10 Refreshing Moments of 2014

December 18, 2014

One of the most profound things one can witness is the power of another human being boldly speaking out–whether that be on a national stage, or in the middle of the street. Reflecting back on 2014, the world has had much to celebrate, mourn, and protest. We’d like to give recognition to some of the fresh, brave, (and sometimes unexpected), new voices that have been raised. Here they are, in chronological order:

1. Actress Lupita Nyong’o gave a catalytic speech on the beauty of blackness.

Lupita Nyong’o

After her incredible performance in 12 Years A Slave, Lupita Nyong’o accepted the Best Breakthrough Performance Award at Essence Magazine’s 7th annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, and spoke out about the challenges of being a dark-skinned woman in the world in a deeply raw and vulnerable speech. She’s not the first to talk about the issue, but she’s one of the few celebrities to bring attention to it, and in such a personal and powerful way.

2. Texas sportscaster Dale Hansen spoke out against homophobia in the NFL.

When Michael Sam came out as the first openly gay football player to be drafted by the NFL, Dallas newsperson Dale Hansen had quite a bit to say about it — particularly about the hypocrisy of the idea that he shouldn’t be allowed in the NFL.

3. Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz started carrying her mattress around campus to protest college sexual assault.



Emma Image via

Sometimes, actions can speak for you. Emma was one of countless women who have courageously come out and put sexual assault in the national spotlight this year (see our own Ann Friedman’s recent piece in New York Magazine for more), but we were blown away by the power of her action to reveal just how deep the impact of sexual assault is.

4. Apple CEO Tim Cook told the world that he’s gay amidst the bro culture of the technology world.

Tim Cook

In his essay at Bloomberg, he said, “I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others. So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.”

5. Janet Mock illuminated Piers Morgan (and the rest of the world) about how to talk to trans people.

After a not-so-wonderful experience on Piers Morgan’s show to talk about her new book, author and activist Janet Mock bravely returned to the show to school him on why it’s important to understand the need to give transgender women the space to define themselves without being sensationalized and dissected by the media.

6. Emma Watson gave an international speech in support of gender justice.


Emma WatsonImage via

As the new ambassador of UN Women, 24-year old Harry Potter-famed actress Emma Watson gave a speech about gender equality to a pretty intimidating audience: the United Nations. The good news is that she nailed it. We love this real-life heroine (or should we say Hermoine?) for speaking out with such earnestness and courage. (And bringing global attention to the issue to boot.)

7. Women who have had abortions told their stories.

1 in 3 women will have an abortion in her lifetime. These are our stories.

Last month, over 100 women shared their stories in the first-of-its-kind, stigma-busting online “abortion speakout,” organized by the 1 in 3 campaign. The eight-hour live stream was a true testament to the power of storytelling, consisting of a mix of Skype calls, in-studio discussion and pre-recorded videos, shared by a group of young women (including Vanessa’s own sister, Jessica Valenti).

8. Malala Yousafzai accepted the Nobel Peace Prize as the youngest recipient in history.


Malala Image via

The Pakistani 17-year old and education rights activist was recognized with one of the highest honors a human being (let alone a teenager!) could accept just a couple of weeks ago. And of course, shifted the attention from her to the heart of the matter in her speech: “I am Malala. But I am also Shazia. I am Kainat. I am Kainat Soomro. I am Mezon. I am Amina. I am those 66 million girls who are deprived of education. And today I am not raising my voice, it is the voice of those 66 million girls.” She then went straight from the awards ceremony to her Chemistry class.

9. Young people raised their voices for #blacklivesmatter.

Mychal Denzel Smith tells it like it is in his Nation cover piece that young people have been at the forefront of the growing racial justice movement in response to police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and so many more. In this past Saturday’s march in New York City, a group of young Ferguson protesters “bum-rushed” the mic because they weren’t on Al Sharpton’s “VIP” list for the march. (A move that they felt wasn’t only exclusive, but co-optive of the movement.) We give them kudos for bravely demanding their voices be heard.

10. Police Chief Chris Magnus stood up to criticism from his peers for carrying a “Black Lives Matter” sign at a protest.

Magnus holding sign

Magnus came under fire by his police department in Richmond, CA, arguing that officers aren’t allowed to participate in “political activities” while in uniform. He responded, “When did it become a political act to acknowledge that ‘black lives matter’ and show respect for the very real concerns of our minority communities? This should not be about ‘us versus them.’ It should be about finding ways to build bridges and address the schism that exists between many of our residents and police.”

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