Vanguards: Meet 12 Black RFS Alumni that are creating REAL change
Over the last six years, RFS is proud to have helped elect 221 dynamic, young, Black leaders. From City Hall and State Legislatures to Conservation Boards and State Attorney offices, these vanguards are picking up the torch from previous generations and are writing the next chapter of freedom, equality, and justice as they fight for a perfect Union. Meet 12 of these dynamos that are leading with an ethic of love and community and a clear-eyed vision for what is yet to come.
Honoring the Ancestors
Florida Rep. Fentrice Driskell shattered a glass ceiling when she was unanimously elected as the first Black woman to ever serve as the House Minority Leader. Since then she has gone head-to-head with Florida’s governor and the Republican supermajority in the Florida Legislature fighting against gerrymandered redistricting, working to protect LGBTQIA+ rights in the state, and was even 1 of 5 state legislators invited to The White House by Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss abortion access.
Her passion project though is preserving historic African- American cemeteries in Florida. Her bill, HB 49, would create a historic cemeteries program within the Florida Division of Historical Resources, according to Florida Politics.
“We have found our chance to … honor those who were forgotten and oftentimes degraded,” Driskell said, recalling the case of Zion Cemetery that was erased from memory and then found underneath the Tampa Housing Authority. “It’s a huge passion project for me.”
The bill recently passed unanimously in its first subcommittee.
Creating Environmental Sustainability
Ashantae Green is a modern renaissance woman. Growing up in the historically Black Oakland neighborhood of Jacksonville’s Eastside she witnessed the impacts of environmental inequity. In the zip code, there are higher rates of asthma and heat stroke among children because of the lack of trees, factories, and the fact that highways cut through mere meters from playgrounds, spewing carbon emissions, making neighborhoods up to 10 degrees warmer than other parts of an already hot city.
After the birth of her son and gaining a deeper understanding of what was making her neighbors so sick, she walked away from a ten-year career in architecture to focus on environmental justice and sustainability. In the years since she was elected to the Duval County Soil and Water Commission and has used the role to get small businesses on board with sustainable processes- she even partnered with a brewery to create the city’s first carbon-neutral beer.
Ashantae has also tapped into her Gullah Geechee heritage and become a farmHER. Her farm, Green Legacy Farms, hosts farm-to-table events, gives away produce to underserved neighbors, hosts community events to teach people to grow their own food, and partners with schools to plant gardens.
As if that wasn’t enough, she recently opened a bodega that specializes in fresh produce and juices in a neighborhood that lacks a grocery store.
Demanding Clean Air
History may list her as the youngest Black woman to ever serve in the North Carolina General Assembly, but DeAndrea Salvador’s eyes are firmly fixed on the future of North Carolina. A fifth-generation Carolinian, DeAndrea is laser-focused on making sure that the air of North Carolina is pristine for future generations and that energy is clean and affordable today.
When she saw her Charlotte neighbors spending more than 20% of their income on energy expenses, DeAndrea founded RETI, a non-profit focused on helping families sustainably reduce energy costs. She served three years on the Mecklenburg County Air Quality Commission and serves on the board of Clean Air Carolina.
During her first year in the legislature, she was integral in passing HB 51, a landmark bipartisan bill that aims to achieve a carbon-neutral North Carolina by 2050 and significantly reduce emissions in the state by 2030.
Defending LGBTQIA+ Rights
We all need a friend in the room that is just going to say the thing. That is Rep. Michele Rayner- Goolsby. Not only is Michele the first openly queer person of color in the Florida Legislature, but she is the person that speaks truth to power every chance she gets. When she was named to the Logo30 last summer she shared,
“I serve in a legislature that is very hostile to LGBTQ people,” Rayner tells Logo. “Being able to stand up and speak truth to power in the face of people who I know don’t value me or my community has made me the proudest of myself I’ve ever been.”
And proud she should be. Since taking office she has fought for LGBTQIA+ children in the face of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay’’ bill, ensured vital resources like vaccines were delivered to marginalized communities, fought for abortion access in the state, and when Hurricane Ian struck, she worked to ensure underserved people weren’t left out of the recovery efforts.
Championing Mental Health
A proud HBCU alum and mental health counselor, Nadarius Clark made history in 2021 as the youngest person ever elected to the Virginia General Assembly and the first Black person to represent its 79th district.
During this legislative session, he introduced a bill that would have helped increase the number of mental health providers in Virginia. HB 1534 would have given student loan forgiveness to mental healthcare professionals that served in the Commonwealth for five years.
Though the bill died in the Appropriations Committee on a party-line vote, it garnered widespread support in the legislature. Should he win reelection, we hope Rep. Clark will bring this important bill again.
Equal Protection Under the Law
When he took office in 2021, Christian Menefee became the youngest and first Black Harris County Attorney. Representing the people of the largest city in Texas, Houston, in civil matters and leading a team of 250 lawyers and staff, Christian has focused on protecting the Civil Rights of his community.
