UCI Student Life & Leadership

Better Know a Leader

Section 1

Leadership is an on-going work and practice that happens everywhere. We feel it is important to build our awareness of those who take up their work as leaders to create positive social change.

Our Center’s “Better Know a Leader” is a social media series that focuses on educating our anteater community about leaders outside of UCI who are doing incredible work, but may not always be given the recognition for doing so.


Coretta Scott King

A photo of Coretta Scott King.

Most people may be familiar with American minister and civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., but most people might not even have heard of Coretta Scott King, his wife and one of the most influential human rights activists and leaders!

In addition to being a mother of four children, she incorporated her passion/specialty in music into her work, such as by performing in Freedom Concerts, a poetry and musical performance that raised funds to support an organization called the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that her husband served for as the first president.  She took significant measures to continue her husband’s legacy after his assassination and impacted the lives of many with her words and actions. Mrs. King not only supported her husband in his works, but also took initiative to achieve her own goals in life and made history.

Read more about Mrs. King at The King's Center website.

Rick Rescorla

A photo of Rick Rescola.

On the tragic day of September 11 when 2996 innocent lives were stolen, the heroic acts of a man named Rick Rescorla was able to prevent nearly 2700 others from suffering the same fate.

A former military and police officer, Rescorla was already known as a hero earlier in his life due to his contribution during the Vietnam War. In his later years, he went on to work as the head of security for the Morgan Stanley in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Due to a prior 1993 terrorist attack, Rescorla was not only frustrated at how poorly the building evacuations were, he was also believed that the World Trade Center would once again suffer from the same tragedy. Taking matters into his own hands, he developed an emergency evacuation plan that he required the Morgan Stanley employees to practice over and over. Thus, by the time they had received news of the first plane hit, Rescorla immediately began his evacuation process before the second plane struck the South Tower. Because of his instinct and belief that he knew he was right, almost all but 13 of the Morgan Stanley employees were able to safely escape the building before it collapsed. Unfortunately, Rescorla was not one of them. Last seen near the 10th floor, he was still trying to make his way up to help the last of his colleagues escape. His body was later never found. Although not commonly talked about, to the thousands that he had saved, he was a hero that they owed their lives to.

Read more about Rick Rescola at the America Matters website.

Claudette Colvin

A photo of Claudette Colvin.

Rosa Parks may be known as the “first lady of civil rights” for not giving up her seat during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but Claudette Colvin was actually arrested for the same offense nine months prior to her!

As a child, Colvin experienced segregation first-hand as early as four years old and took the bus regularly since her parents did not own a car. One day, the bus driver asked her and another pregnant black women to move out of their seat for a white woman that was left standing, and the two of them refused.  The driver called the police on them, and Colvin was arrested and charged for “disturbing the peace,” “violating segregation laws,” and “assault.” She kept quiet about case and was left under the shadows of Rosa Parks, but her mom discouraged her from speaking up about it. She was one of the main contributors of the Browder vs. Gayle court case that eventually led to the ruling of bus segregation as unconstitutional.  Despite the fact that Colvin was not recognized right away for her actions, she says that she does not regret them and is proud of the movement she sparked.

Read more about Claudette Colvin on Wikipedia.

Ella Baker

 A photo of Ella Baker.

As a behind-the-scenes civil rights hero, Ella Baker was an important figure in history. By the late 1930s, Baker joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as their field secretary and then later, director.

Inspired by the 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, Baker co-founded In Friendship, an organization that raises money for the Civil Rights Movement in the South. Two years later, she worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and coordinate reform efforts in the South. She later left in 1960 to help college activist groups organize the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). It became one of the most influential organizations in American civil rights history due to its commitment in effecting change through Freedom Rides and the emphasis it put on African American voting rights. Because of her influence, Baker earned the nickname “Fundi,” which, in Swahili, refers to a person who teaches a craft to the next generation. She continued to be a respected and influential leader all the way until her death on her 83rd birthday.

Read more about Ella Baker at The Undefeated website and the Britannica website

Mia Love

A photo of Mia Love

Born as Ludmya Bourdeau, Mia Love was raised as the youngest child of three and the daughter of poor Haitian immigrants. 

She graduated from the University of Hartford in 1997 with a degree in fine arts. She and her husband then went on to settle in Saratoga Spring, Utah, where Mia started getting more involved in her community. Because she grew up in a Republican household, Mia took on many conservative causes varying from pro-life causes to limiting social welfare. She later ran for Saratoga Springs City Council in 2003, taking on the title of the first Haitian-American to win an election in Utah County, Utah. In the following years, she won the mayor seat in 2009, then became the first female black Republican to win a congressional seat. Coming from a poor minority background, Love was able to rise to where she is today due to her determination and leadership.

