Inspiring Role Models Who Motivate Us to Fight for Lasting Change

Their messages are important, and it’s up to us to listen.

Richard Scalzo /  Shutterstock
Richard Scalzo / Shutterstock

As we continue to fight against systemic racial injustice, we’re reminded that creating long-term change involves listening to and learning from those around us — as well as those who came before us. If we truly educate ourselves and listen, there are so many individuals who can inspire us to stay the course until we eradicate racism once and for all. 

We asked our Thrive community to tell us about one person who inspires them to work for change. Which of these role models inspires and motivates you?

Septima Poinsette Clark

“Also known as the grandmother of the Civil Rights movement, Clark continues to inspire me to fight for racial and gender equality change. She first worked as an underpaid educator in South Carolina until she was fired due to her membership in the NAACP. She went on to found many citizenship schools where she taught others how to register to vote and engage in nonviolent protests. Septima recruited and mentored leaders such as Rosa Parks and Esau Jenkins, and was one of the few people whom Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. invited to Norway with him for the acceptance of his Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. She worked tirelessly to advocate for civil rights and is one of the most under-recognized leaders of the movement.”

—Alisha C. Taylor, engineering program manager and life coach, Greenville, SC

Resmaa Menakem

“I’m inspired by the work of Resmaa Menakem, a therapist and author of My Grandmother’s Hands. I’m taking his five-day course on racialized trauma and cultural somatics, which elucidates Black body trauma through his theory of historical, intergenerational, persistent, institutional, and personal traumas as a result of genocide, colonization, enslavement, and land theft. His theory is that all of these traumas are experienced in the body in the present, as energy. Unable to discern past from present, the experience of historical trauma is overwhelming, regardless of a person’s background, race and class, and is healed through a body-centered approach. Take his course, read his book, find him on Oprah; this man is a leader and someone to look to for a deeper understanding of becoming whole during this time.”

—Zahara Jade, M.A., somatic healer and coach, Albuquerque, NM

Zainab Salbi

“Zainab Salbi is the founder of Women for Women International, a charity that supports and empowers women survivors of war. Zainab’s life story is truly inspiring. She was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1969. Her life was impacted by her first-hand experience of war as she lived there during the Iran-Iraq war. Zainab’s experience with war sensitized her to the plight of women in war-torn regions. When she learned of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina a few years after her arrival to the US, and seeing the inaction of the international community, she decided to act by founding Women for Women International and dedicated her life to serving women survivors of wars. Zainab was only 23 years old at the time. The work of the charity has touched me deeply, and as a result, with my two co-founders, we decided to set a non-profit entity in Singapore called Women on a Mission. Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today and it remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it. Salbi has inspired me to do my part to support and empower such women through advocacy work and fundraising.”

 —Christine Amour-Levar, philanthropist, Singapore

Paul Robeson

“I’m inspired by next generation changemakers who are using their history knowledge as a tool to craft a better future. To me, history is an inspiration as well as a guiding light. Amongst those fighting a battle for equal rights and fair treatment of Black Americans and other marginalized groups, we also hear voices calling out for peace and unity. It was only 65 years ago when the Black singer and actor Paul Robeson wrote these words in his newspaper, Freedom: ‘The answer to injustice is not to silence the critic but to end the injustice.’ Robeson’s words inspire my own. Without justice, there can be no peace. We have to dig to the root of the problem, addressing the generations of wrongs endured throughout history. Only then can we imagine a better, more united future. Young people today may not know of Robeson as a singer, actor or civil rights activist, but his words carry weight that we can use to make decisions during our historic moment. And in doing so, we can help keep his legacy alive, carrying forth the history that shapes us as we then shape the future.”

 —Caroline Klibanoff, program manager at Made By Us, Washington, D.C.

Rosa Parks

“Rosa Parks has inspired me since childhood. I grew up in the Deep South, and as a treat, my mom would allow my siblings and I to ride the bus with our housekeeper. We treasured the bus rides, feeling powerful and independent, safe and loved. Rosa Parks’ tenacity created opportunities that became laws for all. Living in New York CIty is a gift, one that invites a daily celebration of humanity traveling together as one while heading to our personal destinations. As an activist, my job is to share history and the hardships experienced by all. In doing so, enlightening my students with Rosa Parks’ commitment to equity and equality allows every person to share a space, regardless of skin color, race, gender, and religion. I am grateful for all the Rosa Parks that continue to show up daily, shifting our paradigm, such that we stop questioning another’s worth or enoughness. My hope is that we each take a piece of Parks with us to ensure that everyone has a seat, that everyone is cared for with genuine love.”

 —Dana Kaplan, founder of DEED, New York, NY

Our children

“My children inspire me to fight for change every day. My seven-year-old son, Jay, recently stared out the window and said, ‘Momma, if the Statue of Liberty stands for freedom, why do Black people get treated unfairly?’ He craned his neck, searching for the spot where you could see the statue from the boardwalk near our home in Jersey City. My kids ask me questions about racism — tough questions they shouldn’t have to ask — and I shouldn’t have to answer. I try to explain that when people are hurting, they try to hurt other people both verbally and physically. My son then reminds me of what he learned about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: to treat others the way you want to be treated, with love and kindness. I am fighting to raise him and his little sister in what I hope will be more an equitable world for all of us.”

—Mita Mallick, head of diversity, Jersey City, NJ

Is there a role model who inspires you to fight for change? Share with us in the comments.

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