Who Inspires You?

As part of Venable’s broader efforts to advance economic, racial, and gender equality, we are inviting our professionals to share their thoughts about the people, historical and living, whose commitment to furthering social justice has most inspired them. Among those our colleagues have highlighted thus far are remarkable activists ranging from the abolitionist Frederick Douglass to LGBTQ advocate Evan Wolfson. Others named groundbreaking writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and environmentalists like Nalini Nadkarni, along with thinkers, academics, and spiritual leaders as those who most changed their worldview.

Our campaign also features grantees of the Venable Foundation that have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the communities they serve. These extraordinary organizations and individuals remind us that no matter how dark the present can seem, taking positive action now will make the future that much brighter. We hope our campaign inspires you as much as it has us.

Abolitionists
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Lisa Tavares on Harriet Tubman

"The woman who most inspires me is Harriet Tubman, a conductor on the Underground Railroad who overcame unimaginable challenges in escaping slavery to become the liberator of hundreds of others. Tubman believed strongly in the equality of all people, Black or white, male or female, and was an early supporter of the women’s suffrage movement. Her extraordinary story of courage and perseverance reminds me daily that no challenge is too great."

Justin Pierce on Frederick Douglass

"Frederick Douglass’ remarkable life journey, ranging from his escape from slavery to his rise as a prominent abolitionist, social reformer, author, orator, and statesman, is a constant inspiration. In addition to his incisive and prodigious writings, he became the most photographed American in the 19th century, cleverly using his own image to dispel racist caricatures and narratives. At this pivotal moment in American history, his pursuit of equality and commitment to dialogue and forging alliances across all divides still serves as a shining example of how real progress may be achieved."

Tanya Upthegrove-Coleman on Mary Church Terrell

"Mary Church Terrell, an educator and social justice warrior, was influential in helping Black and white women 'throw off the yoke of oppression' in America. Terrell’s commitment to eradicating racial and gender oppressive legislation in an era when women were deemed to be irrelevant inspires me to lead with power, educate with empathy and embrace my strength as an African American woman."

Athletes and Adventurers
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Bruce Sidell on Jackie Robinson

"As a child, much of my early learning came through sports, particularly baseball. The courage, commitment, and quiet perseverance Jackie Robinson exhibited in breaking baseball’s color barrier were attributes I quickly admired in him and have come to admire in others. As an aspiring athlete, I was captivated by his excellence and sheer talent (he was a four-letter athlete at UCLA), and still find it rewarding to see Jackie’s retired number displayed in every major league stadium."

Stacie Tobin on Katie Ledecky

“As a swimmer and a Marylander, I’m particularly inspired by Katie Ledecky, who, as a 15-year-old, stunned the swimming world by winning the 800-meter freestyle in the 2012 Olympics by more than four seconds. Since then, Katie has gone on to be the most successful female swimmer of all time, not because she has the perfect swimmer’s body — she doesn’t — but because she is a ruthless goal-setter for her own personal improvement, and ferociously devotes herself to achieving those goals.”

Bob Waldman on Sara Safari

"I recently had the privilege of hearing Sara Safari’s harrowing account of climbing Mt. Everest when an earthquake hit. Sara, who grew up in Iran and had no experience in mountain climbing, decided to climb some of the world’s highest mountains, both to challenge her own self-imposed limitations and to raise attention and funds to support at-risk girls in Nepal. This marginalized community had been subject to forced early marriage and human trafficking. Sara’s amazing efforts to use mountain climbing as a means to help those most in need are truly inspirational."

Business Leaders
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Julia Bennett on Arlan Hamilton

"Arlan Hamilton uses her knowledge of equity investing to provide opportunities for underrepresented people to succeed in business, which is something I always aspire to do. She founded Backstage capital on the premise that people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, and women are excellent candidates for equity investment — totally contrary to the traditional thinking of many equity funds."

Educators
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Kelly Shubic Weiner on Sherrilyn Ifill

"I have always felt gratitude for the time I spent in Sherrilynn Ifill’s classroom at University of Maryland law school. A critical thinker on issues of race, the analogies she drew in her class between the South African Truth and Reconciliation hearings that occurred towards the end of apartheid and the components of systemic racism in the United States, challenged us even then to have similar conversations in our own communities. Some 20 years later, she is now leading those critical conversations through her courageous work with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund."