From refusing to follow the Texas Governor’s order to prosecute parents providing gender-affirming care to trans kids and ensuring that elections were fairly administered in 2022 to fighting super polluters in Court and ensuring Houstonians get their fair share of funding, Christian has worked to ensure that his constituents have the legal protection they need to thrive.
Finding Solutions for Homelessness
In California, Rex Richardson accomplished an incredible feat- in 2022, he became the first Black Mayor of Long Beach.
His euphoria was short-lived though. The city is experiencing a homelessness crisis with nearly 3,300 neighbors unhoused. To immediately begin executing a plan aimed at reducing homelessness, Rex declared a state of emergency for the city. This will allow programmatic innovation and the use of funds to help get people into homes and give them access to much-needed services like health and mental health care services.
Restoring Voting Rights
His passion was evident when he founded Minnesota’s only collegiate chapter of the NAACP as a student, but after law school and working as a Public Defender, Cedrick Frazier is showing us what it means to live your values.
This Minnesota State Representative just passed a bill that will restore the voting rights of formerly incarcerated individuals when they leave prison. Frazier said,
“These disenfranchised individuals live in the community, they are our neighbors, our friends, our daughters, our sons, our cousins, our mothers, our fathers,” Frazier said. “They have jobs, they help take care of their families, they pay taxes, they are subject to the law and policy decisions that we make in this body, but in our representative government they are deprived of the foundational right to vote, the right to give them a voice and allow them to participate in our democracy.”
Minnesota’s Gov. Walz has indicated he will sign the law, making Minnesota the 22nd state to have this type of law on the books.
Licenses for All
Zaynab Mohamed shocked the nation and shattered barriers last November as the first Black woman and youngest person to ever serve in the Minnesota Legislature.
She has hit the ground running and has just passed her first major piece of legislation that is now headed to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.
Minnesota’s Driver’s License for All bill allows undocumented immigrants legal access to driver’s licenses. It would alleviate the worry that a routine traffic stop could lead to deportation and allow thousands of people the ability to do basic tasks like drive themselves to and from work and pick up their kids from school.
“This is a huge win for Minnesota’s immigrant movement,” said Senator Zaynab Mohamed, the Minneapolis Democrat who authored the bill. “I am so proud to have co-led this effort to restore the freedom to drive alongside my friend and colleague, Senator Champion. This victory belongs to Minnesota’s immigrants and the dedicated advocates who have bravely fought for this legislation for over 20 years. Today we sent a message to Minnesota’s undocumented community: we hear you, we see you, and you are a part of our beloved community.”
Creating Space for Play
In the early days of the pandemic, Alicia Smith noticed her boys were growing restless. When she decided to take them to the park to burn off some energy, she was shocked to find they were closed. That spurred this mom and community advocate to consider a run for the local Parks and Recreation Commission. Now as the only person of color serving on the Commission, she has made it her work to make parks accessible places for children to grow and serve as bridges to other community services.
“Some people say the parks should only focus on the parks. I don’t know how that works. I’m raising children here, and my friends are raising children here. If we don’t act as a bridge to other problems, we’re also complicit in the problem.“ Smith said.
Building a Legacy of Excellence
On November 8, 2022, Run for Something’s Slack channels erupted with joy when RFS alum Jasmine Crockett became our first alumni in Congress.
In just a few short months since joining the 118th Congress, Rep. Crockett has survived the Speaker of the House debacle, been spotted with the Squad, became the first Black woman ever elected as the freshman class president by her peers, and been given her first committee assignment.
Even better, before she left the Texas Legislature, she helped Run for Something identify Vernon Jones as a leader who could take her old seat. That’s what we call building the bench and a legacy of excellence!
Living Unapologetically Black
When Tiara Mack was elected to the Rhode Island Senate in 2020 she broke a glass ceiling by becoming the first openly queer Black person to serve in the body. Little did she know just two years later she would break the internet when a video of her dancing became the source of national ire and inspiration. As Run for Something’s co-founder Amanda Litman noted, “It’s not about the video she made. That is the excuse that they have found to grab onto. It’s about the fact that she is a queer Black woman who is fighting aggressively for reproductive rights, for sexual health, for LGBTQ equality,” Litman said. “They found the thing to be mad at, but what they’re really mad at is that someone like her is in charge.”
As she told The 19th, Mack agrees, “Me twerking upside down as a young Black person wouldn’t have made a big deal if people didn’t see a senator who looks like she should not have power. A person with a body like hers should not have power. A young person, a queer person, a Black person who’s unapologetic about those identities should not be in a position of power.”
However Senator Mack just doesn’t call out inequity on the dance floor, she has introduced legislation that would create pleasure-based sex ed for young people, fought tirelessly to expand abortion access, and championed natural hair. She is living proof that when you’re young, gifted, and Black there truly is no limit to what you can achieve.
To support Run for Something’s current Black candidates, donate here.