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."

Thomasina Poirot on Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass's wisdom continues to inspire me. He once said, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress." This country has faced many recent obstacles in its fight for racial equality, but I find solace in Douglass's belief that our continued struggles represent progress toward peace and justice.

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."

Andrew Hales on Kathrine Switzer

"In her memoir, Marathon Woman, Kathrine Switzer shares her story of becoming the first woman to run the Boston Marathon at a time when it was considered unthinkable that a woman could complete the race. Her philosophy was simple. "Hot damn," she thought, "I have a coach, a training partner, a plan, and a goal: the biggest race in the world—Boston." She was ready—the race officials, not so much. I’ve never personally qualified to run Boston, but her amazing story inspires me to keep trying.

Business Leaders
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Guenther Schumacher on Charita Lucas

Every day I am inspired by courageous women who independently build their lives and careers rather than simply following the path others have laid out for them. One such woman is Charita Lucas, a former colleague, who is a technology executive, CEO and founder of Dosa Naturals, life coach, and public speaker. Her positive energy is infectious, and her life journey will continue to inspire others for a long time.

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."

Audrey Cubizolles on Christine Lagarde

If it had been Lehman Sisters, the world might well look a lot different today. These words by Christine Lagarde have stuck with me as a stark reminder that diversity sharpens our perceptions and reduces the potential for groupthink. From her leadership at a major U.S. law firm to the world's financial crisis firefighter, the IMF, and more recently the influential European Central Bank, French powerhouse Christine Lagarde shattered the proverbial glass ceiling. Her hard work, professionalism, and ability to convince with charm rather than bullying are evidence that we can all contribute to the creation of a world that looks different, a world that is more diverse and inclusive.

Danielle Lawrence on Madam C.J. Walker

She is often just labeled as the first self-made Black and female millionaire, but she was much more than that. Madam C.J. Walker's entrepreneurial spirit instilled confidence in Black businesses, and her own company provided economic opportunity for Black women at a time marked by racial discrimination. Her legacy continues to inspire me as we seek to spread awareness of how much the business world fits into the fight for racial equality.

Cultural Icons
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Emilio Cividanes on Raúl Juliá

I have long admired the fearless and versatile actor Raúl Juliá. In addition to excelling at his craft, Juliá was also a cultural icon. He was one of the first Hispanics to which a new generation of American filmgoers was exposed, and a frequent collaborator with independent filmmakers, raising the profile of Puerto Rican cinema. Through his humanitarian efforts to promote social justice and racial harmony, Juliá also served as a reminder that every one of us is a member of a much larger community.

Alexandra Megaris on Lucille Ball

As a kid, I Love Lucy was my favorite TV show, but I had no idea at the time that its star, Lucille Ball, was such a trailblazer. Hollywood has never been kind to female leads, especially in the 1940s and 50s. But, defying stereotypes, Ms. Ball rejected damsel-in-distress typecasting and reached the pinnacle of her profession—comedy—before going on to become the first woman to run a major film studio. Lucille Ball had guts and was hilarious. What a combo.  

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.“

William Briggs on Dr. Dorothy Height 

"My great aunt, Dr. Dorothy Height, was one of the original women pioneers in the American civil rights movement and the president of the National Council of Negro Women for forty years, and she counseled U.S. presidents from FDR to Barack Obama on racial justice.  Her wise words continue to inspire me:

“If you want to change somebody’s mind about something, you must try to find out where he or she is coming from.  What experience underlies this person’s words?  What hurt or fear is gnawing at his or her heart? ... You need to know where you want to go, but if you don’t look both to the left and to the right as you proceed, you will miss things that might help you on your way.”"

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."

Roger Meertins on Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks is my source of inspiration, reminding me that small acts of courage against oppression can trigger significant change. In that pivotal moment when she chose not to give up her seat, her strength and resolve inspired a movement that changed the world.

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."

Belinda Vega on Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor inspires me every day to work hard and persevere. The daughter of Puerto Rican parents, she made history as the first Latinx justice, and she has also weighed in on a number of game-changing cases, such as Obergefell v. Hodges. In that historic decision, Justice Sotomayor, alongside Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan, voted to make same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. She is a beacon of hope for me, because she shows that we still have warriors fighting for justice, equality, and love.

Witt Chang on Hong Yen Chang

The story of lawyer, diplomat, and banker Hong Yen Chang is incredible. Through a New York state law titled "An Act for the Relief of Hong Yen Chang," he became the first lawyer of Chinese descent in the United States. New York admitted him to its bar after waiving the citizenship requirement, which Chang could not meet because of the Chinese Exclusion Act. California, however, refused to grant Chang a license, though it eventually corrected that error about 90 years after his death.

Lisa Gerstley on Stormé DeLarverie

Stormé DeLarverie, the iconic, African American butch lesbian who ignited the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion in New York, helped ease the journey to acceptance for subsequent LGBTQ generations. A talented entertainer, and influential (but very humble) civil rights activist, DeLarverie waited until 2008 to publicly confirm– at almost 90 years old– that she was indeed the previously-unidentified "Stonewall lesbian."