Environmentalists
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Cindy Lewin on Nalini Nadkarni

"Climate change may be the most important global social justice issue we face, and Nalini Nadkarni is battling it with her ecological research, while at the same time changing lives by bringing nature into prisons and even convincing Mattel to create a line of 'Explorer Barbies' to inspire girls. I love her refusal to 'stay in her lane.' And she’s still out there climbing into tree canopies at an age when many have retired, despite breaking 15 bones in a fall a few years ago. Nothing stops her."

Thomasina Poirot on Greta Thunberg

“Only 17 years young, Greta Thunberg has already taken on the world. Her unrelenting belief in a movement—and her willingness to fight international opposition to it—is inspiring. I think of Greta’s spirit often in my everyday life and hope that we can all be so courageous.“

Family
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Stephanie Loughlin on her Grandmother

"My grandmother, Anna, has inspired me throughout my life by her perseverance and integrity. She did whatever was required for her family, including leaving school after 8th grade to work as a maid to help support her six younger siblings. Despite the external constraints on her life, she maintained an open heart and an open mind."

Mitch Evall on his Grandmother

"My maternal grandmother was a great inspiration to me. She was one of five sisters who fled Poland at a young age and, ahead of her time, was a deep believer in gender equality, workplace rights, and other issues of social justice. She insisted that her granddaughters AND grandsons know how to cook. (And she made the world’s best brisket.)"

Sarah Brooks on her Grandmother

"My grandmother, Ilia, was an inspiring woman and the person I most wanted to emulate growing up. As a seamstress raising three children, she had an incredible work ethic, eventually opening her own sewing shop. She also had a lot of courage — she married a British soldier and moved from Italy to England after World War II, without knowing a word of English."

Celeste Brecht on her Grandmother

"My grandmother, Mary Lauhoff Brecht, has always been an inspiration. She graduated from college in 1934, serving as class president all four years, during a time when most people, let alone women, did not attend college and at the peak of the Great Depression. My grandfather teased that she was a 'women’s libber before it was popular.'"

Traci Mundy Jenkins on her Mother

“I am inspired by my mother, Dr. Sylvia P. Mundy. Not only was she the first female Popeyes franchisee, she was a true trailblazer in the areas of business, education, and government, despite the racial and gender inequalities she had to endure. I live by her guiding principles of resilience, professionalism, and being a crusader for customer service.“

Game Changers
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Claude Bailey on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the person who gives me the strength and inspiration to help create a better world. No one else in history has so eloquently articulated why this country has a moral obligation to live up to its professed ideal that all men and women are created equal. Through his words and actions, he changed the way Black people are treated. His work and that of so many unnamed others laid the foundation for the struggle for equality not just for Black people but also women, the LGBTQ community, and other oppressed groups. I always remember one of his lesser-known quotes: 'We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.'"

Allyson Baker on Rosa Parks

"Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat — as an African American woman — on a bus in a segregated, Jim Crow city that had been marked by white supremacist violence is one of the 20th century’s most glorious examples of moral courage. Ms. Parks’ insistence on equality, fairness, dignity and respect — values at the core of our country’s founding documents — started the Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped to spur an emerging Civil Rights Movement that continues today. Although we still have much work left to do, Ms. Parks is a reminder that extraordinary people who change the world can and do present themselves in the most ordinary moments, like riding a city bus."

Dom Conde on Eleanor Roosevelt

"Known as the 'First Lady of the World' for her human rights achievements, Eleanor Roosevelt was an inspirational figure throughout her life. From being the first presidential spouse to hold her own press conferences to becoming the first chair of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women in the Kennedy administration, she was a tireless advocate for women and minorities."

Jennifer Bruton on Ruth Bader Ginsburg

"Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an inspiration to me because of her fight for gender rights. At a time when it seemed there was little hope for such rights, she was wise enough to carry on the battle in a methodical way, often using instances of discrimination against men to demonstrate her point."

