BLACK WOMEN AND NON-BINARY LEADERS PAVING THE WAY FOR PROGRESSIVE POLITICS AND CHANGE  

Happy Women’s History Month Hustle and Soul Magazine readers!

Women’s History Month is an annual declared month that highlights the contributions of women in history and society. Please join us in celebrating 13 Black Women and Non-Binary leaders paving the way for progressive politics and change.

In no particular order, we present 13 inspirational visionaries who are blazing trails and causing social change.

Kendra Cotton

Kendra Cotton, she/her — Political strategist and former educator; CEO of New Georgia Project, a leading voting rights and civic engagement organization working to build power for Black and brown Georgians; previously served as a Campaign Manager for a U.S. Senate race.

Kendra Davenport Cotton is a seasoned professional with more than 20 years of experience building and cultivating relationships to advance a favorable public image and positive strategic agenda for the individuals and organizations that she serves. Kendra is currently the Chief Executive Officer for New Georgia Project and its affiliated organization, New Georgia Project Action Fund. She assumed this role after serving as Chief Operating Officer at NGP and NGPAF. She assumed this role after leaving her position as the campaign manager for a US Senate race. Kendra was the founding executive director of Rep GA Institute, Inc., Georgia’s statewide c3, nonpartisan leadership training HUB, as well as its c4 arm, Represent Georgia Action Network. Before this role, she was the campaign manager for the successful Georgia Association of Educators’ Vote “NO” on Amendment 1 statewide ballot initiative during the November 2016 election cycle. Once a 16-year resident of North Carolina, Kendra was the policy director for the NC State Treasurer’s office under Janet Cowell where she held primary responsibility for leading the office’s education policy agenda. Before joining the Treasurer’s Office, Kendra completed a five-year tenure at UNC-Chapel Hill, serving first as the associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South and ending as the Project Director for the university’s Community-Campus Partnership initiative.

A staunch public school and voting rights advocate, Kendra is a Diamond Life Member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Stacey Abrams

Stacey Abrams, she/her — Former Georgia Gubernatorial Candidate and State House Representative; Founder of voting rights organizations New Georgia Project and Fair Fight.

Stacey Yvonne Abrams is a politician, lawyer, voting rights activist, and author who served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017, serving as minority leader from 2011 to 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, Abrams founded Fair Fight Action, an organization to address voter suppression, in 2018. Her efforts have been widely credited with boosting voter turnout in Georgia, including in the 2020 presidential election, when Joe Biden narrowly won the state, and in Georgia’s 2020–21 regularly scheduled and special U.S. Senate elections, which gave Democrats control of the Senate.

Abrams was the Democratic nominee in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election, becoming the first African-American female major-party gubernatorial nominee in the United States.

Abrams is an author of both fiction and nonfiction. Her nonfiction books, Our Time Is Now and Lead from the Outside, were New York Times best sellers. Abrams wrote eight fiction books under the pen name Selena Montgomery before 2021. While Justice Sleeps was released on May 11, 2021 under her real name. Abrams also wrote a children’s book, Stacey’s Extraordinary Words.

Dr. Carol Anderson

Dr. Carol Anderson, she/her— Esteemed professor of African American Studies at Emory University; best-selling author of White Rage; Board Member of Fair Fight.

Carol Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies at Emory University and author of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, a New York Times Bestseller, Washington Post Notable Book of 2016, and a National Book Critics Circle Award winner. She is also the author of Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, 1944–1955; Bourgeois Radicals: The NAACP and the Struggle for Colonial Liberation, 1941–1960, and One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy, which was long-listed for the National Book Award and a finalist for the PEN/Galbraith Award in non-fiction.

As an educator and historian, Professor Anderson has been lauded both by colleagues and students alike for her exciting, nuanced, and accessible approach to research and academia. She has received numerous teaching awards, including Emory’s Williams Award and the university’s Teacher-Scholar Award.

