Thanks to celebrities, buzzy restaurants, and innovative chefs, Black veganism is trending. But it’s a decades-old practice, steeped in the fight for social justice and informed by in the narrative of American history and the civil rights movement. The lifestyle gained a growing popularity as people of color began to connect the pain and torture of animals to the fight for equality and rights that continue today. Meet the African-American artists, activists, athletes, and public servants whose commitment to plant-based eating highlighted the practice and helped the world take notice.
Angela Davis. Famous for being a civil rights activist in the 1960s, Davis’ attentions now include social justice and animal rights. The Indian-born former professor taught courses in the history of consciousness and women’s rights. A devout vegan, she believes “sentient beings…endure pain and torture as they are transformed into food for profit, food that generates disease in humans.” Photo courtesy of The Contemporary Cultural Center of Barcelona.
Carl Lewis. The nine-time Olympic gold medalist helped debunk the myth elite athletes can’t be vegan. Lewis attests his vegan diet to his success in competing as per the foreword to Jannequin Bennet’s The Complete Vegan Kitchen cookbook: “I've found that a person does not need protein from meat to be a successful athlete,” Lewis writes. “In fact, my best year of track competition was the first year I ate a vegan diet.” Photo courtesy of Manfred Werner.
Venus Williams. In 2011, Williams was diagnosed with Sjögren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease that can cause extreme fatigue and joint pain. She thought her tennis career was over. After seeking treatment, she turned to raw veganism. The professional tennis player told Health in 2017 that the diet changed her life. Photo courtesy of Edwin Martinez.
Vanessa Williams. The first African-American Miss America, Vanessa Williams has a career in singing, acting, and fashion design. Her grandmother died from heart disease, so the actress is extra careful about heart health and has been a vegan for almost 20 years. She and her husband are raising their children vegan, as well — they’ve never eaten meat in their lives.
In 2015, Williams released her cookbook Vegan Revolution: 30 All Time Classic Vegan Recipes, Everything from Breakfast to Dessert! Photo courtesy of Angela George.
Stevie Wonder. King of soul Stevie Wonder is a more recent convert to the compassionate lifestyle. The “Isn’t She Lovely” singer was designated a United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2009 and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014. Vegan for four years, Wonder is a proponent of environmental sustainability, telling AOL in 2014, “We have to be about making our planet more greener, the urban areas more sustainable for the children.” Photo courtesy of Agency Brasil.
RZA. Originally famous for his leadership role in hip-hop conglomerate Wu-Tang Clan, RZA has since appeared in a number of movies (including American Gangster) and the TV show Californication, as well as The Man With the Iron Fists, a film he both co-wrote and directed. This year, in his 21st year of being vegan, the multi-talented entrepreneur partnered with PETA to launch a vegan clothing line named after Wu-Tang’s famous album 36 Chambers. “When you think about a better tomorrow, you think about veganism,” RZA says in a video he made for PETA. Photo courtesy of David Shankbone.
Kimberly Elise. Elise forayed into vegetarianism 15 years ago and transitioned to veganism shortly after. The Beloved actress started her own website centered around her cruelty-free lifestyle in 2014. “My body runs better, I look healthier, I am able to honor my fellow living creatures, and most importantly, I feel better in mind, body, and spirit,” Elise writes. Photo courtesy of Mingle Media TV.
Erykah Badu. The singer-songwriter has been vegan since she released her first album, Baduizm, in 1997. In an interview with People magazine, Badu believes a vegan diet gives her more energy. "It’s just what’s best for my body. If I was a Lamborghini, I would want to put the best gas in it,” she says. Photo courtesy of Mikael Väisänen.
Cory Booker. The New Jersey senator tried veganism as an experiment after being vegetarian for over two decades and never looked back. Famous for his charity work, the potential 2020 presidential candidate finds himself “more and more rejoicing in the delicious simplicity of a whole food, plant-based diet,” according to a Facebook post from March of this year. Photo courtesy of Senate of the United States.
Coretta Scott King. Almost 30 years after the death of Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, herself an activist before marrying, switched to a vegan diet. She adopted the lifestyle after her son, Dexter, convinced her that nonviolence toward animals was a natural extension of his parents’ activism. “If you’re violent to yourself by putting things into your body that violate its spirit,” says Dexter Scott King, “it will be difficult not to perpetuate that onto someone else.” Photo courtesy of the United States Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs.
Peter Benson is the City Guides editor for NEHA. He has lived in four different countries and visited another couple dozen. He brings the lessons he learned from traveling and meeting people from all over the world to the publication. Benson earned his degree in business management from The University of Edinburgh in Scotland, his home country.
Jamie Jenson is the managing editor of NEHA. An avid reader while growing up, Jenson made a promise to herself that she would visit all of the places she enjoyed reading about, and to date, she’s traveled to more than 40 countries. She taught middle and high-school English for more than 10 years before moving to Syracuse. Jenson received her Bachelor of Arts in English literature from Rosemont College and a Master of Science degree in education from Binghamton University.