Movers and Shakers

Bay Area Change Agents

By Julissa James with illustrations by Olivia Wise

The national groundswell for racial justice and equality has deep local roots. Meet some of the luminaries at the forefront.

Brianna Noble 

“Find your power, align it with a collective purpose.” It’s a phrase Brianna Noble has had front of mind since she was an activist teenager, organizing youth forums on police brutality after the 2009 killing of Oscar Grant, and working to get youth access to horses through a number of local organizations. It’s been especially resonant in the last month, since she rode through an Oakland protest on the back of her horse, Dapper Dan, with her fist raised and a sign that read, “Black Lives Matter.” In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, Noble has become a symbol of the movement trying to fight for his justice. “I’m so glad I could make a difference and inspire such positivity throughout the world,” the 25-year-old tells the Gazette. “I feel an immense sense of responsibility to be sure that I use this newfound ‘fame’ to do as much good as I possibly can.” Now, Noble is harnessing her virality to amplify the work she’s been doing for years at her Martinez ranch, Mulatto Meadows, including investing in the next generation of Black and brown horse riders.

Phil Long

Phil Long feels like this time is different. As founder and winemaker of Longevity Wines, and as of January 2020 the president of the Association of African American Vintners, he’s dedicated his career to raising awareness around the fact that — yes — Black winemakers and winery owners do exist, despite, according to the association, only accounting for one-tenth of one percent of the industry. But now, the rest of the world is catching up. “There’s a massive surge of support for Black-owned businesses and Black-owned wineries,” he tells the Gazette. “A lot more people are getting out of the box, having the conversation and standing up and saying, OK, you know what, this is enough.” But the billion dollar questions is, will it last? “That’s the question on everyone’s mind, including mine,” Long says. “I’m going to do everything I can to help sustain it. ” What will continue without question, Long says, is the AAAV’s mission to shine light on Black leaders in the industry, and educate young people looking to join them. “It is important, it has been important, and will continue to be important.”

Alicia Garza

In 2013, longtime Oakland activist Alicia Garza founded Black Lives Matter with Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, marking a new era for the centuries-long struggle for racial equality and inspiring a new generation of young people to join the fight. In 2018, she continued doing the work by creating Black Futures Lab, an organization that works to put political power back into the hands of Black people and communities. “The goal of the Lab is to be an innovations and experimentation lab to make Black people powerful in politics,” she explained to NBC News in June of last year, “And what I know is that, in order to address the challenges that Black communities face, and there are many, it requires innovation and experimentation, but more than that it requires Black political power to be able to implement those solutions and where we see them.” Guided by Garza’s ambitious vision, Black Futures Lab conducted the largest survey of Black people — documenting their concerns, views and political beliefs — in the country since Reconstruction, culminating in the Black Census Project.

Colin Kaepernick

“Don’t apologize, give Colin Kaepernick a job back!” The Rev. Al Sharpton spoke the words on all our minds while delivering George Floyd’s eulogy at his funeral in Houston. This was after the NFL publicly apologized for the way it treated players protesting racism and police brutality in 2016, which resulted in Kaepernick being effectively frozen out of the NFL. There are icons for every movement in American history. Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, taking a knee during the national anthem with his glorious afro radiating out like a halo in many ways laid the groundwork for the reckoning we’re experiencing now. Through it all, Kaepernick has remained steadfast in his mission to raise awareness and change anti-black systems. His passion project, Know Your Rights Camp, is a free campaign that creates safe spaces for black youth to learn about interacting with law enforcement and tapping into self-empowerment. Kicking off in 2016, It’s grown to include eight camps worldwide, from Oakland and Amsterdam. This just in: Director Ava DuVernay and Kaepernick have teamed up to work on a six-part Netflix series about his upbringing and life, called Colin in Black & White

Aimee Allison

Since she became one of the first women of color to be honorably discharged from the military as a conscientious objector, Aimee Allison has dedicated her life to getting women of color involved — and supported — in politics. After running for Oakland city council in 2006, the Stanford grad became president of Democracy in Color, and host of its wildly popular podcast by the same name. In 2019, she founded She the People, a network of black, brown and indigenous candidates, voters and organizers, with a mission to “transform democracy.” That vision seems more important than ever today, as we approach the 2020 election and political leaders nationwide call for Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden to choose a woman of color as his running mate. She the People is currently mobilizing to make sure women of color’s voices are heard loud and clear in this election and for years to come.

Janetta Johnson

As executive director of the Transgender Gender-Variant & Intersex Justice Project, human rights activist Janetta Johnson fights for the rights of black trans women who have been negatively affected by the prison system, like she once was. Johnson spent three and a half years advocating on her own behalf while in federal prison, before joining the TGI Justice Project in 2006 and becoming its executive director in 2014. On June 27, her organization hosted a virtual fundraiser to bolster its efforts, Bustin’ Out, created in collaboration with Alicia Garza’s Black Futures Lab. The celebration featured film screenings by celebrated filmmakers Ahya Simone and Tourmaline, followed by a Q&A hosted by Pose and Hollywood producer-writer-director Janet Mock. Johnson is also co-founder of the Transgender Cultural District in the Tenderloin, the first recognized transgender district in the world, along with fellow community organizers Aria Sa’id and Honey Mahogany.

Rachel Wolfe-Goldsmith 

As your social media feed returns its natural state — pictures of your friends’ kids — and news coverage on protests dwindle, you may need a visual reminder that, yes, Black Lives Matter. Look no further than Fulton Street, between Webster Street and Octavia Boulevard, where the words are painted bold and large in unmissable yellow letters. This mural, and one like it in Oakland, were created in part by the Bay Area Mural Program, with artist Rachel Wolfe-Goldsmith as creative director. “The mural is the message,” Wolfe-Goldsmith said to SFGate following its completion on June 12. “That’s what we’re representing. We want black people to be seen and heard in the communities that they live in.” Painted in front of, and in collaboration with, the African American Arts & Culture Complex, the mural’s location holds its own significance in the historically black Fillmore District. In the end, over 100 people contributed to it.

Martin G. Reynolds

Martin G. Reynolds’ inbox has been overflowing. One of his roles as co-executive director of the Maynard Institute of Journalism Education is to conduct the nonprofit’s Fault Line diversity training for organizations far and wide, for which he usually gets a couple of inquiries a month. But since June, as intense and long-overdue racial reckonings have been unfolding in news organizations across the country, these requests have quadrupled. “We saw racial reckonings in society at various times,” the West Oakland resident tells the Gazette, “but I didn’t think I’d ever see it in newsrooms like this. I’m really pleased. Like, elated.” Reynolds is an industry veteran. He worked his way up from intern to editor-in-chief of the Oakland Tribune, runs the community journalism program Oakland Voices under the Maynard Institute, and sits on the boards of multiple local journalism organizations, becoming a trusted voice in the fight for diversity and inclusion in the field. Now he’s taking that conversation one step further: “We’ve really had our own bit of awakening, too,” he says of the Maynard Institute’s mission. “The conversation has been around diversity, equity and inclusion, but we are now pivoting to really talk about dismantling systemic racism on new terms.” As a professional, Reynolds recognizes this as a vital moment. But as a Black man, it’s also been an exhausting one. “I’ve been in a state of perpetual rage,” he says. “But it has given me fuel.” How’s he navigating it? Yoga, hot tubs, whiskey and creating stunning (we have visual proof!) flower arrangements from the roses in his garden.

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