Activists are individuals who actively engage in promoting and advocating for social, political, environmental, or economic change. They are driven by a strong sense of justice and a desire to address and rectify societal issues.
Through their actions, activists seek to create a more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable world for present and future generations. Here are ten famous activists who changed the world.
Related: Top 10 People Who Changed The World By Breaking The Rules
10 Carter G. Woodson (1875–1950)
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Carter G. Woodson was an influential African-American historian, journalist, and author who dedicated his life to promoting the study of African-American history and challenging the prevailing racial biases and discrimination in American society. Born in 1875, Woodson faced numerous obstacles in pursuing his education but persisted in seeking knowledge.
In 1915, Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) to promote the study and preservation of black history. He is best known for establishing “Negro History Week” in 1926, which later evolved into Black History Month. Through his writings and activism, he sought to counter the distorted and often ignored narratives of African-Americans in history textbooks and academia.
Woodson’s seminal work, “The Mis-Education of the Negro,” critically examined the education system’s failures in providing an accurate and inclusive understanding of African-American contributions to American society. Woodson’s tireless efforts as a historian and activist laid the foundation for the recognition and celebration of African-American history, helping to foster a deeper appreciation for the diverse contributions of black Americans.
9 Ella Baker (1903–1986)
Ella Baker was a pivotal figure in the civil rights movement, known for her tireless dedication to grassroots organizing and empowering marginalized communities. Born in 1903, Baker became involved in activism at a young age and played a significant role in various civil rights organizations throughout her career.
Baker worked closely with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and was instrumental in establishing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Yet Baker believed in the power of local leadership and grassroots organizing over centralized authority, which led her to co-found the organization In Friendship in 1960, promoting participatory democracy and encouraging ordinary individuals to actively fight for their rights.
Baker’s approach to activism focused on fostering leadership and collective action within communities. She championed the importance of empowering individuals to create lasting change, emphasizing strong movements were built from the bottom up.
8 Bana al-Abed 2009– )
Bana al-Abed is a courageous young activist who gained international attention for her powerful and poignant tweets documenting the harsh realities of life during the Syrian civil war. Born in 2009, Bana lived in the war-torn city of Aleppo, where she and her family endured unimaginable hardships and constant danger. Despite the challenging circumstances, she used social media to shed light on the devastating effects of the conflict, becoming a symbol of hope and resilience in the face of adversity.
Bana’s Twitter account, managed by her mother, garnered widespread attention and became a powerful tool for raising awareness about the human cost of the war. Her tweets, often accompanied by heartbreaking messages and pleas for peace, captured people’s attention worldwide and served as a reminder of the urgent need for international action.
Bana’s activism transcended her young age, inspiring countless individuals and organizations to take a stand and advocate for the protection and well-being of children affected by conflict. Her bravery and determination in sharing her experiences have made her a symbol of hope and resilience, reminding the world of the enduring spirit and strength of those caught in the midst of war.
7 Sonita Alizadeh (1996– )
Sonita Alizadeh is an inspiring Afghan rapper and activist who uses her music and voice to advocate for women’s rights and raise awareness about child marriage. Born in 1996 in Herat, Afghanistan, Alizadeh’s journey to activism began when her family attempted to arrange her marriage at 16. Determined to avoid this fate and pursue her dreams, she found solace in music and began writing powerful lyrics that expressed her experiences and the struggles faced by young girls in her society.
Alizadeh’s breakout song, “Brides for Sale,” became an international sensation, shedding light on the issue of child marriage and challenging the social norms that perpetuate it. Her music video, which depicts her defiantly rapping while wearing a wedding dress, went viral and sparked a global conversation about the importance of girls’ education and empowerment.
Alizadeh’s courage and resilience have not only empowered her own journey but have also inspired countless young girls around the world to stand up against injustice and fight for their rights.
6 Payal Jangid (2002– )
Payal Jangid is a remarkable Indian activist who has dedicated her life to fighting against child marriage and promoting girls’ rights to education. Born in 2002 in a small village in Rajasthan, India, Jangid experienced firsthand the challenges and discrimination faced by girls in her community. At 11, she became a vocal advocate against child marriage when she refused to accept a marriage proposal. This courageous act ignited a fire within her to fight for girls’ rights and eradicate this harmful practice.
Jangid’s activism gained international recognition when she became the first Indian to receive the prestigious Changemaker Award from the United Nations in 2019. She has used her platform to raise awareness about child marriage and its devastating consequences on girls’ lives, speaking at various forums and leading campaigns to end the practice.
Jangid firmly believes that education is a powerful tool to empower girls and break the cycle of poverty and discrimination. Through her organization, the Payal Foundation, she works tirelessly to ensure that girls have access to quality education and are protected from child marriage.
