Happy Black History Month from Mission Graduates! To honor the vital contributions of the African-American community, we’ve put together highlights of incredible, contemporary people with ties to the Bay Area that are making history. These artists, politicians, activists, and entrepreneurs are shattering glass ceilings and championing Black communities each and every day.
Read on to learn more about their lives and how you can stay connected to their work.
Alicia Garza (@chasinggarza)
An Oakland native, Alicia Garza is a civil rights activist known for co-founding the Black Lives Matter movement with Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. #blacklivesmatter #blm In addition to her anti-racism activism, she’s organized around issues of health, student services and rights, rights for domestic workers, ending police brutality, and violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people of color. She’s been recognized by Fortune magazine’s ‘40 Under 40’ list, Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020, and BBC’s 100 Women. Garza currently serves as the Principal at the Black Futures Lab, created to empower Black communities in politics.
Ashleigh Reddy (@stayreddy)
Her Instagram bio reads “photographer capturing joy,” and in the midst of a difficult time for many, savoring those fleeting moments feels all the more important.
Ashleigh Reddy moved to San Francisco at the age of 18 to study Psychology at the University of San Francisco. Reddy worked in educational non-profits for seven years before pivoting to being a full-time photographer. Now, she’s thrown herself headfirst into her craft, photographing for Glamour Magazine, CNN, Essence, and USA Today. Visit her website, stayreddy.com, to see her work.
Albert Cecil Williams, known to his congregation as Cecil, has been a progressive pillar of the San Francisco community since the 1960’s. After receiving his B.A. in Sociology from Huston-Tillotson University and his Master of Theology from the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in 1955 (where he was one of the first five African American graduates), he became the pastor of Glide Memorial Church in 1963.
Under his leadership, Glide Memorial drew upon the spirit of community and advocacy from the civil rights movement, growing to become the largest provider of social services in San Francisco, providing AIDS/HIV screenings, adult education programs, thousands of meals a day, and assistance to women struggling with homelessness, domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues.
Dr. Akilah Cadet (@changecadet)
Building a culture of anti-racism, specifically one that prioritizes the value of diversity, inclusivity, equity, and belonging, starts locally. After experiencing heavy discrimination as a black woman during her 9-5, Dr. Akilah Cadet struck out on her own. Dr. Cadet – Executive Coach, Founder, and CEO – has been driving impact through Change Cadet, a consulting firm that provides companies with services that support anti-racism and EQIB initiatives to help woman and people of color advocate for their worth.
Dr. Cadet holds a B.S. in Health Education in Community Based Public Health from San Francisco State University, a Master of Public Health from San Jose State University, and a Doctorate of Health Sciences in Leadership and Organizational Behavior from A.T. Still University. Learn more about Change Cadet at changecadet.com.
Honey Mahogany (@honeymahogany)
Honey Mahogany has been center stage for political and entertainment venues across the Bay Area – she’s a quadruple threat activist, politician, drag performer, and singer. Originally from San Francisco, Mahogany first started drag performances while earning her B.A. in Psychology from the University of Southern California. Upon graduation, Mahogany interned at the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, and shortly after continued her education by earning a Master of Social Work from UC Berkeley.
She put her degrees to use as a social worker in Contra Costa County for several years, working with people with HIV and homeless LGBT+ youth. Honey Mahogany co-founded Compton’s Transgender Cultural District in San Francisco with Janetta Johnson and Aria Sa’id, later serving as the first director. She currently serves as a legislative aid to San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney.
Mahogany identifies as queer and gender non-conforming trans using she/they pronouns.
Kamala Harris (@kamalaharris)
Vice President Harris has an extensive career in politics (and breaking glass ceilings), most of which occured in the Bay Area. Born in Oakland, Harris graduated with a B.A. from Howard University in Washington, D.C. and from the University of California Hastings, College of Law (located in San Francisco), where she received her juris doctorate.
