Marsha P Johnson: Marsha P. Johnson was a transgender woman and drag queen who became most well known in the late 1960’s and ‘70s for her involvement in the LGBTQ movement. She marched often with civil rights groups, and was involved in the Stonewall Inn riots. Johnson joined the Gay Liberation Front in the early ‘70s, and participated in sit-ins with the group to fight for equal treatment of gay citizens. Johnson is also credited for founding the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries along with Sylvia Rivera, a group intended to bring awareness to, advocate for, and provide shelter for homeless transgender women and drag queens. STAR was the first group of its kind in the United States, giving a temporary home to hundreds of transgender young adults when the rest of society rejected them. STAR was also the first organization to be founded and run by transgender women of color, and served as a stepping stone for others hoping to create the same safe, caring environment these two women did. Johnson was tragically murdered by a group of homophobic strangers after a pride parade in 1992, but her legacy lives on as a woman who fought for civil rights for her entire life, and made a positive change in the gay and transgender communities in the US.
Trayvon Martin: Trayvon Martin was just 17 years old when he was shot and killed by a neighborhood watchman in Sanford, Florida in February of 2012. Martin was on the phone with his girlfriend, walking back to his father’s home after purchasing a bag of skittles and an Arizona iced tea, when he was followed and subsequently shot. Martin was unarmed. The case garnered mass media attention after it was reported that his shooter would not be charged with any crime, and it was suggested that Martin was targeted because of his race, and that the deadly force used against him was not needed. After protests began occurring and petitions for arrest gained millions of signatures, the Sanford Police department opted to press charges. The defendant was found not guilty of both manslaughter and second-degree murder. After this court decision, mass protests began again throughout the nation, and the Black Lives Matter movement emerged to combat unnecessary violence against unarmed black citizens. Martin became the face of a new era of the civil rights movement, one in which racial profiling by white Americans and police officers in the US is highlighted and challenged. Inappropriate and discriminatory actions by law enforcement are no longer accepted, and the “do no wrong” mentality associated with officers of the law has further come into question with each new murder of an unarmed black American. Trayvon Martin would have turned 23 on February 5th. The 26th of this month will be the six-year anniversary of his death, and on that day it would be appropriate to consider the circumstances of Trayvon Martin’s death, and how they have shaped popular culture and American society today.
Shirley Chisholm: Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman to be elected into Congress, and the first black woman to run for president. Chisholm first began her adult life as an educator, but in 1965 she left the school system to become a member of the New York State Assembly. After three years of serving in this assembly representing various districts, Chisholm ran for Congress, and was elected in 1969. Chisholm acted in the House of Representatives until 1983, working in the both the House Agricultural Committee and Veterans’ Affairs Committee before being assigned to the Education and Labor Committee. During her time as a Congresswoman, Chisholm worked on programs to improve inner-city residents living conditions and opportunities. She also greatly increased the number of women - black and otherwise - working in the House of Representatives, allowing the legislative body to live up to its inclusive title. In 1972, Chisholm entered the Presidential race as a Democratic candidate, and although she lost, her efforts empowered many young, black women in America. Shirley Chisholm showed young American women that nothing can hold them back, that neither the color of a person’s skin, their background, nor their gender could ever keep them from doing what they want.