Her research has garnered an array of grants and fellowships, including those sponsored by the American Council of Learned Societies, the Ford Foundation, the National Humanities Center, Harvard University’s Charles Warren Center, and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. She was recently awarded a 2018 fellowship in Constitutional Studies by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Professor Anderson’s role as a public scholar has found her serving on working groups dealing with race, minority rights, and criminal justice at Stanford’s Center for Applied Science and Behavioral Studies, the Aspen Institute, and the United Nations and as a member of the U.S. State Department’s Historical Advisory Committee. She is currently on the Advisory Board of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative. She has appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show, PBS NewsHour, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and Democracy Now!, as well as providing commentary for the Huffington Post, The Guardian, New York Times, and Washington Post. Her op-ed in the Washington Post on Ferguson was the most shared for the newspaper in 2014.

She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Miami University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Political Science (International Relations) and a bachelor’s in history. She earned her Ph.D. in history from The Ohio State University.

LaTosha Brown

LaTosha Brown, she/her — Community organizer and political strategist; co-founder of Black Voters Matter.

Where other leaders see nothing but poverty, despair and destitution, this 2018 Bridge Jubilee Award and Liberty Bell Award recipient LaTosha Brown sees great opportunity. To her, there are more than enough resources on the planet to comfortably sustain every human being. Affectionately known by many as a “Black Renaissance” woman, her southern roots, coupled with her global thoughts toward people, ideas, and money, have opened doors for her to maximize her voice in the U.S., as well as over 30 countries abroad. In addition to being recognized as a well-respected leader in the South who has led numerous initiatives, campaigns and special projects to empower marginalized communities, LaTosha is leading several international efforts to provide training, support and funding for women-led institutions based in Guyana, Senegal, Belize and Tanzania.

Having raised millions of dollars for a variety of causes throughout the U.S., she is most known for her philanthropic efforts as an effective fundraiser and resource person. From creating community-led funds to establishing donor networks, LaTosha has raised millions of dollars to support social justice causes and created projects that bring more investments into marginalized communities.

As the co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund and the BVM Capacity Building Institute, LaTosha is adamant about ensuring that all human beings have access to quality education, safety, security, peace, love and happiness. Striving daily to hear the voices of women in leadership amplified and supported, she is also working to eliminate human suffering through her vision of the Southern Black Girls & Women’s Consortium. Recognizing that her work is not rooted in strengthening political systems, governments or institutions — but in the advancement of people — LaTosha serves as an authoritative figure in the lives of thousands, if not millions. More than ever, she’s crystal clear that she is called to remind people of the power they hold within, pushing them through the birthing process of vision to manifestation.

Transforming culture through her singing and songwriting, this innovative storyteller is shifting the narrative of African-Americans through media, campaigns and nonprofit projects. Featured on CNN, HBO, MSNBC and Fox, to name a few, Latosha also proudly serves as the founder of Saving OurSelves Coalition, a community-led disaster relief organization that helped hundreds of families in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Currently, she serves on the board of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, the Southern Documentary Fund, the U.S. Human Rights Network and the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center. After having worked with her, clients, colleagues and friends alike gain more clarity about their vision and life’s work, connection to quality resources, and a deeper sense of their own humanity after having encountered the incomparable LaTosha Brown.

Monica Simpson

Monica Simpson, she/her— Activist and organizer; Executive Director of SisterSong. a leading Reproductive Justice organization in the South.

Monica Raye Simpson, a queer, black, NC native, has organized extensively against human rights abuse, the prison industry, racism, and systemic violence against Southern black women and LBGTQ people. A proud graduate of the historically black Johnson C. Smith University, she earned a bachelor’s in Communications and organized for LGBTQ rights on and off campus. She then became the Operations Director and the first person of color at the Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Community Center. Next, she trained black youth in activism, philanthropy, and fundraising as the Ujamaa Coordinator for Grassroots Leadership. In 2010, she moved to GA to be our Development Coordinator; she was promoted to Deputy Coordinator in 2011, Interim Executive Director in 2012, and Executive Director in 2013.

Monica is a nationally sought-after facilitator, speaker, and organizer, constantly called upon to travel the country for appearances. She is the only woman among the 4 founders of Charlotte, NC’s Black Gay Pride Celebration, the first in the Bible Belt, which received awards from the National Black Justice Coalition and the Human Rights Coalition for its incredible launch with 7,000 participants. She has been featured in many publications for her activism, and has written many articles on LGBTQ issues, RJ, over-policing of black/brown communities, philanthropy, and Southern activism. In 2014 she was named a New Civil Rights Leader by Essence Magazine, and in 2015 was chosen as a panelist for the Women of the World Summit. Also a full circle doula certified through the International Center for Traditional Childbirth, she serves on the boards of the Fund for Southern Communities and the legendary Highlander Center.