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."

Becca Chappell on Jacinda Ardern

"One of the youngest female world leaders, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is inspirational to me because she proves that strong and effective leadership can be rooted in empathy, compassion, and honesty. As an unwavering advocate for gender equality, Prime Minister Ardern shows us all, particularly women, that there are many different ways to be powerful."

Jennifer Bruton on Kamala Harris

"With this year marking the 100th anniversary of women finally securing the right to vote in the United States, Kamala Harris’s extraordinary achievement in becoming the first woman and first woman of color to win the vice presidency is particularly poignant. Whether running for attorney general, the Senate, and now the second-highest office in the nation, Vice President Harris has steadfastly refused to allow any external barriers get in the way of her personal goals—no matter how ambitious— and that should serve as an inspiration to all of us."

William Lawrence on Stacey Abrams

In this time of intense political and social tumult in America, I admire Stacey Abrams' contribution to the ongoing, vital fight to end voter suppression. What she, and others inspired by her example and leadership, achieved in Georgia in the most recent elections was pivotal to redirecting this country's future toward a brighter horizon.

Leo Marquardt on Harvey Milk

As one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States, Harvey Milk actively campaigned for gay liberation, including advocating for a bill that banned discrimination in housing and employment on the basis of sexuality. His persistence, passion, and commitment to an underrepresented community inspired a nation and paved the way for hundreds of LGBTQ elected officials today.

Scientists
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Jill Rowe on Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein’s core traits of humility and curiosity allowed him to question all assumptions, disregard his own limitations (he was famously middling at math), and vastly expand our understanding of the universe. He denounced the atomic bomb and embarked on humanitarian and academic projects around the world. "Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them."

Unsung Heroes
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Mitch Evall on Unknown

"Years ago, I used to chair the annual “Olympics” Competition (complete with staggered-height podiums and bronze, silver, and gold medals) for the several hundred kids living at MacLaren Children’s Center, the LA County home for “abused, abandoned, and neglected” kids.  One year, during the 1500-meter race, one of the competitors had a disability but participated anyway. As the frontrunners approached the finish line, the young black teenager who was in the lead threw his arms out and yelled “stop” to all the other runners, then pointed to their cabin-mate, who was struggling toward them, and said, “We wait for him and finish together.”  And that’s what they did.  When I commended him at the medal ceremony for his sportsmanship, he said to me, “I’m sure you have a ‘regular’ family. I don’t; this is my family. All I’m doing is watching out for my family, just like you would.”  I have no idea what became of that young man, but as strange as it may sound, it feels appropriate that, all these years later, he is being written about in tribute. "

Nikki Hasselbarth on her friends

"The women who inspire me most are those I speak to every day – my friends. Over the years we have formed a tribe of 11, including myself and my sister, from various backgrounds, though primarily Black women and women of color. We are lawyers, mothers, educators, and advocates for racial justice and financial equity. These women inspire me to be my fullest and truest self – to give generously and to love endlessly. Despite the personal difficulties they each may face in their daily lives, and without the glitz or glamour of any public recognition, these women show up for me and for each other with a strength and grace and intentionality that is unparalleled."

Audrey Grossman on Dr. Jonathan Warus

I am inspired by and eternally grateful to Dr. Jonathan Warus at the Center for Transyouth Health at Children's Hospital L.A. Dr. Warus has caringly guided us – and our child – through the process of hormone blockers and gender-conforming treatments. He was also a fierce advocate in our long and eventually successful fight with insurance to get coverage for that treatment.

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].'"

Sheila Turybury on Maya Angelou

"I have always had huge admiration for the extraordinary poet, author, and activist Maya Angelou. Rather than allow an abusive childhood in the Deep South derail her, she turned the traumatic events of her life into dazzling autobiography. Alternately banned and revered, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings challenged anyone who read it to question their most basic perceptions about themselves and about society. Her words inspire me every day."

Elizabeth Sanders on Margaret Atwood

"Since I was a college student, I have been inspired by the work of poet and novelist Margaret Atwood. Eschewing the feminist label, Atwood’s works explore the perspective of women, focusing on issues related to gender equality, power in the home and in the world, with heightened allusions to religious and mythical themes. In writing The Handmaid's Tale, for example, she asserted her motivation was the exploration of totalitarianism as opposed to feminism. 'If you were going to shove women back into the home and deprive them of all of these gains that they thought they had made, how would you do it?' Atwood tirelessly excavates the role of women in the world with the ultimate wish that "in time, all girls may be able to grow up believing that there are no avenues that are closed to them simply because they are girls."

Darrin Dyson on James Baldwin

James Baldwin, through his writing, but also through his articulate and passionate discourse, expressed the very contradiction that is the promise of this country and our actual, lived experience. His writings and reflections continue to be all too relevant to the reckoning that we are currently undergoing.