Radicalizing Innovation: Are Activists The Invisible Designers?


The entire world knows about Martin Luther King Jr. He had the opportunity to develop the burgeoning grassroots Civil Rights movement into a national phenomenon, where he fought stagnantly against the issues of racial inequality for the world to see.

Less people, on the other hand, know about Bayard Rustin. A black gay man, he served as the genius organizer behind much of MLK’s civil rights movement. He helped to teach Martin Luther King about nonviolent protest, and organized its implementation into civil disobedience acts while organizing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Without Rustin, the world-famous march on Washington wouldn’t have ever happened. However, as a black, gay socialist, his sexuality was criticized as an ‘immoral influence’ by strong conservative influences in the civil rights movement.

I don’t mean to biography Mr. Bayard for no reason; many other manuscripts illustrate Bayard’s genius much better than I ever could. Instead, I offer his narrative to present a different lens: was he an innovator? From issues including but not limited to: civil rights, foreign policy, LGBT rights, refugee aid, his work required a deep understanding of the issues with the world. He offered his life towards figuring out how he could remake it. It would be interesting to hear how scholars of innovation might say about his ability to understand and remake the world.

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Pierce Gordon