A singer and spoken word artist who infuses art into her activism, Monica has appeared in theatrical productions such as For the Love of Harlem, Words the Isms, Walk Like a Man, The Vagina Monologues, and For Colored Girls. She released her first solo album, Revolutionary Love, in 2015, and she has performed at events across the country, including singing the National Anthem and the National Black Anthem for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. march and rally in Atlanta, GA. Monica created Artists United for Reproductive Justice as a project of SisterSong in order to create a platform for artists to collaborate on replicable artwork that furthers the Reproductive Justice movement. Monica is based in Atlanta.

Tamika Palmer

Tamika Palmer, she/her — Activist and police reform advocate; mother of Breonna Taylor

Tamika Palmer is the mother of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old African-American woman fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove on March 13, 2020. Best known for her activism and advocating for police reform within the Black community.

Tamika Mallory

Tamika Mallory, she/her— Leading civil and women’s rights organizer; former Executive Director of National Action Network; co-chair of the Women’s March.

Tamika D. Mallory is an esteemed social justice leader, advocate, activist, and mother. A New York City native, this fiery, outspoken organizer has remained a consistent fixture in the civil rights movement for nearly 20 years. Tamika’s focus on civil and human rights issues includes extensive work around equal rights for women, economic empowerment, gun violence, criminal justice reform, and police accountability.

Tamika was one of the four co-chairs for the Women’s March on Washington.

Tamika has been honored on the 2017 Time 100 Pioneers list as well as Fortune’s 2017 list of the World’s Greatest Leaders. She is an award-winning activist and has been applauded as a leader by President Barack Obama’s administration.

A highly sought-after speaker, who travels worldwide to speak on the issues plaguing our society and the actions needed to bring forth change, Tamika can be found on many multimedia platforms talking about her work, challenging policies, and exposing social constructs that perpetuate injustice. Tamika Mallory is without a doubt a change agent for the future of our country.

Jessica Byrd

Jessica Byrd, she/her— Political strategist focused on recruiting and electing people of color; Founder and “Chief Doer” at Three Point Strategies, an electoral firm providing strategic planning and leadership development for candidates and campaigns; former Manager of State Strategies at EMILY’s List; former Chief of Staff to Stacey Abrams.

Jessica Byrd is a Black queer feminist who founded Three Point Strategies in 2015 to provide a home for electoral strategy in the United States that centers racial justice and is transformational rather than transactional.

Jessica is a nationally renowned political strategist known for her unapologetically people-powered approach to campaign strategy and is a relentless capacity builder for the independent Black Political Ecosystem. She has worked on campaigns in 43 states, trained hundreds of activists and elected leaders and is one of the architects of the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project. She made history while serving as a chief strategist for Black women US Senate Candidates, Congresswomen, and Mayors of major metropolitan cities, and serving as the Chief of Staff to Georgia Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.

Jessica recently spearheaded the planning and execution of the Black National Convention for the Movement for Black Lives and is committed fully to utilizing elections as a tactic to build power and policy in defense and investment in Black lives.

Andrea Jenkins

Andrea Jenkins, she/her— Minneapolis City Council President with more than 30 years of public service experience; the first Black openly transgender woman elected to public office in the U.S.

Andrea Jenkins made history in 2017 as the first African American openly trans woman to be elected to office in the United States. Now serving as Council President, she is also a writer, performance artist, poet and transgender activist.

Jenkins moved to Minnesota to attend the University of Minnesota in 1979. She worked as a Vocational Counselor for Hennepin County government, for a decade. Jenkins worked as a staff member on the Minneapolis City Council for 12 years before beginning work as curator of the Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota’s Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies.