5 Dolores Huerta (1930– )
Dolores Huerta is a renowned American labor leader and civil rights activist who has dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of farmworkers, women, and marginalized communities. Born in 1930, Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers (UFW) with Cesar Chavez, a labor union that fought for fair wages, better working conditions, and labor rights for agricultural workers. She played a pivotal role in organizing strikes, boycotts, and protests, employing nonviolent tactics to raise awareness about farmworkers’ hardships and demand justice.
Huerta’s activism extended beyond labor rights. She actively advocated for gender equality and women’s empowerment, coining the powerful phrase “Sí, se puede” (Yes, we can), which became a rallying cry for the Latino community and social justice movements. Huerta fought for policies and legislation that protected women’s rights and advocated for reproductive rights and healthcare access.
Huerta’s work continues to inspire generations of activists, and she has received numerous awards and honors for her tireless dedication to social justice and equality. Her impact on the labor movement and her unwavering commitment to uplifting marginalized communities have solidified her as an iconic figure in the fight for civil rights.
4 Jack Andraka (1997– )
Jack Andraka is a young scientist and activist who gained international recognition for his groundbreaking invention in cancer research. Born in 1997, Andraka was only 15 years old when he developed a revolutionary method to detect pancreatic cancer in its early stages.
Inspired by losing a close family friend to the disease, Jack embarked on a mission to create a cost-effective and non-invasive diagnostic tool that could save countless lives. His invention, known as the “Andraka test,” is based on detecting a specific protein in the early stages of pancreatic cancer. This breakthrough discovery has the potential to revolutionize cancer diagnosis and improve survival rates.
Beyond his scientific accomplishments, Andraka is an outspoken advocate for STEM education and encourages young people to pursue their passion for science and innovation. He has been recognized with numerous awards and has become a prominent voice in the fight against cancer, inspiring others to make a difference through their scientific pursuits.
3 Michael D. Higgins (1941– )
Michael D. Higgins, widely known as President Higgins, is an esteemed Irish politician, poet, and human rights activist. Born in 1941, he has had a remarkable career championing social justice, equality, and the arts. Higgins served as the ninth president of Ireland, taking office in 2011 and being re-elected in 2018. Throughout his presidency, he has been an outspoken advocate for progressive causes and has used his platform to address issues such as climate change, poverty, and human rights.
Before assuming the presidency, Higgins was actively involved in politics, serving as a member of the Irish Parliament and holding ministerial positions in various capacities. He has consistently voiced his concerns about global inequality, emphasizing the importance of human rights, sustainable development, and the power of culture and creativity.
Higgins has used his words as a poet to inspire and raise awareness about social issues, underscoring the significance of compassion and empathy in building a more inclusive society. His lifelong commitment to activism and unwavering dedication to promoting justice and equality have made him an influential figure in Ireland and on the international stage.
2 Harry Wu (1937–2016)
Harry Wu was a prominent Chinese human rights activist known for his relentless efforts to expose and challenge the human rights abuses committed by the Chinese government. Born in 1937 in Shanghai, Wu experienced the horrors of the Chinese Communist Party’s labor camps firsthand, having been imprisoned for 19 years for criticizing the government. After his release in 1979, he dedicated his life to advocating for prisoners’ rights and raising awareness about the widespread abuses occurring in Chinese labor camps.
Wu’s activism gained international recognition when he founded the Laogai Research Foundation in 1992, an organization committed to documenting and exposing human rights violations in China’s labor camps. He traveled the world, sharing his experiences and collecting evidence of the atrocities committed against political prisoners, religious minorities, and other marginalized groups.
Wu’s courageous work shed light on the plight of millions of individuals subjected to forced labor, torture, and oppression. His advocacy efforts brought global attention to the dark reality of China’s labor camps and inspired others to take action in defense of human rights.
1 Ai Weiwei (1957– )
Ai Weiwei is a renowned Chinese artist, filmmaker, and activist whose work challenges the Chinese government’s policies and advocates for human rights and freedom of expression.
Born in 1957 in Beijing, Weiwei’s artistic endeavors blend creativity with social and political commentary, tackling issues such as censorship, corruption, and the suppression of individual liberties. Through his provocative and thought-provoking artworks, he fearlessly criticizes the Chinese government and draws attention to human rights abuses.
Weiwei’s activism extends beyond his art. He has been a vocal advocate for democracy and human rights, using his platform to shed light on injustice and promote social change. His relentless activism has come at a great personal cost, as he has faced persecution, surveillance, and even imprisonment by the Chinese authorities. However, these challenges have not deterred him from speaking out and demanding accountability.