The animal rights movement is often criticized (and rightly so) for being, at least on the public face of it, a mostly “white movement.” Historically, vegans have not done the best job of ensuring that this movement is inclusive and talking about all intersecting systems of oppression—with activists of all backgrounds front and center. That said, people of color (POC) are central to the animal rights movement. They have been since, well, at least the Buddha.
While certain vegan activists of color are well-known at this point—Russell Simmons, David Carter, Stevie Wonder, RZA, Mya—many other vegan activists deserve to be celebrities in their own right. Below are 15 POC vegan activists you need to follow and give all the props to!
1. Aph Ko
Founder of Black Vegans Rock, an awesome website that spotlights black vegans and builds black vegan community, Aph Ko is a must-watch activist. A black decolonial theorist and independent digital media producer, she also has a new must-read book coming in June: Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters.
Ko is also known for writing the first article that listed 100 Black Vegans—an article much more thorough than this one that you should definitely check out! One of IndieWire.com’s 10 Creatives of the Year and recipient of the 2015 Vegan Anti-Racist Changemaker of the Year Award by the Sistah Vegan Project and The Pollination Project, Ko is a must-follow for any vegan who wants to keep her knowledge and approach intersectional.
Twitter and Instagram: @BlackVegansRock
2. lauren Ornelas
An animal rights advocate for more than 20 years, lauren Ornelas is the founder and executive director of the Food Empowerment Project. In case you haven’t heard of it yet (no shame, but you definitely need to know about it), the Food Empowerment Project is a vegan food justice project that raises awareness about the power of food choices and the intersectional injustice of animal abuse, environmental depletion, unfair conditions for agricultural workers, and the unavailability of healthy foods in low-income areas. Fun fact: She is reportedly responsible for turning Whole Foods CEO John Mackey vegan.
3. Dr. Amie Breeze Harper
Dr. Amie Breeze Harper is another giant among intersectional vegans. Creator and editor of the trailblazing anthology Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health and Society and founder of the Sistah Vegan Project, she’s organized several groundbreaking conferences on the intersection of racism and ethical consumption. (Last year’s conference, The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter, can even be downloaded! Brb, doing that real quick now…)
When she’s not writing and teaching, Harper can be found on the speaking circuit, spreading consciousness. Last year, she was nominated as the vice presidential candidate for the Humane Party—the only vegan political party in the U.S. focused on human and non-human animals. Boss.
4. Vandhana Bala
Mercy For Animals’ own Vandhana Bala is a legal pioneer for animals, serving as general counsel for MFA and overseeing the organization’s legal initiatives. Bala has worked on several investigations that have led to successful criminal prosecutions of farmed animal abusers, including the first-ever felony conviction for cruelty to factory-farmed poultry. She also filed a successful petition with the Federal Trade Commission about false advertising by an egg factory farm. Bala presents to lawyers across the country to spread her knowledge, and we at MFA are so lucky to have her!
5. Christopher-Sebastian McJetters
When I saw Christopher-Sebastian McJetters speak at an NYU animal rights club event, I was an immediate admirer. McJetters speaks about veganism from a black, queer, economic, and all-around intersectional perspective, with talks you can watch online on everything from how to make the animal rights movement more intersectional to why animal rights is also a queer rights issue.
McJetters is a staff writer at Vegan Publishers, a part-time lecturer on speciesism at Columbia University, and a board member of Peace Advocacy Network. I can’t find a Twitter or Instagram account for him (which honestly just makes me think he’s even cooler), but you can find several of his talks on YouTube just by searching his name.
6. Bryant Terry
Bryant Terry is a James Beard Foundation Leadership Award-winning chef, an educator, and an author dedicated to helping create a healthy, just, and sustainable food system. Terry is currently chef-in-residence at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco and host of Urban Organic, a multi-episode web series that he co-created. He is also the brain behind several popular vegan cookbooks, including Afro-Vegan and Vegan Soul Kitchen. Follow him for great recipes—and great political insight into food justice.
