Big Change Requires Bold Social Movements: 7 Leaders to Watch

Martin Luther King Jr., Gloria Steinem, and Cesar Chavez led movements that transformed an entire nation and, ultimately, the world. Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, Ella Baker, a champion of the African-American civil rights movement, and Rachel Carson, whose book "Silent Spring" merged the conservation and public health movements, did the same. These men and women motivated millions to shape society by speaking out against injustice, catalyzing collective protests, and refusing to stand down when opposition arose. Together, ordinary people accomplished extraordinary feats, changing laws and behaviors, and bringing the US ever closer to the ideals of social justice.

This is not ancient history. Dedicated men and women continue to re-imagine and build the social movements that will transform our country well into the future. Our nation needs these architects of change more than ever. Social movements of today need leaders who, like their forebears, are innovative, tenacious, and able to build on the spirit and wisdom of the icons that preceded them.

Swanee Hunt and the Hunt Alternatives Fund board created Prime Movers: Cultivating Social Capital, a multi-year fellowship to support emerging and established social movement leaders in the US. We believe social movements that engage millions of people are part of the answer to solving pressing, national concerns, such as poverty, voting rights, food justice, and immigration. In supporting the development of these leaders, the Fund is contributing to fertile conditions for social movements now and in the future. Following a comprehensive selection process, finalists receive $60,000 over two years to hone their skills about how to engage the American people to collectively create significant shifts in politics, policies, and culture.

This week, the Prime Movers program inducted seven new fellows:

Will Allen, son of a southern sharecropper, grew up understanding how food can foster community. He believes that access to healthy, affordable and safe food can bolster a community's self-sufficiency and survival. He engages individuals and institutions to adopt this philosophy through Growing Power, Inc.

Judith Browne Dianis' dedication to justice stems from her mother, a local community activist and educator, and her father, who faced racism in a segregated army. As co-director for Advancement Project, she fights to protect voting as a fundamental right.

Rea Carey's desire to work with the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community is rooted in her experiences coming out at the age of 16 just as the HIV/AIDS epidemic was taking hold and in her parents' social justice and political activism. As Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Foundation, she works to advance fairness and justice for LGBT people and their families.

As the daughter of activists, Malkia Cyril grew up understanding that social justice requires both community and sacrifice. The Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Media Justice, she develops communication strategies, cultivates grassroots leadership, and organizes for media policy solutions to end racism and poverty in the US.

Sarita Gupta is a staunch advocate for the rights of working people and serves as a trusted resource and leader for labor, community, and faith groups tackling issues facing working Americans today. She is the Executive Director of Jobs with Justice (JwJ) and American Rights at Work (ARAW), and Co-director of Caring Across Generations.

Mauricio Lim Miller, inspired by the hard work and sacrifice of his mother, has committed his life to dismantling stereotypes and other barriers to economic and social mobility for low-income families. As founder and CEO of the Family Independence Initiative, he works to activate low-income residents, foundations, the media, policymakers, and others across the US to collectively re-think our social and economic systems so we can build one that fortifies social connections, invests in initiative, and honors self-determination.

Benjamin Todd Jealous descends from generations of freedom fighters and his passion for social justice literally runs through his veins. As the President and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he mobilizes over 500,000 members who seek to remove all barriers of racial discrimination through democratic processes.

These new fellows join a notable group of 57 Prime Movers, including Van Jones, Rachel Lloyd, Bill McKibben, Eboo Patel, Ai-Jen Poo, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Zainab Salbi, and Jim Wallis. Paul Rieckhoff, selected in 2007 and the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, commented, "I'm very proud to be a Prime Mover. The Prime Movers program has totally changed my life and the trajectory of our movement."

These social movement leaders believe that as Americans, we can act in concert to strengthen and protect our imperfect, yet dynamic democracy. While Prime Movers may be architects of change, it is in the collective power of multiple people participating that movements are built. Millions of you step up every day and join in creating "a more perfect union." In supporting fellows as modern-day social movement leaders, we hope to honor and elevate all the people with whom they stand.