She holds a master’s degree in Community Development from Southern New Hampshire University, a MFA in Creative Writing from Hamline University and a Bachelor’s Degrees in Human Services from Metropolitan State University. She is a nationally and internationally recognized writer and artist, a 2011 Bush Fellow to advance the work of transgender inclusion, and the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships. In 2018 she completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government at Harvard University.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham

Brittany Packnett Cunningham, she/her — Activist and social change leader; Co-founder of Campaign Zero, a police reform campaign; former Executive Director of Teach for America, St. Louis.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham is a leader at the intersection of culture and justice. Cited by President Barack Obama as a leader whose “voice is going to be making a difference for years to come,” Brittany is an educator, activist, writer, and award-winning podcaster and leader. Brittany has become a sought-after voice in the work of social change and empowerment. Brittany plays many roles, all focused on freedom.

Brittany is Vice President of Social Impact at BET, an NBC News and MSNBC Contributor, and host of UNDISTRACTED, a news and justice podcast with an intersectional lens on the world. A lifelong activist and proud member of the Ferguson Uprising, Brittany was co-host of the 2019 iHeart Radio Best Political Podcast, Pod Save The People, for three years, and a three time a fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.

Brittany is the Founder and Principal Love & Power Works a full-service social impact firm focused on creating justice and equity in every sector. This agency is a sister to Love & Power: The Brand, a hub created to inspire, empower, and outfit everyday people to seismically shift society.

She has been named one of TIME Magazine’s 12 New Faces of Black Leadership, and honored at the 2018 BET Awards as “one of the fiercest activists of our time.” Brittany has been named one of Marie Claire’s 50 Most Influential Women for the past two years, LinkedIn’s Next Wave, received the Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership, and shares the number 3 spot on Politico’s 2016 50 Most Influential list, among others.

Brittany is an alum of Washington University in St. Louis, American University in Washington, and the Pahara-Aspen Institute Fellowship. She is a proud member of the Gucci Changemakers Council, Sephora Equity Advisors, and the Children’s Defense Fund Action Council.

Ultimately, Brittany is a proud Black woman of faith who believes that freedom is within our grasp- as long as we unleash love, and build our power, because “power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice.” (MLK).

Nekima Levy Armstrong 

Nekima Levy Armstrong — Civil rights activist and attorney; Executive Director of the Wayfinder Foundation, a nonprofit organization advocating for racial equity in the public education and criminal justice systems; Author of J is for Justice children’s book; former NAACP Minneapolis Chapter President.

Nekima Levy Armstrong is a civil rights attorney, activist, national expert on racial justice, former law professor, and legal scholar. She previously served as Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas Law School for thirteen years, where she founded and directed the Community Justice Project, an award-winning civil rights legal clinic. Nekima is the Executive Director of the Wayfinder Foundation, which provides support for women of color activists and organizers around the country. Nekima is also the founder of the Racial Justice Network, a grassroots organization that organizes and leads protests and demonstrations, provides community outreach and resources, and challenges injustices within systems that impact Black people and other people of color in Minneapolis and the Twin Cities.

Nekima’s work has been featured on OprahDaily.com, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Associated Press, NPR, Crisis Magazine, Huff Post, MinnPost, and Star Tribune, to name a few. She has appeared on CNN, BET, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, Democracy Now, Al Jazeera America, News One, and HuffPost Live.

Nekima is the owner and principal consultant of Black Pearl, LLC, a multi-faceted company that provides business consulting and public relations services. She is also the co-creator of Assata Speaks (like TED Talks, but with more swag). In 2020 and 2017, she was named 100 People to Know by Twin Cities Business. In 2016, she received the Distinguished Service Award from the Governor’s Commission on Martin Luther King Day. In 2015, she was named one of “40 Under 40” by Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. In 2014, she was named a “Minnesota Attorney of the Year” by Minnesota Lawyer and recognized as one of “50 Under 50 Most Influential Law Professors of Color in the Country” by Lawyers of Color Magazine. She previously served as president of the Minneapolis NAACP and as an advisor to Black Lives Matter. She ran for Mayor of Minneapolis in 2017.

Makia Green

Makia Green, they/them — “A queer non-binary fat Black liberation organizer”; Organizing Director with Working Families Party; co-chair of Defund MPD Coalition; co-founder of Harriet’s Wildest Dreams; leader of Movement 4 Black Lives in DC; former organizer with Black Lives Matter DC.

