Senator Malika Sanders-Fortier
Senator Malika Asha Sanders Fortier drew in her activist career on roots that extended into the very center of the early civil rights movement. She was born in 1973 in Selma, Alabama. "I was born in a time of protest, when civil rights leaders would sleep in our house—as many as 50 or 100 curled up right there on the floor," she told Marie Claire. As a 15-year-old high school student in Selma, she realized that African-American students were routinely being tracked into lower-level classes rather than college-preparatory programs, regardless of their grades or test scores. The result was a new form of segregation. Sanders led a student walkout that began with just a few participants but grew into a series of marches and protest meetings that drew more than 100 students. The students formed an organization dubbed SMART—the Student Movement Against Racial Tracking. The group staged a five-day sit-in, facing down the National Guard forces called in by Selma mayor Joe Smitherman. The Ku Klux Klan erected a sign atop the school building where the students were ensconced. Sanders herself was arrested for the questionable crime of passing out leaflets. But in the end the students were victorious; impartial testing programs were implemented, and the Selma school board's white majority, which had terminated a black superintendent who had tried to take the students' side, was soon eliminated.
Fortier attended Spelman College in Atlanta, graduating with a degree in psychology. While she was there, she participated in protests including calling for the elimination of the Confederate battle flag element in the design of Georgia's state flag, and student protests against police brutality. The normal path for Fortier might have involved a job in a large city, but she returned instead to Selma. "I wasn't sure if I ever wanted to go back," she told Marie Claire. "And yet, I felt a responsibility to Selma and the South. Upon returning to Selma, Fortier became the executive director of 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement. The goal of the group was to develop young leaders to continue the legacy of the movement, of which there are yet promised fruit unfulfilled that need another generation to harvest. Fortier had attended the group's summer camps when she was younger. Fortier went on to be one of three young coordinators of the 40th Anniversary and re-enactment of the 1963 March on Washington, leading 21st Century Youth members in a chant of "I must prepare my mind, body, and spirit; we are 21st-century leaders, so let's act like it," as quoted in the Washington Times. Fortier has often addressed national meetings like the State of the Black World conference and the rapidly growing National Hip-Hop Political Convention, where she appeared in 2004. She was chosen to receive a Reebok Human Rights Award in 2002. The award carried a $50,000 grant, which Sanders plowed back into the 21st Century Youth Movement.
Fortier has sat on several boards such as the Southern Partners Fund, the Highlander Center, and the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute. She has also been featured in such as the New York Times, Utne, Essence, and on the Tom Joyner Morning Show.