A social justice champion.
We are locked into the final countdown before my 2021 Badass Ladies calendars are open for preorder (mark your calendars for November 1st!). Over the next several weeks you'll see 10 more blog posts, each tied to one of my portraits and dedicated to the work and lives of a phenomenal womxn featured on the upcoming calendar. I mentioned in my "The women behind the hashtag" post that one of my favorite parts of this project year after year is that I have the honor and opportunity to learn about so many impressive individuals (even those that don't end up in the final selection). My hope in the past has been to nudge the curiosity of my collectors towards researching the womxn in my portraits, but as I set my goals for my 2021 calendar I decided I can do more to help that process along. Through these blog posts I hope to provide a starting point for individual research on each badass, and a peak through my lens as I selected just twelve of thousands of badasses around the globe.
Backtracking to several months ago, I sat at my kitchen counter in my tiny, two-bedroom apartment and began handwriting my list of potential 2021 Badass Ladies. The year 2020 brought with it many trials and tribulations, but it also brought with it a thirst (and opportunity) for knowledge and movement that, for many, has too long gone ignored. I myself spent endless hours listening, reading, learning, donating, protesting, and finding ways to better myself and those around me.. and reality is that the work is never finished. But it also didn't just become a reality in June. As I thought through the names of those who have been championing this fight since the start, one woman came to mind immediately.
Announcing the second of twelve pages dedicated to notable female leaders of our time, a true champion of social justice, a lifelong activist and scholar: Angela Davis
To say that she is a living legend may be too small a designation for her. Within American and global politics, education, activism, and even popular culture, Angela Davis has earned her position as THE living legend of the last six decades. Her story and impact make her not just a fascinating person within this country's history, but truly a creator and shaper of it. Despite being a household name for many, her roles as a leader of the Civil Rights Movement of the '60s, a leading intellectual on race and intersectionality, and the moral center of the ever-evolving global racial justice movement are rarely given the respect and notability they deserve, particularly in formal education.
As someone who grew up in a rural, predominantly white town, I've spent a lot of time as an adult unlearning and relearning conceptions of race and privilege, but also recognizing how shallow my education has been surrounding the civil rights and abolitionist movements. The deep focus in school was always surrounding Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks, and even those conversations were surface level. In exploring why Angela Davis's publications were not used, and why she was treated more as a footnote of the Civil Rights Movement rather than a foundational leader, I realized that her story, like so many women's (and particularly Black women) was shielded from my view. Her outspokenness and approach to countering injustice honestly, as well as her unapologetic identity as a Communist, was deemed so radical early in her career that she lost jobs and, eventually, became a target of the U.S. government. She was just the third woman ever named to the FBI's Most Wanted List in the early '70s and would eventually serve 18 months in federal prison for a crime she did not commit. Upon her release, rather than back down, she committed her life to decarceration.
Among her many accomplishments, Angela Davis is perhaps best known for her prolific writing career during which she has penned numerous seminal works on critical race theory, class, feminism, prison reform, and government. While her books always reflect the new developments and characters of their moment, her messages about the roots of global oppression and the solutions to these evils has been remarkably consistent, prophetic even. As the world begins to catch up to the structural racial, class, and gender inequities she's been naming since she first burst onto the scene as a proud Black Panther, Angela Davis's incredible legacy and teachings have begun to find new audiences. Were she not consistently written off, defamed, and persecuted by the racist and misogynistic institutions she condemned, her star would burn as brightly if not brighter than the greatest heroes for justice worldwide.
Image: Angela Davis on the FBI’s list of “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives,” August 1970. Bettmann/Getty Images
My favorite quote: "I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change, I am changing the things I cannot accept."
It was an absolute honor painting this portrait, and I can't wait to release the remaining ten soon. I hope this information has sparked an interest in learning more, because this blog post is just a start. If research isn't your vibe, here's a list from Oprah Mag of nine Angela Davis books you could order today: start reading!
As always I have to end this with a reminder to VOTE. Make your plan, do your research, and know how you'll deal with the unexpected if your plan goes awry. If possible, vote early or hand deliver those mail-in ballots.