Valarie Kaur is a lawyer, filmmaker, and interfaith leader who uses storytelling for social change. Working with students and communities, she has made award-winning films and led multimedia campaigns on civil rights issues in America: hate crimes, racial profiling, gun violence, marriage equality, immigration detention, and solitary confinement. As a national Sikh voice, Valarie founded Groundswell Movement, the nation’s largest multifaith online organizing community, credited for “dynamically strengthening faith-based organizing in the 21st century.” She also founded the Yale Visual Law Project to train future lawyers to use film and media to create policy change. Now a Senior Fellow at Auburn Seminary, she teaches workshops on movement-building for American faith leaders. She works with the U.S. State Department to bring these tools to activists around the world, most recently traveling and teaching throughout Myanmar. Valarie has been a regular television commentator on MSNBC and opinion contributor to CNN, NPR, PBS, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post. She earned degrees at Stanford University, Harvard Divinity School, and Yale Law School. She is currently the Media and Strategy Fellow at Stanford Law School, where she focuses on building the movement to keep the Internet open, free, and democratic.
Valarie has been called “a standout figure in the world of interfaith organizing and activism and one of eight Asian American “Women of Influence.” A prolific public speaker on college and university campuses, she was the youngest to deliver the Baccalaureate Commencement Address at Stanford University. The Center for American Progress lists her among 13 national progressive faith leaders to watch.
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) with director and partner 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, and co-led a high-profile campaign against racial profiling with a coalition in East Haven, Connecticut. As Visiting Fellow at the Information Society Project of Yale Law School, she founded the Yale Visual Law Project where she has made documentary films on social justice issues.
In 2011, she launched Groundswell at Auburn Seminary to equip the multifaith movement for justice with 21st century tools. Valarie continues to serve as a national interfaith leader and Sikh voice, 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), known as the definitive film on post-9/11 hate crimes 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 documentary on the practice of solitary confinement, which has helped lead to policy change in Connecticut and around the country; and Oak Creek: In Memorium (2013) a short film on the mass shooting at the Sikh Temple of 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 by the State of California, City of Clovis, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, South Asian Bar Association of Connecticut, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Sikh American Chamber of Commerce, Sikh Dharma International, Centennial Foundation, and Sikh Council on Religion and Education. In 2012, she was selected as one of twenty-five young American leaders by the Swiss American Foundation. In 2014, she received an alumni award from Stanford University by the Asian American Center.
Valarie lives and works with her filmmaking partner and husband Sharat in Los Angeles, where she enjoys dancing, tasting chocolate, and walking along the sea with their dog Shadi looking for dolphins. She believes that the work of “bending the arc of the moral universe” must be joyful.