Valarie Kaur: Civil rights activist, lawyer, award-winning filmmaker, educator, author, & Sikh American Voice
The Center for American Progress names
Kaur “a standout figure in the world of interfaith organizing and activism.” Her new venture, the Revolutionary Love Project, champions the ethic of love in an era
MY STORY I became a civil rights activist when a family friend was the first to be killed in a hate crime after 9/11. Since then, I have labored with communities of color to make the world safer for the next generation. Then my son was born at the onset of the last U.S. presidential election — at a time when hate crimes against our communities had never been higher — and I realized that he was growing up in a nation more dangerous for him than the one we had been given.
I had a crisis and left my job at Stanford Law School. I looked back and asked: What has actually resulted in social change for the communities we have served? The answer surprised me. Our films and lawsuits and campaigns mattered but it all came down to a single element: the ethic of love. When people received love in the fires of violence, they had the ability to sustain the struggle for social justice and make long-term gains to shift culture and policy. I saw that love can be revolutionary.
Right now, in America and around the world, we are mounting a powerful resistance against the authoritarian policies and hate crimes that target our most vulnerable communities. But resistance alone will not deliver us. The greatest social movements in history were rooted in the ethic of love. It’s time to reclaim love, but this time, through the stories and wisdom of women and women of color. Through a feminist lens, we see that love is sweet labor — fierce, bloody, imperfect, and life-giving. When we make love a public ethic, then love becomes revolutionary. I believe we can make love a public ethic in the next twenty-five years, by the time the United States is a multiracial nation. Will you join me?
Valarie Kaur is a seasoned civil rights activist, award-winning filmmaker, lawyer, faith leader, and founder of the Revolutionary Love Project. She was born and raised in Clovis, California, where her family settled as Sikh farmers in 1913. When a family friend was the first person killed in a hate crime after September 11, 2001, she began to document hate crimes against Sikh and Muslim Americans, which resulted in the award-winning film Divided We Fall. Since then, she has made films and led story-based campaigns on hate crimes, racial profiling, immigration detention, solitary confinement, marriage equality, and Internet freedom. She is the founder of Groundswell Movement, considered “America’s largest multifaith online organizing network,” recognized for “dynamically strengthening faith-based organizing in the 21st century.” She also founded the Yale Visual Law Project, where she trained law students how to make films for social change, and co-founded Faithful Internet to build the movement for net neutrality. Recognized as a leading Sikh American voice, she has been a Senior Fellow at Auburn Theological Seminary since 2013.
During her work, whether inside supermax prisons, on the military base at Guantanamo, or at sites of mass shootings, she identified a surprising key element for social change: the ethic of love. Today she leads the Revolutionary Love Project to champion love as a public ethic and wellspring for social action.
Valarie earned undergraduate degrees in Religious Studies and International Relations at Stanford University, a master’s in theological studies at Harvard Divinity School, where she was a Harvard University Presidential Scholar, and a J.D. at Yale Law School, where she was a Knight Law and Media Scholar. She has worked on complex civil rights cases, clerked on the Senate Judiciary Committee and served as a legal observer at Guantanamo Bay. She was a faculty member of the Stanford Philosophy Institute, teaching high school students religion and philosophy. Valarie was recognized as a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum. She is a member of the California Bar.
``a standout figure in the world of interfaith organizing and activism`` — The Center for American Progress
- Divided We Fall (2008) – Valarie’s first film with director Sharat Raju toured in 200 U.S. cities, won a dozen international awards, and became known as the go-to documentary on post-9/11 hate crimes. The Divided We Fall Campaign inspired dialogues on 100+ campuses and communities in the 2008 and 2016 election seasons. In 2016, Kaur and Raju created Seva Productions to support entertainment and social justice projects.
- Alienation (2011), a short film, follows families swept up in immigration raids
- Stigma (2011), a short film, chronicles youth encounters with stop-and-frisks
- The Worst of the Worst: Portrait of a Supermax (2012), a documentary on the practice of solitary confinement, helped win policy change in Connecticut and is now used by activists around the country
- Oak Creek: In Memorium (2012), a viral short film on the 2012 mass shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, helped the Sikh community win historic federal policy change on hate crimes.
Television, Print & Stage
- Keynote Speaker at the White House and Pentagon under the Obama administration, the United Nations, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and on more than 300 U.S. college campuses.
- Opinion contributor to CNN, NPR, PBS, The Huffington Post, The Hill, and the Washington Post.
- Regular television commentator on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry Show (2012-14)
- Keynote speaker with the U.S. State Department in Burma, aiding the country’s transition from dictatorship into democracy
- Co-creator and keynote speaker of the 2016 Together Tour.
- Delivered the Stanford University Baccalaureate address for the Class of 2013, ten years after delivering the Student Baccalaureate Speaker for her class of 2003.
- MLK Award from Florida International University (2018)
- Harvard Divinity School’s Peter J. Gomes Memorial Honors, the youngest person to receive the school’s alumni award (2016)
- Honored as a “Young Global Leader” by World Economic Forum (2015)
- American Courage Award Recipient by Asian Americans Advancing Justice (2013)
- “Person of the Year” for Leadership & Service by India Abroad (2013)
- Community Service Award by the South Asian Bar Association of Connecticut (2012)
- Commendations by the City of Clovis and the State of California Commendation by the State of California for excellence in leadership and public service (2006)
- Recipient of Stanford University’s Golden Medal in the Humanities (2003)
- Named one of the “20 Most Influential Moms of 2017” in Family Circle
- Distinguished Catalyst for Change Speaker at the National Civil RIghts Museum (2017)
- Featured in Verve’s Power Moment 2017 for propagating the message of Revolutionary Love in a time of hate
- Featured in VICE’s “You Know Who Rules?” series on the women leaders of 2017
- Featured as one of the “Women Who Won Net Neutrality” in Slate (2015)
- Named among 13 progressive faith leaders to watch by the Center for American Progress (2013)
- Named one of eight Asian American “Women of Influence” by Audrey Magazine (2013)
- Selected as an American Swiss Young Leader, one of twenty-five by American Swiss Foundation (2012)
- Named a Visionary Leader by World Pulse Magazine (2011)
- Youth Leadership Award, Sikh American Legal & Education Defense Fund (2013)
- Leadership Award, Sikh American Chamber of Commerce (2012)
- Mai Bhago Spirit of Vaisakhi Award for Outstanding Service, Sikh Dharma International (2008)
- Community Service Seva Award, Centennial Foundation (2007)
- Sikh American Heritage Award, Sikh Council on Religion and Education (2007)
- Leadership and Scholarship “Miri-Piri” Award, Sikh Center of Orange County (2007)
- Service Award, Punjabi American Festival (2007)