Valarie Kaur is a leading voice for social justice in America. As a lawyer, filmmaker, activist, entrepreneur, and Sikh thought leader, she helps build social movements rooted in communities’ stories. She has made award-winning films and led national campaigns to advance progressive issues: racism and profiling, gun violence, immigration detention, solitary confinement, net neutrality, LGBTQ equality, and hate crimes against Muslims and Sikhs. Valarie is a regular television commentator on MSNBC and opinion contributor to CNN, NPR, PBS, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Hill and The New York Times. She founded Groundswell Movement of 200,000+ members, America’s largest multifaith online organizing community known for “dynamically strengthening faith-based organizing in the 21st century.” A prolific public speaker, Valarie has addressed audiences at the White House, Pentagon, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and on more than 250 U.S. college campuses; she was the first Sikh to deliver Stanford’s Baccalaureate Commencement Address and the College of St. Benedict’s Commencement Address. As a Senior Fellow at Auburn Theological Seminary, Valarie often preaches on “revolutionary love” as a political and moral force that can dismantle structures of injustice. She has traveled with the U.S. State Department as a keynote speaker throughout Burma, aiding its transition from dictatorship into democracy. She has also reported on the military commissions at Guantanamo and clerked on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Valarie earned undergraduate degrees at Stanford University, a master’s degree at Harvard Divinity School, and a JD at Yale Law School, where she founded the Yale Visual Law Project to train law students to make films that change policy. Valarie is currently the Media and Justice Fellow at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, where she co-founded Faithful Internet and advocates for Internet freedom.
The Center for American Progress names Valarie “a standout figure in the world of interfaith organizing and activism” and among 13 progressive faith leaders to watch. Melissa Harris-Perry calls Valarie “one of the most compelling young voices in America today.” In 2013, Valarie was named “Person of the Year” by India Abroad and one of eight Asian American “Women of Influence.” She was named among the “Women Who Won Net Neutrality” in Slate in 2015. The State of California has recognized her work, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice awarded her the American Courage Award. In 2015, she was honored by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader.
Valarie lives with her husband and filmmaking partner Sharat Raju in Los Angeles, where they raise their son Kavi in a little nest by the sea. They love hosting friends and sharing their passion for stories, chocolate and classical Indian dance. Valarie believes that joy sustains social justice work: “The way we make change is just as important as the change we make.”
Valarie Kaur (pronounced “Core”) was born and raised in Clovis, California, a small town near Fresno where her family settled as Punjabi farmers a century ago. A Sikh American, she became 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.
She founded Groundswell at Auburn Seminary to help people use digital tools to tell stories for social change — online and on the ground. As Senior Fellow at Auburn Seminary, Valarie continues to serve as a faith-rooted organizer and educator, 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, toured in 200 U.S. cities and received a dozen international awards; 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, 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. She was honored by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader in 2015.