She began her career in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office before transitioning to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. In 2003, she led the office as the District Attorney of San Francisco. After serving as the Attorney General for California, Harris won a seat in the United States Senate, becoming the first South Asian American to serve in the legislative body. During her tenure in office, she advocated for healthcare reform, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants the DREAM Act, and progressive tax reform amongst other causes.
Harris assumed office as Vice President to President Biden in January 2021. She is the first United States’ female vice president, the first African American and the first Asian American to hold the office. Read more about her life at whitehouse.gov/administration/vice-president-harris.
Kehinde Wiley (@kehindewiley)
Kehinde Wiley is an American portrait artist celebrated for his depiction of young African-American men in contemporary culture. Wiley earned his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1999 and his MFA from Yale University, School of Art 2001, later becoming an artist-in-resident at the Studio Museum in Harlem. His work makes specific references to the Old Masters while drawing inspiration from a wealth of period styles and influences.
In 2017, he was commissioned to paint a portrait of President Barack Obama for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Time Magazine named Wiley as one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2018. View his portfolio at Kehinde Wiley Studio.
London Breed (@londonbreed)
London Breed, the 45th Mayor of San Francisco, has a long, personal connection with the city. She was raised in the Western Addition, briefly leaving San Francisco to attend UC Davis, where she received her bachelor’s in political science and public service. She started her career in politics upon graduating, returning to San Francisco for an internship in the Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services. Breed continued to hold several offices over the next two decades, acting as the Executive Director of the African American Art & Culture Complex, sitting the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency Commission, representing District 5 on the Board of Supervisors, and eventually serving as the Board of Supervisors President.
After the death of Mayor Ed Lee, Breed became the city’s Acting Mayor, securing a full-term during the 2018 mayoral special election. Her term as Mayor has focused on issues of housing and homelessness, public safety, public transportation, clean power, and environmental protection. Breed is the first African-American woman, second African-American after Willie Brown, and second woman after Dianne Feinstein to hold the office of Mayor.
Malia Cohen (@malia.cohen)
Another San Francisco native, Malia Cohen was born in the Richmond District of San Francisco and graduated from Lowell High School. Cohen furthered her education at Fisk University where she earned her B.A. in political science, and at Carnegie Mellon University where she received her M.S. in public policy and management.
She has served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, representing District 10, and succeeded London Breed as the President of the Board of Supervisors in 2018. Cohen currently serves as a member of the California State Board of Equalization, a public agency charged with tax administration and fee collection for the state. Read more about Malia’s contributions on the Board of Equalization website.
Nafy Flatley (@terangalife)
Nafy Flatley, food entrepreneur and founder of the food and beverage company Teranga, knows the value of community building and community opportunity. Teranga, under Flatley’s leadership, aims to provide at least 20 jobs in production, distribution, and service through restaurants and packaged consumables in 5 U.S. communities within the next 5 five years.
Flatley immigrated from Senegal to the United States, carrying with her a deep knowledge of Senegalese cruise and the desire to create opportunities for POC communities, women, and entrepreneurs. She graduated from the University of San Francisco, School of Business with a degree in business administration, international business, marketing, and advertising. Learn more about Nafy, her story, and her company at terangajuice.com.
Shakirah Simley (@shak_simley)
As the Director of the Office of Racial Equality, a division of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, Shakirah Simley brings fifteen years of community organizing experience and community development strategies to promote social justice, equity policy initiatives, and change for low-income communities and communities of color in San Francisco.
Simley received her B.A. in Cultural Anthropology & Urban Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and was a Fulbright scholar to Italy for Anthropological study, where she received her master’s degree (cum laude). She has an extensive history of community activism, showing her dedication to community involvement in her positions as a Legislative Aide to San Francisco Supervisor Vallie Brown, Acting Executive Director and Community Programs Manager or the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and several other positions throughout the country.
Visit the Office of Racial Equity’s website to read more about Simley’s work.