What inspires you to create positive change in the world? Have you ever thought about the countless individuals who have risked and even gave their lives fighting for injustices around the world? We all know their names:
Harriet Tubman: Born enslaved, liberated herself and returned to the area of her birth many times to lead family, friends, and other enslaved African-Americans north to freedom. Advocate for women, the Union and enslaved people. A leader to the civil rights movement. Escaped to freedom at the age of 27 in 1849. Returned to Dorchester County, Maryland USA (her birthplace) approximately 13 times to liberate friends, family and other enslaved African-Americans via the Underground Railroad.
Dian Fossey: Undertook an extensive study of gorilla groups over a period of 18 years. Financed patrols to destroy poachers traps. Helped in the arrest of several poachers. Strongly opposed wildlife tourism, as gorillas are very susceptible to human anthroponotic diseases like influenza for which gorillas have no immunity. Viewed the holding of animals in “prison” (zoos) for the entertainment of people as unethical.
Martin Luther King Jr.: Born Michael Luther King Jr., later changed his name to Martin. Graduated High School at the age of fifteen. Received B. A. degree in 1948 from Morehouse College and later received doctorate degree at Boston University in 1955. In December of 1955, he accepted leadership of first great Negro nonviolent demonstration of contemporary times in the United States. During an 11 year period between 1957 – 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times. He directed the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, “I Have a Dream”. He was awarded five honorary degrees and named ‘Man of the Year’ by Time magazine in 1963 and became not only the symbolic leader of American blacks but also a world figure. At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King Jr. was the youngest man to have received The Nobel Peace Prize – when notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over his prize money of $54, 123 to further advance the civil rights movement.
Mother Teresa: Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia in 1910. At the age of twelve, she knew she had to be a missionary to spread the love of Christ. At eighteen, she left Skopje and joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns with missions in India. From 1931 to 1948 Mother Teresa taught at St. Mary’s High School in Calcutta, but the suffering and poverty she glimpsed outside the convent walls had such a deep impression on her that in 1948, she received permission from her superiors to leave the convent school and devote herself to working among the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta. In 1950, Mother Teresa received permission from the Holy See to start her own order, “The Missionaries of Charity”, whose primary task was to love and care for those persons nobody was prepared to look after.
Born on July 18, 1918 in Qunu, South Africa. Son of a chief, Nelson Mandela studied law and became one of South Africa’s first black lawyers. Early in the 1950s he was elected leader of the youth wing of the ANC (African National Congress) liberation movement. When the country’s white minority government prohibited the ANC in 1960, Mandela became convinced that armed struggle was inevitable. Inspired by the guerrilla wars in Algeria and Cuba, he organized a military underground movement that engaged in sabotage. In 1962 he was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for high treason and conspiracy against the state.
From 1964 to 1982 he was confined to the notorious prison island Robben Island, together with several other resistance leaders. He was then moved to prison on the mainland until his release in 1990. During his imprisonment, Mandela became a rallying point for South Africa’s oppressed, and the world’s most famous political prisoner.
Nelson Mandela shared the Peace Prize with the man who had released him, President Frederik Willem de Klerk, because they had agreed on a peaceful transition to majority rule.
Harvey Milk: Born on May 22, 1930 in Woodmere, New York. Harvey graduated from New York College for Teachers (now State University of New York) and enlisted in the Navy in 1951. Discharged in 1955 with the rank of lieutenant junior grade. He worked as a public school teacher on Long Island, a stock analyst in New York City and production associate for Broadway musicals, including Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair. During the 1960’s and 70’s he became more actively involved in politics and advocacy and he demonstrated against the Vietnam War. In late 1972, Milk moved to San Francisco, where he opened a camera store on Castro Street, in the heart of the city’s growing gay community. Just over a year later, he declared his candidacy for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors – he lost but emerged from the campaign as a force to be reckoned with in local politics. In 1975, he ran and narrowly lost. His close friend and ally Mayor George Mascone, appointed him to the city’s Board of Permit Appeals, making Milk the first openly gay city commissioner in the United States. In 1977, he easily won his third bid, and was inaugurated as a San Francisco City-County Supervisor on January 9, 1978.
