10 Celebrities We Love for Using Their Voices for Good

by Malaika Jabali

The number of black men and women who have been victimized by the hands of injustice has grown uncomfortably long in the past two years. While we have yet to see the consistent mass movement of previous generations, many of our people have been reawakened. Black celebrities have been among those joining the fight for racial justice and human rights. It’s easy to focus on those celebrities who have disappointed us with their silence, but many actors, musicians, and athletes have used their platform to raise awareness and they deserve recognition. In no particular order, this list acknowledges some of those celebrities who have been most engaged and vocal when it comes to raising consciousness—whether through social media, direct community action, or discussing these issues on mainstream broadcast media.

Ava DuVernay

The acclaimed director has not only centered her work on black perspectives and history, including her latest project Selma, but she has been at the forefront of Blackout for Human Rights. This coalition, featuring some of the most vocal Black celebrities, launched the recent Blackout Black Friday boycott. While there has not been a study explaining the 7% decline in the post-Thanksgiving shopping spree, we’d like to think the boycott made some dent in the usually frenzied sales day.

Kerry Washington

The intelligent thespian has fearlessly butted heads with Republican leaders on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” discussing everything from her support of President Obama to Affirmative Action. She has also been active in Democratic campaigns, and reminded interviewers at the Emmy Awards that a world of Mike Browns exists even though she lives in the rarefied air of Hollywood. Her words on a so-called “post-racial” America in a Guardian interview were so on point they deserve to be reprinted verbatim:
“I don’t believe in post-racial. It’s like saying we should live in a post-gender world. But I love being a woman! I am interested in living in a post-sexist world and feel the same about race. I don’t want to live in a post-race world because being black is really exciting. I mean...it’s who I am. I’m a woman, black, from New York, Aquarius – these are things that create who I am. I’m interested in living in a post-racist world, where being African-American doesn’t dictate limitations on what I can do – but I don’t want to live post-race.”

Jesse Williams

Previously a modestly known actor, Jesse Williams has flown over the Black Twitter radar from the moment he used the word “disabuse” in a truly divine read. Not only has the brother been outspoken on social media and delivered clap backs to unbeknownst and unprepared Grey’s Anatomy fans, but he’s had no qualms about doing the same on and against CNN since he first appeared on the network to discuss Jordan Davis’ killing and frequently thereafter. With Jesse also flying to Ferguson, Missouri to protest and distribute free hugs, the former history teacher has quickly risen up as your favorite militant bae.

Melissa Harris-Perry

The author, professor, and MSNBC journalist has provided us with a collective breath of fresh air in a male—particularly white male—dominated cable news circuit. She has continually used her platform to discuss racism within politics and other social justice issues. Her dedication to those who died at the hands of police was a simple, yet powerful, reminder of America’s historic, institutional dehumanization of black life.

Talib Kweli

Another star who has put his activism where his mouth is, Talib has lent commentary on CNN, exchanged heated words with Don Lemon, and engaged on the ground in Ferguson. Talib, one half of the late 90s conscious rap supergroup Black Star, has been unafraid to use controlled anger to relay his passion for seeking justice in the aftermath of Mike Brown’s killing and to highlight the incompetent action of the Ferguson Police Department.

Chris Rock

Known for his biting stand up comedy, Chris Rock also fails to pull punches when discussing race. Covering New York magazine in anticipation of his upcoming film Top 5, Rock was particularly poignant in his interview when describing racial progress. People often fall back on comfortable platitudes when discussing racism—with tropes like “we all need to love one another” or using ambiguous phrases like “racial tension”—as if both blacks and whites have an equal hand in systemic injustice. However, Rock held no qualms about calling out white communities for maintaining or being complicit in oppressive systems and placed the onus on them for changing the current state of anti-black racism.


Activism comes in many forms. While Solange hasn’t been on the ground or as public with her views on racial justice, she has continued to show her support of the struggle against recent civil rights abuses. When a celebrity is willing to put her money on the line, then you know it’s real. Solange postponed the release of her Puma collection, which was scheduled to debut on Black Friday, in the wake of a grand jury failing to indict now-resigned cop Darren Wilson. Eschewing the largest retail sales day of the year, Solange’s participation in the Black Friday boycott showed a good deal of muster when sales likely would have been strong after her well-publicized, Pinterest-ready wedding.

John Legend

John Legend has joined Jesse Williams in a dynamic duo of sorts on social media. It’s not easy being both insightful and concise in 140 characters, but Legend has managed to do it. Among donning a “Don’t Shoot” shirt at a benefit concert, the Ivy League grad has been formidable in his debates within the Twitterverse, despite his mainstream fanbase. Legend confronted a news outlet that told him to “stay in [his] lane” and refrain from using Twitter as a pulpit. He continued to provide commentary, asserting that authorities in Ferguson calling protesters ‘animals’ was “the language to justify slavery, Jim Crow and all manner of injustice. Dehumanization and racism go together.” Legend also hired food trucks to feed hungry protesters rallying against the grand jury’s decision to not indict Eric Garner’s killer.

dream hampton

Though less well known than her colleagues on this list, the black woman filmmaker and journalist has been among the most active. She was a catalyst in keeping the Renisha McBride case on the national radar. Unlike some of the disappointing outcomes we have seen, Renisha’s killer was ultimately sentenced to 17 years in prison for shooting the unarmed woman who knocked on his door to seek assistance after a car accident.

J. Cole

One of the few mainstream rappers who has often dedicated his craft to conscious lyricism, J.Cole provided a stirring tribute to Mike Brown in the aftermath of Ferguson and going to the city to pay his respects. Beyond Ferguson, the mixed race rapper has been fluent in discussions on privilege and colorism, which shouldn’t be surprising for a man who received graduated Magna Cum Laude from St. John’s University.

Many other celebrities—including Rihanna, Diddy, and Gabrielle Union—have lent their support by being vocal about racial justice issues. Simply speaking on these issues is not enough to implement the social and cultural change we need, but we should always encourage those who are speaking out against white supremacy. As consumers, we can use this as a cheat sheet to stay aware of those black celebrities who don’t just call on us when they need our money and ratings, but who are in some ways risking their own livelihoods by taking our society to task.

Malaika Jabali is a regular contributor at For Harriet. She has a J.D. from Columbia University's Law School. Her J.D. does not preclude her from communicating with cleverly placed emojis and on Instagram @missjabali. She also pretends to know about music and travel on her personal blog, www.freshphiles.com.

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