Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, and Marsha P. Johnson. What do these names all have in common? They were the Black social activists responsible for promoting equality for African-Americans, Black South Africans, and the LGBTQIA+ community respectively. But do you know names like Cece McDonald, Nupol Kiazolu, or Janaya Khan? They are just a few of the modern Black activists dedicating their lives to creating positive changes in our society. In celebration of Juneteenth this coming Saturday, we’re highlighting some of the female and non-binary African-American faces making a difference today.
CeCe McDonald is a Black transgender woman who brought to light the brutal acts of violence done unto transgender women by cisgender men. In 2011, McDonald and her friends were verbally and physically attacked on the street, and, in self-defense, she stabbed and killed her attacker with a pair of scissors. In the end, she served 19 months of a 41-month sentence in a men’s correctional facility. The letters she wrote while in prison had a huge impact across the country, bringing more attention to the trans liberation movement. Upon her release, McDonald became dedicated to providing support for Black trans lives as well as dismantling the prison industrial complex.
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20-year-old Nupol Kiazolu began her career as an activist in just the sixth grade when she led a silent protest at her school following the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012. Kiazolu rallied her classmates to show up at school with a bottle of iced tea and a pack of Skittles. She, herself, wore a hoodie that said, “Do I Look Dangerous?” Today Kiazolu serves as the president of the Black Lives Matter movement in Greater NY. She wants other young people to know how much weight their voices hold, and that their voices can change the world.
Ericka Hart is a queer femme nonbinary activist who went viral a few years back for going topless at a festival, baring their double mastectomy. Hart wanted to raise awareness for breast cancer, but also help to destigmatize the idea that a lack of nipples is abnormal or shameful. They said that they still feel incredibly sexy in their body, and want others to feel that way too. Hart is also very vocal about the racism within the medical industry. In an interview with refinery29, they said, “We don’t go to the doctor because of historical trauma, institutionalized racism, so on and so forth. And we die faster because if you find cancer later on, your rates of survival are less.“
Janaya Khan is a powerful social activist who has played an incredible role in the Black Lives Matter movement. In response to the killing of 33-year-old Jermaine Carby in Brampton, Ontario, Khan organized a demonstration to protest the police brutality in Canada. Eventually, they would co-found the Black Lives Matter Movement in Toronto. And because Khan is gender non-conforming, a lot of their work and lectures focus on the intersectionality of queerness, Blackness, and Black feminism.
Rachel Cargle is the developer of the online learning platform, The Great Unlearn. The Great Unlearn is a program dedicated to helping white Americans unlearn some of the racist ideals that have been passed down from generation to generation by providing meaningful discourse. At the beginning of each month, Cargle releases a syllabus for students which compiles a number of resources including text readings, first-hand accounts, study (town) halls, and live streams. She hopes that people taking her classes will find value in the space she has created and become inspired to make a change.
These five are just a few of the many female and non-binary Black social activists continuing to fight to transform this nation. There are so many more with any number of different causes and all of them should be celebrated not only on Juneteenth, but every day.
Written by Jada Davis
Feature image by Mary Long/Adobe Stock