PEOPLE’s Voices from the Fight Against Racism will amplify Black perspectives on the push for equality and justice

By Rachel DeSantis and Elaine Aradillas
July 02, 2020 02:00 PM
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Ibram X. Kendi
Stephen Voss

As the country continues to demand change and confront racial injustice and police brutality, Black leaders are stepping up to help lead the charge through their art, their words and their actions.

From writers to advocates, meet five inspiring people who are creating a better, more inclusive America.

Ibram X. Kendi

A former sports journalist, Kendi, 37, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue that the sports stories he reported with a focus on race helped him realize that he wanted to produce scholarship on racism.

In 2019 he published the New York Times bestseller How to Be An Antiracist, which recently reached No. 1 for a second time last month following the death of George Floyd.

The latest release from Kendi, who is the director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, is the illustrated children’s book Antiracist Baby, which he says falls in line with the notion that children need to be taught that they are not color-blind.

“If we’re not deliberately teaching them how to be anti-racist, then we’re allowing society to continue to nurture them to be racist,” he says.

Follow Kendi on Twitter and Instagram.

For more Voices of Change, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

Rachel Cargle

Rachel Cargle
Sarah McKay

When the Akron, Ohio-based Cargle realized that many Black women were not going to therapy because of the cost, she took it upon herself to help them get there, creating a GoFundMe that raised $10,000 in just 24 hours.

Using that as a launchpad, Cargle, 31, in 2018 started the Loveland Foundation, a nonprofit that provides resources and funding to help Black women and girls access mental health services.

Now, thanks to a prominent Instagram presence, she’s using her platform to educate others on the realities of being a Black woman in America.

“We’re not looking for people to say, ‘I see you,'" she says. “We’re looking for people to say, ‘I’m beside you to upend this system.’”

Follow Cargle on Instagram and Twitter.

Nikkolas Smith

Nikkolas Smith
Vanessa Crocini

Smith’s path into activism began in 2013, when the Los Angeles-based artist created a viral image of Martin Luther King Jr. in a hoodie that was inspired by the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s shooter George Zimmerman.

The 35-year-old soon launched the Sunday Sketch series, in which he shared weekly artwork focused on current events like Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest and the immigration crisis.

Smith, a former Disney Imagineer, says his goal is “to not have anything to paint,” though recently he’s created poignant portraits of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, which were shared by Michelle Obama in May.

Follow Smith on Instagram and Twitter.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham

Brittany Packnett Cunningham
Reginald Cunningham

A commitment to social issues has long been important to Cunningham, who grew up attending rallies with her parents in St. Louis. As she grew older, she channeled that dedication into making change, first as the executive director of Teach for America in St. Louis, and then as the cofounder of Campaign Zero, which she helped launch in 2014 as an initiative to end police violence.

Cunningham, 35, hasn’t slowed down since — she even joined President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and in 2018, launched the social change agency Love & Power to connect people committed to action.

“We don’t have the luxury of only transforming one piece of the system,” says the Washington, D.C.-based Cunningham. “We have to keep our foot on the gas.”

Follow Cunningham on Instagram and Twitter.

Johnetta Elzie

Johnetta Elzie
Jared Soares/The New York Times

Elzie, 31, found her voice as a citizen journalist following the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, a voice she now uses for good in the social-justice newsletter This Is the Movement, which she coedits alongside activist DeRay Mckesson and We the Protesters, a national organization focused on ending police violence and racism.

The St. Louis resident planned to take the summer off between classes at Washington University, where she is pursuing her undergraduate degree, but after the death of George Floyd, is as committed as ever to marching and doing press to raise awareness.

“More people are joining us outside of their homes and their comfort zones,” she says.

Follow Elzie on Instagram and Twitter.

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

• Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.

ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.

• National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.