Makia Green is a queer non-binary fat Black liberation organizer with Working Families Party, Harriets Wildest Dreams, co-chair of the Defund MPD Coalition, and a former core organizer of Black Lives Matter DC. They are also a co-founder of the Movement 4 Black Lives DC Money Pot. Makia fights to abolish the prison state and diet industry, end intra-community violence and eliminate wealth inequality by facilitating community dialogues, mutual aid, leading direct actions, and building coalitions centered on Black joy, healing & abolition.

They joined the movement by co-founding an activist collective in Rochester, NY during the aftermath of the Ferguson Uprising, and have since been an active member and leader of Movement 4 Black Lives in DC since 2015. As a movement leader, Green’s passion is using radical honesty to give others the permission to be themselves, unapologetically so that we all have the power to manifest the world within which we want to live.

Makia has been featured and quoted in The Forge, NY Times, Essence, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, VICE News, The Intercept, The Hill, Mic, The Root, Blavity, Roll Call, BBC, Bustle, WIRED, and the book, Fat Girls in Black Bodies, authored by Joy Cox.

Tarana Burke 

Tarana Burke — Activist, community organizer, and fierce advocate for survivors of sexual assault; Founder of the Me Too movement; Senior Director of Girls for Gender Equity in Brooklyn, NY; former Executive Director of the Black Belt Cultural Arts Center; previously served as Special Projects Director at the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute in Selma, AL.

Tarana J. Burke has been working at the intersection of racial justice, arts and culture, anti-violence and gender equity for nearly three decades. Fueled by a commitment to interrupt systemic issues disproportionately impacting marginalized people, like sexual violence, particularly for black women and girls, Tarana has created and led campaigns that have brought awareness to the harmful legacies surrounding communities of color. Specifically, her work to end sexual violence has not only exposed the ugly truths of sexism and spoke truth to power, it has also increased access to resources and support for survivors and paved a way forward for everyone to find their place in the movement.

A proud native of the Bronx, NY, Tarana’s passion for community organizing began in the late 1980s; when as a young girl, she joined a youth leadership organization called 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement. She led and participated in initiatives around issues like police brutality, housing inequality and economic justice across the city. That work, coupled with a desire to deepen her academic education and organizing skills led her to Alabama State University, a historically black institution. Her organizing and advocacy work continued throughout college and remains a pillar of her professional life.

Her career took an intentional turn toward supporting survivors of sexual violence while living in Selma, Alabama and working for 21st Century. She encountered dozens of black girls with stories of sexual violence, abuse, and exploitation, stories with which she personally identified. Tarana realized too many girls were trying their best to survive without access to resources, safe spaces and support. So, in 2005, she created Just Be, Inc., an organization committed to the empowerment and wellness of black girls. The ‘me too.’ Movement was born shortly thereafter as an entry to healing for survivors and a mechanism for developing survivor leaders.

In 2017, when ‘me too.’ as a hashtag (#metoo) went viral, Tarana emerged as a global leader in the evolving conversation around sexual violence. She placed the focus back on survivors and the need for survivor-centered, survivor-led solutions. Her theory of empowerment through empathy is changing the way the world thinks and talks about sexual violence, consent and bodily autonomy. Tarana uses her platform to share the messages that healing is possible, survivors are leaders and ending sexual violence has to be a social justice priority, which has touched and inspired millions of survivors who previously lived with the pain, shame and trauma of their experience in isolation. In 2018, Tarana founded ‘me too.’ International, a global non-profit organization that serves as a container for the vision and framework for the ‘me too.’ Movement. The organization serves as a convener, innovator, thought leader, and organizer across the mainstream and the grassroots to address systems that allow for the proliferation of sexual violence, specifically in Black, queer, trans, disabled, and all communities of color.

Her steadfast commitment is what led her to receive numerous accolades including 2017 TIME Person of the Year, 2018 TIME 100 Most Influential People, the 2019 Sydney Peace Prize and Harvard Gleitsman Citizen Activist Award, and in 2020 being named one of USA Today’s Women of the Decade among many other honors and recognitions.

Call to action: Please share this article on your social media handles and celebrate Women’s History Month with us as we aspire to inspire all of our readers to be leaders, innovators, and change-makers. 

Tammy Reese

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