Katherine Dearing on Elena Kagan

"As the fourth female justice ever on the Supreme Court bench, Justice Elena Kagan has paved the way for many more women to achieve positions of judicial prominence. Her intelligent and accessible opinions, such as when she incorporated Spiderman puns into her Kimble v. Marvel ruling, appeal to the geek in all of us."

Ron Jacobs on John Paul II

"St. John Paul II’s commitment to promoting religious freedom, bringing down the Iron Curtain, and protecting the most vulnerable inspires me to think about how to help others, to walk in others’ shoes, and to work to bring about justice in the world."

Writers, Journalists, and Publishers
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Moxi Upadhyaya on Katharine Graham

"I’ve always had a deep admiration for Katharine Graham, who, following her husband’s sudden death and while raising four children on her own, had to take on the job of publishing a major newspaper. Although she had no experience in this male-dominated field, by simply putting 'one foot in front of the other,' she turned a major challenge into a phenomenal success. Moreover, she made history by standing up to presidential abuses of power in the midst of great pressure from all sides."

Matt McLaughlin on Mary Oliver

"The great American poet Mary Oliver changed my worldview. She showed me the tender beauty found in our fragile life. Oliver’s hungry eyes and august, vivid language teach us how to be ‘married to amazement.’ I would venture that few men or women have ever been as alive as she was. She inspires me to remember that ‘I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.'"

Claudia Lewis on Ida B. Wells

"Ida B. Wells' lifelong crusade against racism through her work as a journalist, an activist, and one of the founders of the NAACP continues to inspire me. Born into slavery and despite losing her parents at 16, she managed to rise above the formidable hardships of her early life to become a pioneer of racial justice. Her bravery was particularly evident in her relentless pursuit of reporting and exposing horrifying violence against the Black community, which she argued was used primarily as a weapon to deny Black economic progress."

Stephanie DeLong on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"The Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s beautiful prose on topics involving cultural strife and struggles with racism and sexism encapsulate the importance of teaching our children about differences. Her bestseller, Dear Ijeawele, or, A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, has provided a road map for me on how to raise feminist children (boys and girls) and help them understand that while 'people walk different paths in the world ... they are valid paths that ... must be respect[ed].'"

LGBTQ+ Rights Advocates
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Colin Vandell on Jim Obergefell

"Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court’s groundbreaking 2015 decision on marriage equality, is a tremendous inspiration to me. Pushing forward despite many challenges, including defeats in court and his longtime partner’s death, he is a symbol of perseverance who has fundamentally transformed the lives of those in the LGBTQ community."

Angel Garganta on Michael Adams

"My friend Michael Adams, who leads SAGE, our country’s leading organization working to support and improve the lives of LGBTQ elders, has inspired me for over 25 years. Michael has devoted his entire career to fighting for the rights of LGBTQ Americans, at the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and now at SAGE. He is an exemplary leader, a brilliant lawyer, and a great human being."

Mark Vecchio on Evan Wolfson

"Evan Wolfson was a tireless leader for marriage equality years before it developed broad-based support within the LGBTQ community. His was a long-term, 'against-all-odds' vision, which he pursued for decades with intelligence, patience, perseverance, fortitude, and tremendous personal commitment. His lone voice grew over time to become a chorus, culminating ultimately in the Supreme Court decision that changed the lives of so many."

Political Figures
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Ked Whitmore on Madeleine Albright

"After the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the United States faced an uncertain international order and a far more varied and nuanced set of global relationships. Madeleine Albright entered this unfamiliar environment and effectively advanced the international interests of the United States for nearly a decade as ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of State. Her ability to not only face down the world’s toughest diplomatic challenges, but to do so with absolute composure and a touch of humor, provides a great example for all of us."

Tiffany Williams on Barack Obama

"The person who inspires me the most is Barack Obama. I was a college student during the 2008 presidential election, and I remember how President Obama’s election unlocked any reservations I had about my potential or goals, both personal and professional. I was, and continue to be, captivated by his presence, integrity, and humility, and I continue to strive to exude the same characteristics as I grow in my career."

Geoff Garinther on Nancy Pelosi

"Nancy Pelosi, who, like Venable, grew up in Baltimore, maintains a grace under pressure — an ability to choose her words carefully, laser focused on what’s most important—that is the hallmark of every great trial lawyer, a standard our attorneys aspire to every day."