It was more than empathy that connected Johnetta Elzie to the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. "My mother used to work on the street where Mike was killed," says Elzie, who was then living in St. Louis. "That could have been one of my brothers."

Brown's death was a call to arms for the 26-year-old, who at the time was taking a break from college to care for her younger sister. The day of the shooting, she jumped on Twitter to challenge inaccurate headlines. That same night, she headed to Ferguson. "I was spreading the word about where to drop off food or care packages and gathering people to clear away tear gas canisters."

Though Elzie wouldn't have called her actions "organizing," she's now at the helm of a nonviolent civil rights campaign. This Is the Movement, the newsletter she coedits with fellow activist DeRay Mckesson, keeps its approximately 15,000 subscribers updated on police brutality cases and protests across the country. Last spring it earned the duo the Howard Zinn Freedom to Write award from the literary association PEN New England.

At first, Elzie, who now lives in Chicago, felt apprehensive about being a face of a movement—"It was hard to hear people's stories and still have the energy to fight"—but she says she's since embraced the role. "I want to be an inspiration and a truth teller." Next up: a workshop with young women to teach them what she's learned—and help them find their own causes to be passionate about.


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