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To say that 2020 has been a chaotic year is an incredible understatement. From a global pandemic to massive social justice protests, to a presidential election with major national repercussions, 2020 has been one for the history books.
The year has also offered the opportunity for individuals to step up and become leaders for their communities. The North Star is highlighting five amazing leaders to watch in the upcoming year. They are activists, politicians, local organizers and public speakers who are using their platforms to improve the lives of people in their communities.
Congresswoman-elect Cori Bush, who was elected as representative for Missouri’s 1st congressional district, is already creating waves and she hasn’t even been sworn into office yet. The registered nurse and activist turned politician has been outspoken about the failures of the Trump administration and the Democratic Party.
Bush is using her platform to decry the $600 stimulus checks as “an insult to those who are struggling in our country” and to demand Congress pass a bill giving Americans $2,000 stimulus checks. She also criticized the GOP and Trump for failing the 14 million people who lost unemployment benefits at the end of December and the 40 million at risk of being evicted at the start of January.
The incoming congresswoman isn’t just saving her criticism for the Republican Party, she and fellow House newcomer Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) declined to say if they’ll back Nancy Pelosi for another two-year term as House Speaker. Bush will prove an indispensable member of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party once she is sworn in.
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Chicago-based activist Alycia Kamil jumped at the chance to help low-income people affected by the deadly virus. Kamil, who is part of the youth-led anti-gun violence group GoodKids MadCity, rallied young Chicagoans to go food shopping for those affected in the pandemic.
Kamil and the group raised thousands of dollars just weeks after the pandemic started, providing groceries for dozens of families and emergency funds to freelancers and others. In an interview with The North Star in April, Kamil said she hoped her initiative would prompt others to start similar initiatives in their communities.
In fact, Kamil's work raising funds for neighbors did affect others to give back. One person in particular credited Kamil’s initiative for influencing her: billionaire MacKenzie Scott. The philanthropist, who was married to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, cited Kamil’s initiative when announcing more than $4.2 billion in donations to organizations across the nation.
Kamil, who told USA Today being cited by Scott was “pretty cool,” said she plans to continue the grocery drop-off program in the winter. She also aims to launch a program to distribute PPE, water, packaged food and other essentials.
At just 20-years-old, Kamil is making an incredible mark in her community and she is sure to influence others to follow in her footsteps.
At just 15-years-old, Ashton Mota is already making a difference in his Massachusetts community and around the country. The Afro-Latinx transgender teen from Lowell, Massachusetts, is a public speaker and youth activist.
In middle school, Mota founded a Gay Straight Alliance group and he recently spoke in support of the Yes on 3 Campaign in Massachusetts. The campaign aimed to keep a law allowing transgender people to use public facilities corresponding to their gender identity. The state law was upheld by voters in 2018, according to The Lowell Sun.
After coming out as transgender, Mota quickly realized that there was a lack of representation of transgender youth –– particularly youth of color –– in the media. In 2019, Mota became a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Youth Foundation Ambassador at the age of 14. Since then, he’s used his platform as a Youth Ambassador to make sure the stories of LGBTQ youth of color are heard, Mota told the HRC.
Mota travels the country speaking on his experiences as a Black, Dominican American transgender teen and advocates for young people just like him. “Being able to be that voice and kind of be a role model for people that…are figuring out their gender identity or just their, like, identity overall is just like really inspiring to me,” Mota told reporters.
Despite being young, Mota has already learned the importance of visibility for LGBTQ teens, especially young people of color. He continues to inspire and lead for change in how transgender teens are accepted and treated.
Black queer activist and abolitionist Brea Baker has been advocating for equality and equity for years. While studying at Yale University, Baker served as the president of the university’s NAACP chapter and focused on juvenile justice and police brutality.
In 2017, Baker became the youngest national organizer for the Women’s March. For their work that year, she and fellow Women’s March organizers were named Glamour Women of the Year. Baker also tackled community advocacy through her G.I.F.T.E.D Community Outreach Program on Long Island, NY.
Her work has not stopped there. Baker is an active writer and director of programs at Inspire Justice. The organization looks to “leverage storytelling for social good and connect influencers and industry leaders in politics in authentic and sustainable ways,” Baker told People.
In September, Baker wrote a piece for the entertainment magazine that highlighted steps people can incorporate to move towards anti-racism. “It may feel daunting at first to bring politics into your everyday conversations and interactions, but remember that politics was already there to begin with, and you’re just naming and addressing the elephant in the room,” she wrote.
Through her words, initiatives and work, Baker has positioned herself as a leader in the fight against rampant, systemic racism in the U.S.
You may not know Nse Ufot’s name, but you absolutely know of her incredible work. Like Stacey Abrams, Ufot is one of the countless Black women who worked tirelessly against voter disenfranchisement in Georgia. Ufot and Abrams were among the Black women leading voter organizations that also helped turn the Peach State blue.
Through her organization, New Georgia Project, Ufot and her team have pushed to register voters and get them to the polls during the general election in November and the runoff election scheduled for Jan. 5. The organization has paid particular attention to residents who turned 18 since the presidential election.
Ufot has had to fight off Republicans' attempt to suppress Black voters in the state, most recently through an investigation into her organization. In several interviews, Ufot spoke out against these attacks.
“When you look at what we are being accused of, it also makes you realize just how sad and desperate it is,” she told Teen Vogue. “The way that we do our work, at the core of New Georgia Project is direct voter contact.”
Despite the GOP’s attempts to stop voter organizations like Ufot’s, she and others continue to push forward so that all Americans can exercise their right to vote. Ufot will continue to do this tireless work in the lead-up to the runoff and is a prime example for voter organizations around the country.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe.