Bayard Rustin’s life embodied the core principles of community organizing: to empower community members, strengthen connectedness and fight for equality. He prioritized the greater good of the community over the promotion of any one individual. But what makes Rustin’s achievements truly remarkable is his personal story.
Bayard Rustin would have turned 100 years old today. He lived his life as an unapologetically proud African-American gay man, neither hiding from nor minimizing his identity despite pressure to do so. The fact that he organized between the 1940s and 1960s, a time when racism, racial segregation, and homophobia were rampant, is a testament to his courage.
Rustin championed several causes, including economic rights, education, health, school integration and labor organizing. His skills were renowned, and he was a sought after advisor who worked with civil rights leaders like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and A. Philip Randolph. In 1947, he planned the first “freedom rides” to the South, which drew attention to Jim Crow practices and drove the formation of the Congress of Racial Equality.
In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, Rustin was a vocal organizer who called the country to directly engage in HIV prevention programs, treatment, and education programs.
For these and many reasons, it’s an honor to work for the same Democratic Party as Rustin did some 50 years ago. Democrats, under President Obama’s leadership, continue to fight for the issues Rustin sought to change during his illustrious career.
Without question, I owe much of my ability to work, live, and love as an openly gay African-American man to Bayard Rustin. The progress people of color and the LGBT community have seen couldn’t have happened without his life-long activism. Happy 100th birthday Bayard Rustin; your work is the foundation we’re using to create an America that’s built to last.