Cesar Chavez

A photo of Cesar Chavez.

Born in Yuma, Arizona, César Estrada Chávez immigrated to California with his family in 1938, constantly looking for ways to escape their cycle of poverty. 

By the 8th grade, he had dropped out of school to help support his family as a migrant farm worker. Chavez then founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962 after witnessing many hardships and injustice in the agricultural fields. This association eventually merged with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and formed the United Farm Workers, where they nationally boycotted California table grape growers. Known for his nonviolent practices, Chávez called for boycotts, led marches, and initiated hunger strikes instead. His efforts proved to be very successful and led him to several victories as growers signed union contracts promising improved compensation and labor conditions. Today, César Chávez Day is celebrated on his birthday, March 31.

Larry Itliong

A photo of Larry Itliong.

A laborer and farmhand, Filipino-American immigrant Larry Itliong was an avid believer in workers’ rights. Unable to stand the mistreatment and poor pay of his fellow Filipino immigrants, he joined strikes and helped set up labor unions. 

On September 18, 1965, Itliong and several manongs, or first-generation Filipino immigrants, held a strike in Delano, California against local grape growers to demand  salaries equivalent to the federal minimum wage and the right to unionize . He led the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, which later merged with César Chávez’s National Farm Workers Association to form the United Farm Workers, in which Itliong served as the Vice President. After their efforts gained national attention and galvanized public support, the farm workers were able to reach an agreement with the grape growing industry for greater compensation and increased rights. Today, California celebrates Larry Itliong Day on October 25 to honor his leadership and efforts to stand up for equality.

Pedro Zamora

A photo of Pedro Zamora.

Pedro Zamora, born on March 1, 1972, was an immigrant from Havana, Cuba. He is known as the first openly gay and HIV-positive person to appear on television.

In 1989, Zamora attempted to donate blood at his high school when he discovered that he was HIV-positive. Shortly after, he began to advocate awareness about AIDS by going to schools throughout the country to educate students about the importance of safe sex and HIV and also served on boards of many AIDs organizations. He later joined the MTV reality television show “The Real World,” where he gained immense popularity as he spread his message about AIDs to a wider audience. Despite his decline in health, Zamora remained on the show and later began a national speaking tour which he never finished due to being hospitalized. Unfortunately, on November 11, 1994, Zamora passed away a few hours after the season finale of “The Real World” aired. Although not as well known anymore, Zamora’s efforts and activism promoted AIDS awareness and humanized people living with the disease.

Thich Nhat Hanh

A photo of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, is well known for his works across the world. Contributing greatly during the Vietnam War, he traveled to the U.S and Europe to call for an end to hostilities in Vietnam and spread messages of peace and brotherhood.

During this trip he met Martin Luther King Jr., who later nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize. However, as a result of this mission, he was exiled from both North and South Vietnam for 39 years. For most of his life, he continued to travel to many countries to give peace talks and retreats while also founding many schools and monasteries. The most famous being Plum Village in Southwest France, where thousands of visitors from around the world today come to learn about “the art of mindful living”. Now in his 90s, Thich Nhat Hanh has suffered from a stroke that has left his right side paralyzed. Although unable to speak, he continues to offer his peaceful and serene presence to his community by participating in meditations, mindful meals, celebrations, and ceremonies.

Kurt Chew-Een Lee

A photo of Kurt Chew-Een Lee.

Kurt Chew-Een Lee was born in California in 1926 to two Chinese immigrants. He was a brave Korean War hero and the first non-white Asian American to join the U.S Marine Corps.

While facing the North Korean forces, Lee witnessed prejudice from those on his side that questioned his loyalty. He proved himself with his courageousness and skills as a combat leader, going as far as shouting in his native language of Chinese during battle to confuse the opposing side, because North Korea had support from China. Even while wounded and ordered to rest, Lee refused to back down, forcing his way into battle. He went on to rescue his stranded comrades, arm still in a sling with many additional serious injuries, including gunshot wounds. As one of the bravest Marines in history, he was awarded the Silver Star, although many of those who worked with him claimed that he was worthy of a Medal of Honor.

Kim Coco Iwamoto

A photo of Kim Coco Iwamoto.

Former commissioner of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, Kim Coco Iwamoto is a well-known Japanese-American Hawaiian politician and trans woman.

In her early years, she worked at her dream job in the fashion industry in New York City, but was faced with social injustices. Refusing to settle with the discrimination against her, Iwamoto went on to learn about law. In 2006, she became the first openly transgender official to win statewide that served on the Hawaii Board of Education. She later on went to publicly oppose California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage in California. Her activism and determination to stand up for what she believes in has made her an influential person in the LGBTQ community.