NYU Alumni Changemaker of the Year
(GAL ’04, TSOA ’04, TSOA/GSAS ’20, GAL Faculty)
Educator, Political Organizer, and Speaker
Founder of the Black Lives Matter Syllabus
“I would not be who I am today politically or intellectually had it not been for NYU,” says NYU faculty member Dr. Frank Leon Roberts. The son of formerly incarcerated parents, his journey from academia to the “streets” of political organizing was informed by coming of age during the height of the crack cocaine pandemic. “NYU gave me a language to describe phenomena—intersectionality, structural inequality, state-sanctioned violence—that I understood instinctually but had not been able to fully articulate with intellectual clarity.” It was there that Dr. Roberts began a life of political activism and achieved significant milestones: from becoming a campus organizer to a nonprofit founder to the creator of the groundbreaking Black Lives Matter Syllabus.
Dr. Roberts founded the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Syllabus in 2015, a nationally-acclaimed, public educational curriculum that “encourages people to become better organizers by becoming better readers.” His course “Black Lives Matter: Race, Resistance, and Popular Protest” is widely recognized as the first college class to focus solely on the BLM movement. It was also one of the first courses to invite BLM organizers to train students in anti-racist organizing techniques. “When you look at the history of Black radical organizing, college students have always played a key role in social justice movements,” says Dr. Roberts. “Continuing that tradition is really what we wanted to do with the class.” Six years later, the Black Lives Matter Syllabus continues to be used in dozens of colleges and universities across the country.
Beyond the classroom, Dr. Robert’s pioneering work has been covered on CNN, NPR, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and other major media. He’s a three-time recipient of the NYU President’s Service Award and the winner of the NYU Michael Parkes Distinguished Alumni Award, as well as the MLK Trailblazer Award. In 2019, he was named a Roddenberry Fellow, which recognizes 20 activists annually for their impact on the country’s most severely marginalized communities. Dr. Roberts also co-founded the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), a nonprofit that’s now the nation’s largest civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black LGBTQ+ communities.
Since launching NBJC, Dr. Roberts has started the Baldwin Hansberry Project, a nonprofit that centers on grassroots mobilization and Black queer activism. The multi-pronged initiative is part of a broader BLM movement that, he believes, is finally paying homage to the people who’ve been at the forefront of Black liberation movements throughout history. “My hope is that five years from now, we’ll see those voices that have been historically silenced amplified even more,” he says. “Because until all of those constituencies in the Black community are free, none of us are free.”