has been fighting for restaurant workers’ rights for more than a dozen years. Today, she is co-founder and co-director of ROC United (Restaurant Opportunities Centers United), which now counts more than 10,000 members in 19 cities across the country who champion its policy, research and workplace justice initiatives, in addition to its efforts in developing sustainable, cooperative restaurant partnerships. She also serves as director of the Food Labor Research Center at University of California – Berkeley. Jayaraman’s insightful commentaries and guest appearances on popular talk shows and news programs continue to feed the flames of a high-stakes dialogue that shows no signs of slowing down.
Before Her Time
Long before other anti-racist educators came on the scene, Peggy McIntosh took a bold stance and recalibrated the national conversation on race relations through her seminal 1988 essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” McIntosh, known as an avowed feminist, educational activist and racial justice pioneer, was also among the first major voices to describe and articulate routine micro-aggressions encountered by racial minorities, such as the potential detrimental effects of “flesh colored” Band Aids that come in only one shade. McIntosh founded the highly successful and long-running SEED Project, the nation’s largest peer-led justice project, bringing together teachers, parents, students and community leaders to create “gender fair, multi-culturally equitable, socioeconomically aware and globally informed education.”
Who would you add to our list? Which women are your personal top five to watch – or know about – in social change (past or present)?