The Changemakers You Should Know in Fall 2019

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Changemakers are driven people, and that often means we’re the competitive type. Seriously- the nonprofit world and social entrepreneurship circles, are where I’ve met some of the most competitive people that I know. And while in some small circumstances, we might occasionally compete against each other- for a grant or attention or that sort of thing, at the end of the day, we belong on the same team. People and organizations committed to bringing joy and justice to the world have the same end goal. And so, we get to learn from each other! Here are a few of the causes and changemakers who have really caught my eye in the past few months.


Equal Justice Initiative

Equal Justice Initiative is hardly a new organization. I’ve been a big fan and supporter of theirs for years. But back when I first learned about them, I wasn’t doing regular shoutout posts highlighting my favorite changemakers, so now is an excellent time to highlight what they’re doing.

EJI is the organization founded and led by Bryan Stevenson, author of the book Just Mercy. If you’ve read that book, then you probably have a good idea of what they’re all about. And if you haven’t read that book, you really should.

Stevenson is a lawyer by trade whose life work has been dedicated to helping the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned.  EJI provides legal assistance to innocent death row prisoners, confronts abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aids children prosecuted as adults. He’s especially savvy to how this problem disproportionately affects black people. His guiding belief is that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.

Part of what makes this a very appropriate time to feature EJI is that Just Mercy will be getting the movie treatment this month. None other than Michael B. Jordan will be playing Stevenson, in a cast that also includes Brie Larson and Jamie Foxx. Last year, they opened a museum dedicated to the legacy of slavery and mass incarceration in Montgomery, Alabama. Earlier this year, one of their most high-profile exonerees, Anthony Ray Hinton, released his story in the form of a best-selling book The Sun Does Shine.

What I learn from Equal Justice Initiative: We become much better agents of change when we connect with people through our brokenness.


The Diversity Gap

I was introduced to Bethaney Wilkinson through participation in Plywood People’s events in Atlanta. When I learned that she was launching a podcast on the issues of diversity, inclusion, and representation, I was pretty excited. The only way for us to make progress in that area is by allowing ourselves to be challenged and open to the experiences of others. Her podcast provides exactly that.

Several episodes in, I’ve loved so many of the conversations that have been featured. I feel like this is one of the podcasts that I learn from the most. The first episode that especially caught my attention was one featuring Adrian Pei speaking on the emotional experience of being a minority. I also really appreciated a more recent conversation with Doug Shipman that helped me understand how not making a deliberate and articulated plan for inclusion is a good way to make sure it doesn’t happen.

This isn’t the first time this week I’ve recommended this podcast as a way to become more proactive in creating diverse and inclusive spaces. This show often speaks through the lens of organizational leadership, so I often share it with administrative leaders, HR people, or team leaders, but it’s one that anyone can learn a lot from.

What I learn from the Diversity Gap: It isn’t enough to simply think racism is bad and move on, we need to actively examine our spaces to see how we can make them anti-racist.

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National Birth Equity Collaborative

Watching my wife be a fighter and champion throughout the course of a complicated pregnancy has made me much more appreciative of what a challenge pregnancy is for so many women. While our past nine months haven’t been the easiest, we’ve certainly had privileges that have made it a lot easier. We have solid jobs and health insurance, meaning our wallets have been shielded from taking too much of a hit with all those doctor visits. We have the resources to get things like a glucose monitor which helped keep our kid healthy despite his mom’s blood sugar challenges. We both come from supportive families to help us through the hard emotional parts.

But what about moms who don’t have those privileges?

Every month, I hear from our international partners asking for prayer for different things. Hardly a month goes by without somebody asking for prayer for a challenging pregnancy. Maternal health is still a very serious issue in many parts of the world- and that includes many parts of the United States.

I was surprised and angry to learn that black women are four times as likely to die from complications in childbirth than white women. And the data reveals that regardless of economic status, education, lifestyle, and access to health care, this stat is still true. Simply being a black mom increases the risk of maternal mortality about four times.

Why? I wish I knew these things well enough to explain articulately, but it is a combination of systemic racism and a variety of complicated factors. For much more information about this problem and what can be done, I’d have to point towards the National Birth Equity Collaborative. Their aim is to erase that statistic through training, policy advocacy, research, and community-centered collaboration that promotes black maternal and infant health.

What I learn from the National Birth Equity Collective: Understanding how racism shows up in levels of power, leadership, and worldviews is key to addressing health inequality by its roots.

And that’s my roundup for changemakers to keep your eye on this fall. Consider a donation to NBEC, subscribe to the Diversity Gap, and plan on seeing Just Mercy this fall. I know I’m really looking forward to that.

Philippe Lazaro