Valarie Kaur is a national interfaith leader, award-winning filmmaker, and civil rights advocate who centers her work around the power of storytelling. She is the founder of Groundswell at Auburn Seminary, a non-profit initiative with 100,000 members that equips people of faith in social change. Working with students and communities, she has led national programs and campaigns responding to hate crimes, racial profiling, immigration detention, marriage equality, and solitary confinement. Valarie is a prolific public speaker on college and university campuses and frequent political contributor on MSNBC to the Melissa Harris-Perry Show. Her opinion essays regularly appear on CNN, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post. Valarie earned degrees at Stanford University, Harvard Divinity School, and Yale Law School, where she founded the Yale Visual Law Project to train students in the art of storytelling for social change.
Valarie has been called “a standout figure in the world of interfaith organizing and activism” and “one of the most exceptional speakers and thinkers” of her generation. The Center for American Progress lists her among 13 national faith leaders to watch. In 2013, she was named one of eight Asian American women of influence, won a Person of the Year award by India Abroad, and delivered the Baccalaureate address for Stanford University.
Valarie Kaur (pronounced “Core”) was born and raised in Clovis, California, a small town where her family settled as Punjabi farmers a century ago. A Sikh American, she began her journey as an advocate in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when she chronicled hate crimes against Sikh and Muslim Americans across the country and produced her first film Divided We Fall (2008, Dir. Sharat Raju). She earned bachelors degrees in religion and international relations at Stanford University (’03) where she was selected as Baccalaureate speaker for her class, a masters in theological studies at Harvard Divinity School (’07) as a Harvard Presidential Scholar, and a law degree at Yale Law School (’12) as a Knight Law and Media Scholar. In law school, she clerked on the Senate Judiciary Committee, traveled to Guantanamo to report on the military commissions, filed a landmark immigrant rights lawsuit with her clinic team in law school, co-led a high-profile campaign against racial profiling with a coalition in East Haven, Connecticut. As a visiting fellow at the Information Society Project of Yale Law School, she founded the Yale Visual Law Project where she makes films on social justice issues.
In 2011, working at the intersection of religion and politics, spirituality and social justice, she launched Groundswell at Auburn Seminary to equip the multifaith movement for justice with 21st century tools. Valarie continues to serve as a national Sikh voice and interfaith leader, including in response to the August 2012 mass shooting in a Sikh house of worship in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
Valarie has produced critically acclaimed documentary films with her partner Sharat Raju: Divided We Fall (2008), the first feature documentary on post-9/11 racism in America that toured in 200 U.S. cities and received a dozen international awards;Alienation (2011), a short film that follows families swept up in immigration raids; Stigma (2011), a short film that chronicles youth encounters with stop-and-frisks;The Worst of the Worst: Portrait of a Supermax (2012), a hard-hitting documentary that explores the rise of supermax prisons and use of solitary confinement; and Oak Creek: In Memorium (2013) a short film on the mass shooting at a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin.
Writing on race, religion, and politics, Valarie contributes to CNN Opinion, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, Salon and MSNBC. Her essays appear in several books and journals including My Neighbor’s Faith (2012), Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership (2011), Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts(2011), The National Institute of Military Justice’s Reports from Guantanamo Vol II (2010), and Civil Rights in Wartime (2010). She is Associate Editor of the 2011 volume in Dave Egger’s Voice of Witness series, Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice. She is currently working on her first book.
Named a 2013 Person of the Year by India Abroad, Valarie has received recognition for leadership and service, including from the State of California, City of Clovis, South Asian Bar Association of CT, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), Sikh American Chamber of Commerce, Sikh Dharma International, Centennial Foundation, and Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE). In 2012, she was selected as one of twenty-five young American leaders by the Swiss American Foundation.
Valarie lives with her filmmaking partner and husband Sharat Raju in Venice, California, where she enjoys running along the sea with their dog Shadi, dancing kathak and blues, and serving her friends exquisite chocolate. She believes that bending the arc for justice must be joyful.