Twitter and Instagram: @Bryanttterry
7. Kevin Tillman
Kevin Tillman is founder of the Vegan Hip Hop Movement, which explores the intersections of animal, human, and earth liberation using hip hop as a key part of the resistance. In an interview with Vegan Straight Edge, he put his approach this way:
Hip Hop has historically served as the mouthpiece for oppressed groups in society (i.e. the poor and people of color). Veganism applied to this level of activism only expands the circle for other oppressed beings, and other animals. We are all animals, and the sooner folks make the connection, the better off we all are.
8. Suzy Gonzalez
I met Suzy Gonzalez at the Animal Museum’s Sexual Politics of Meat exhibit opening. She is not only an incredibly talented artist but also the real deal: woke, kind, and filled with humble creative energy. Her art is her activism, and she works in several different mediums—using everything from corn husks to animation, as in this awesome video she made about animal rights pioneer Carol J. Adams.
9. Gwenna Hunter
Gwenna Hunter is one of those activists who might not be famous but is known to any vegan worth her salt in Los Angeles. Hunter, founder of Vegans Of LA and coordinator of community engagement and events for Greater Los Angeles at Vegan Outreach, is a connecter who seeks to build vegan community wherever she goes. Vegans Of LA also recently launched a new project: interviewing vegan changemakers and community leaders in the greater Los Angeles area. To learn more about the organization and get involved, visit www.facebook.com/VegansOfLA. They throw some of the best vegan events in town (and that’s saying something)!
10. Tracye McQuirter
Nutritionist, speaker, author, and 30-year vegan—Tracye McQuirter’s list of accomplishments as an activist is long. It includes highlights like directing the nation's first federally funded and community-based vegan nutrition program, serving as a policy adviser for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, co-founding the first vegan website by and for African Americans, and co-creating the first-of-its-kind, free African American Vegan Starter Guide. Follow her to see where’s she speaking next!
Twitter and Instagram: @ByAnyGreens
11. Michelle Cho
Michelle Cho, vice president of celebrity and entertainment outreach for The Humane Society of The United States, doesn’t just get A-list celebrities and rock stars to fight for animals—she’s a rock star herself.
Before joining HSUS, Cho served as associate director of communications at PETA, spearheading hundreds of high-profile campaigns. You can find out more about Cho’s amazing vegan journey and her current work fighting for animals in my Honestly Though podcast interview with her. (She’s pretty entertaining.)
12. Chef Babette
Chef Babette is a 66-year-old goddess. But it’s her vegan activism that really makes her stand out. She is owner of LA vegan restaurant Stuff I Eat and co-founder of the “Love Ur Age Project,” which promotes successful aging through a healthy plant-based lifestyle. When she isn’t cooking up a storm in Inglewood, you can find her advocating vegan school lunches in LA school districts.
13. Liz Ross
Liz Ross is founder of Coalition of Vegan Activists of Color, which collaborates with individuals, community groups, and social justice organizations to mobilize vegans of color to undertake vegan outreach and animal rights initiatives. A former police officer, Elizabeth also raises awareness about mass incarceration and its history through presentations and group discussions. Follow her to find out how you can get involved in your community!
14. Shayna Rowbotham
When Shayna Rowbotham became a vegan, she got involved as a volunteer with MFA. But she didn’t stop there. Today, she’s global volunteer manager at MFA, engaging in many forms of vegan outreach herself and helping connect other passionate volunteers and supporters. Rowbotham coordinates participation in all festivals, demonstrations, campaigns, and other events. Not only that, but she oversees MFA’s fellowship program. It’s a big job—MFA has over 22K volunteers in six countries. You can be one of those volunteers and work with Shayna by becoming involved with MFA today!
15. Genesis Butler
Just six years old when she decided to go vegan, the now-10-year-old Genesis Butler has picketed circuses, given speeches to her local representatives, and even set up her own foundation to help people who rescue animals and need money for vaccinations, food, and vet bills. What have you done lately?
Her advice to us less-accomplished vegans? “Whatever you put your mind to, you can do. If you want to go vegan, you can. If you want to get involved in protests then you can look online and find demos,” Butler told The Vegan Society. “Try going to a demo and you will see how many people also care about animals. Don’t be afraid, the animals need us.”
Yeah, she’s a total hero—and you’re going to want to keep an eye on her activism as she grows up! Since she’s a little young for social media, you can check out her foundation, Genesis for Animals, here.