1. Anthony Tolbert
There was always a room available for anyone who needed it in Anthony Tolbert’s childhood home. “As far back as I can remember, there was always someone staying at our house,” he says. That hospitality gave Tolbert a sense of connection to others regardless of class, race, or income. Now he’s carrying the tradition forward by lending his house to homeless families for year-long stays.
Tolbert, a student advisor and professor at UCLA School of Law, got the idea when he read about an Atlanta family, the Salwens, who sold their mansion, bought a more modest home, and donated half the profit from the sale to charity. That, along with his study of the Buddhist principles of compassion and material detachment, convinced Tolbert to move into the guest bedroom in his parents’ house so a homeless family with young children could live in his comfortable three-bedroom house for the whole of 2012. He lent his house to another family in 2013.
Tolbert expects to lend his house again next year, and he recently heard from a former law student who wants to lend her house to her homeless clients. He hopes his story will continue to inspire others to follow suit, just as the Salwen family’s story inspired him.
2. Mistinguette Smith
Mistinguette Smith grew up in an inner-city, African American neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio, where being called “country” was an insult. Working as a consultant for social change organizations led her to rethink her relationship to the land, but she realized that the environmental movement didn’t connect to her cultural concerns and history.
Society makes the false assumption that black people don’t care about the natural environment, says Smith. There is a lack of awareness that the historical trauma of slavery means black people are connected to land differently than other Americans.
Smith set out to correct those assumptions when she founded the Black/Land Project. The project collects and presents stories about the ways urban and rural black Americans define and engage with the environment on their own terms. “The way we think about land begins to be a gift that black people have to offer,” says Smith. “What if we could get every person in this country to think about having a relationship of care to the land that is historical, one of personal desire, and about who you are? That would really change how you live.”
3. Theresa Squires
As a college sophomore, Theresa Squires was hit with severe depression and diagnosed with multiple mental health disabilities. But instead of the end of her dreams, she found a mission—to empower other young women facing similar challenges.
Squires began working with disability rights organizations and mentoring teen girls. “The girls’ stories broke my heart,” writes Squires. “They believed they were stupid, less than their peers without disabilities, and ugly. The girls did not make up these beliefs. They were taught them—in their schools, from their peers, and, sadly, sometimes even from their parents.”
To counter these lessons, Squires created a retreat called “Her Power! Her Pride! Her Voice!” for teen girls with disabilities. Participants use art activities to confront media stereotypes, and support each other as they learn to challenge ableism and gender oppression. The retreat is now entering its fourth summer, thanks to pay-it-forward fundraising by past participants.
“The most important thing I learned is how to be confident,” reported one retreat participant. “I know I am a strong, beautiful young adult and I have no reason to be ashamed … everyone has issues even though they may not have a disability.”