Honoring the women who are fighting for racial justice

Gina Womack with Xochitl Bervera (image via Ms. Foundation)

by Anthony Giancatarino

Today marks the 35th Anniversary of the United Nations’ International Women’s Day of Peace and Justice. On this day, we pause to appreciate and honor the countless women in our personal lives, local communities, and global family. In truth – this should be every day. But today we want to pay special recognition to the women who are fighting for racial justice in our communities.

In the United States, women have led the clarion call for justice and fairness. Sojourner Truth’s advocacy, Harriet Tubman’s leadership, and Rosa Park’s protest are some of the well-known examples of women taking the lead to achieve equity, justice, and fairness at great personal risk. And, as a result, our nation has taken great strides in the journey to racial justice. But as Dorothy Day once said, “The legal battle against segregation is won, but the community battle goes on.”

Over the last 10 years, the Center for Social Inclusion’s work has been inspired women leaders, women who are changing the way we think and act economically, socially, and politically. Here are just some of the women we would like to honor for the 2012 Women’s Day:

    • Cathy Albisa, the Executive Director of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), who is committed to holding the United States accountable in meeting human rights and basic social and economic standards. Under her leadership NESRI has built partnerships across the country to achieve human rights in health, housing, education, and work with dignity.


    • Melissa Bradley Burns, CEO of the Tides Foundation and founder of New Capitalist, has dedicated much of her work to helping communities tackle climate change by creating opportunities for capital to create economically profitable and sustainable businesses and community-owned enterprises.


    • Connie Cagampang Heller, co-founder of the Linked Fate Salon and Linked Fate Fund for Justice at the Tides Center, has worked to transform our political system into one that is inclusive, and has social justice as its core tenant. Her creative Salons utilized space for progressive activists and funders to collectively and cooperatively think and discuss movement building strategies for change.


    • Chung-Wha Hong, the Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, has built a diverse alliance of immigrants from around the world who have succeeded in expanding the rights of immigrant students, tenants, workers, and families through organizing and political action.


    • Saru Jayaraman, founder and Executive Director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC). ROC is the only national workers’ rights organization in the nation and they advocate for better wages and working conditions for over 10 million workers nationwide, many of whom are people of color.


    • Alexis McGill-Johnson, the Executive Director of the American Values Institute, is a leader in challenging how we think, speak, and act on racial anxiety and bias. By understanding how bias and anxiety effects everyday human functions, AVI looks to identify mechanisms that can decrease the “harmful effect of bias and enrich the cultural conversation around race”. Under Alexis’ leadership, AVI’s work helps us think and speak differently about race, propelling us to create better economic and social policies for our communities.


    • Barbara Poley, Executive Director of the Hopi Foundation, has strengthened reservation communities through innovative programs, such as starting a community radio station and promoting traditional farming practices that enhance traditional Hopi life while meeting the challenges of the technological era.


    • Ai-Jen Poo, the Executive Director of Domestic Workers United (DWU), led the charge for a domestic bill of rights in New York State, the first for such legislation in the country. Her leadership has expanded to Caring across Generations movement, challenging how we think and act about home care for our loved ones. As an intergenerational movement they are pushing for federal legislation to create over 2 million new quality jobs in home care, develop career advancement and pathways to citizenship, and improve and expand access to Medicare and Medicaid.


    • Jamala Rogers, founder of Organization for Black Struggle, has been on the forefront of organizing for human dignity, economic justice, and political empowerment in St. Louis leading multiracial campaigns for police local control and against the death penalty, and helping exonerate wrongfully-convicted persons.


    • Kabzuag Vaj, founder and Executive Director of Freedom Inc in Wisconsin, brings her own experience as a Hmomg refugee to her work with Southeast Asian and African American families, particularly LGBTQ youth of color, helping them grow from being voiceless to being effective agents of change.



We are thankful to these women. And as we tell their stories today, we are reminded of the countless others whose leadership, action, and courage are at the forefront of that community battle to create a better society. From the Center for Social Inclusion, “We thank you”.

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The Race to Democracy Blog is the news, analysis, and media center for the Center for Social Inclusion (CSI). CSI is a national policy strategy organization that works to transform structural inequity into structural fairness and inclusion. We work with community groups and national organizations to develop policy ideas, foster effective leadership, and develop communications tools for an opportunity-rich world in which we all will thrive.

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