Harvey Milk spoke out on state and national issues of interest to LGBT people, women, racial and ethnic minorities and other marginalized communities. One of these was a California ballot initiative, Proposition 6, which would have mandated the firing of gay teachers in the state’s public schools. State Senator John Briggs, seeking to marshal anti-gay sentiment and an agenda of hate and diminishment for political gain, spearheaded the initiative. With strong, effective opposition from Milk and others, it was defeated at a time when other political attacks on gay people were being successfully waged around the US.
Princess Diana: Born Lady Diana Frances Spencer on July 1, 1961 in Sandringham (Norfolk, England). Married Prince Charles on July 29, 1981. Princess Diana pulled out of being patroness or president of over 100 social institutions and charitable organizations. She took her role as patron of the English National Ballet, the Leprosy Mission and the British AIDS Help seriously. She was known for her humanitary and fund-raising work for international charities. She received recognition for her charity work and for her support of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. From 1989, she was the president of Great Ormond Street Hospital for children, in addition to dozens of other charities.
“I remember I used to sit on hospital beds and hold people’s hands. People used to be sort of shocked, but to me it was quite a normal thing to do. These people need hope. They also need encouragement.”
Mahatma Gandhi: Born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, more commonly known as ‘Mahatma’ (meaning ‘Great Soul’) in Porbandar, Gujarat, in NorthWest India on October 2, 1869. Married (via arranged marriage) at the age of 13 to Kasturba Makhanji. Began college at University of College London at age of 18 in September of 1888. Determined to adhere to Hindu principles, which included vegetarianism as well as alcohol and sexual abstinence, he found London restrictive initially, but once he had found kindred spirits he flourished, and pursued the philosophical study of religions, including Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and others, having professed no particular interest in religion up until then. Following admission to the English Bar, and his return to India, he found work difficult to come by and, in 1893, accepted a year’s contract to work for an Indian firm in Natal, South Africa. Despite arriving on a year’s contract, Gandhi spent the next 21 years living in South Africa, and railed against the injustice of racial segregation. Witnessing the racial bias experienced by his countrymen served as a catalyst for his later activism, and he attempted to fight segregation at all levels. He founded a political movement, known as Natal Indian Congress, and developed his theoretical belief in non-violent civil protest into a tangible political stance, when he opposed the introduction of registration for all Indians, within South Africa, via non-cooperation with relevant civic authorities.
David Suzuki: Co-Founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. David Suzuki is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. Dr. Suzuki is a geneticist. He graduated from Amherst College (Massachusetts) in 1958 with an Honours BA in Biology, followed by a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Chicago in 1961. In 1972, he was awarded the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship for the outstanding research scientist in Canada under the age of 35 and held it for three years. He holds 25 honorary degrees in Canada, the U.S. and Australia. He was elected to the Royal Society of Canada and is a Companion of the Order of Canada. Dr. Suzuki has written 52 books, including 19 for children. His 1976 text-book An Introduction to Genetic Analysis (with A.J.F. Griffiths), remains the most widely used genetics text-book in the U.S. and has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Greek, Indonesian, Arabic, French and German. Dr. Suzuki is also recognized as a world leader in sustainable ecology. He is the recipient of UNESCO’s Kalinga Prize for Science, the United Nations Environment Program Medal, UNEPs Global 500 and in 2009 won the Right Livelihood Award that is considered the Alternative Nobel Prize.
Ingrid Newkirk: Animal rights activist, author and Co-Founder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in 1980. Born in Surrey, England. Ingrid became an animal activist at the age of 21 after discovering that a neighbour abanded some kittens and decided to bring them to an animal shelter. This life-changing experience let to her first job working in behalf of animals – cleaning kennels and investigating cruelty cases. Ingrid served as deputy sheriff, a Maryland state law enforcement officer with the highest success rate in convicting animal abusers, the director of cruelty investigations for the second-oldest humane society in the U.S., and the chief of animal disease control for the Commission on Public Health in Washington, D.C. Under Ingrid’s leadership, legislation was passed to create the first-ever spray-and-neuter clinic in Washington, D.C. She coordinated the first arrest in U.S. history of a laboratory animal experiment on cruelty charges and helped achieve the first ever anti-cruelty law in Taiwan. She spearheaded the closure of a Department of Defense underground “wound laboratory”, and she has initiated many other campaigns against animal abuse, including ending General Motors’ car-crash tests on animals.
Let the stories and actions of all the people mentioned above, inspire and motivate you to create positive change into our world and universe.
Together, we can make the world a more positive one!