Celebrating Black Activism

Learning from Black activists

Tamrah Chalom

Category: Creative


Black History Month offers a time to celebrate the contributions of Black leaders and trailblazers, to acknowledge and address the ongoing struggles and injustices faced by the Black community, and to recommit ourselves to allyship beyond the month of February. Our NJI crew is inspired every day by Black writers, strategists, poets, designers, and other creatives who channel their talent into socially impactful work. We are excited to spotlight Black pioneers in creativity and advocacy in a way that is deeply personal to the NJI crew, elevating the work of these luminaries and educating each other in the process.

The first week of February, NJI employees honor the Black activists who are making their mark in public affairs. Throughout history, Black activists have fought for civil rights, social justice, and equality. In our policy work, NJI gleans inspiration from these trailblazers and their passion and creativity. 

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
Original photo by Caltech

Combining advocacy, innovation, and design for social impact, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson leads the way in ocean conservation and climate policy. From developing U.S. federal ocean policy to inventing a fish trap to reduce bycatch to leading the Caribbean’s first successful island-wide ocean zoning effort, Dr. Johnson has dedicated her life to ocean conservation and climate change. 

“Her podcast How to Save a Planet inspires me to take action and support a cause I am so passionate about,” Rikki Acuna, NJI Project Coordinator.

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
Original photo by Texas Public Policy Foundation

Deemed a catalyst for the successful passage of significant criminal justice legislation, the First Step Act, Alice Marie Johnson is working tirelessly to transform the criminal justice system. The author, advocate, and CEO was pardoned after serving 21 years in prison for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense and has since become a leading voice in sentencing reform and clemency. 

“Her ability to remain optimistic despite everything she has been through and turn her situation into something that can help others inspires me,” Emily Sikora, NJI Senior Account Director.

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
Original photo by Earlham College

A leading voice in the fight for racial justice, civil rights attorney Ben Crump has dedicated his career to advocating for the rights of the Black community. He has represented the families of numerous victims of police and vigilante brutality including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and, most recently, Tyre Nichols. 

“Crump’s work has been instrumental in raising awareness and leading to increased scrutiny of the criminal justice system and demands for systemic change,” Zaid Abdullah, NJI Project Manager.

Other Black activists inspiring our crew in our policy work include but are not limited to: Hakeem Jeffries, the first Black leader of a party in Congress; Ketanji Brown Jackson, the youngest Black woman appointed as a federal judge and first Black woman appointed to the Supreme Court; Rev. Raphael Warnock, the first Black senator from Georgia; Maxwell Frost, the first Gen Z Congressman; and Erick Russell, the first Black, out LGBTQ+ statewide elected official anywhere in the US.

Black activism has been a vital force in shaping American history, and it continues to play a critical role in shaping a more just and equitable society. Read more in our next piece on the impact of Black culture on creative expression in the design industry

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