As a child, Myra Richardson says she was always involved in causes at school. When she was 17 and her hometown was roiled in racial tension, she couldn’t stay on the sidelines.
Richardson and fellow high school students Raheejah Flowers and Jeanette Jackson planned and organized a peaceful, 8,000-person protest over the shooting death of Alton Sterling during a confrontation with two Baton Rouge Police officers in 2016.
“Alton Sterling’s murder was a catalytic moment for me and transformative,” Richardson said. “I think I tapped into some of my innate talents, which were mobilizing people and getting people to empathize with situations they previously weren’t thinking about.”
Richardson hasn’t stopped. And people have noticed.
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A senior political science major at Southern University, 21-year-old Richardson has received the University of Chicago Leadership Award for young leaders, the United Way and ExxonMobil Pass the Torch Award for work to eliminate bigotry and the NAACP Montague Cobb National Award for health advocacy.
Richardson has been the Louisiana liaison for the Women’s March on Washington for four years, organized a March for Our Lives protest over gun violence in schools in 2018 and, after George Floyd died while being arrested by Minneapolis police in May, advised local high school students on organizing a similar effort to the one she’d created for Sterling.
“I’ve been doing a lot of mentoring. I began to train, I guess, the next generation of activists,” Richardson said. “I think when you open the door, you should be passing it down so that other people can come into the space. … I want to be one of many. I want to help create other leaders.”
Richardson said she’s only doing what’s been done for her. Her mentors include her mother, Jasmine; Michelle Gieg, her second grade teacher and now director of Democracy Prep Baton Rouge; Tamiara Wade, president of 100 Black Women of Baton Rouge; Sherie Thomas, president of the Women’s Council of Greater Baton Rouge; and Raymond Jetson, director of Metromorphosis, a nonprofit organization aimed at transforming Baton Rouge’s inner city.
Jetson first noticed Richardson during the Sterling protests, both at the march she organized and when she addressed the Metro Council. She was, he said, a diamond in the rough, and she responded to his efforts to smooth the rough edges.
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“Myra is one of the people who actually give me hope in this community because she is so passionate, so energetic, so strategic in the work that she does,” Jetson said. “I am happy whenever I get an opportunity to sit and talk with her about her vision and what she sees happening next, and any insights that I as somebody who is probably three times her age, the experiences that I’m able to draw on and share with her to broaden her perspective on things.”
Richardson’s poise and ability to communicate when surrounded by adults impress Gieg.
“She’s well-informed. She’s well-researched,” Gieg said. “She has her own theory of … why some inequities in our communities exist and what the call to action is, and I think her ability to captivate people through who she is and her story but also to be able to say, ‘Here’s the root cause of the problem; here’s what you can do to fix it,’ I think is really unique and special. It’s something you don’t see much, especially in people her age.”
Richardson grew up in north Baton Rouge, and the poverty she witnessed there informs her opinions. At 17, she joined her first nonprofit board, the North Baton Rouge Blue Ribbon Commission, which works for improved health care and quality of life, and helped create the first African American Mardi Gras parade in north Baton Rouge, the Krewe of Oshun. She’s joined the Impact North Baton Rouge board and is a member of the BREC Finance Advisory Committee.
“That’s what motivated me personally,” Richardson said. “When you grow up from nothing, it makes you want to advocate for everyone, for the least among us.”
Richardson’s public life has evolved. She started a business, Red Torch Consulting, that offers brand management, strategic planning, marketing and community engagement, and she has advised political candidates.
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Richardson has been part of efforts to keep BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo in north Baton Rouge, seeking a grocery store and hospital to locate in that part of town and supporting giveaways of food and, during the pandemic, personal protection equipment. She plans to attend law school after graduating next May.
After that? Gieg expects that Richardson will carve a unique path.
“I’m really glad to see the Baton Rouge community embrace young women of color as people we can look to, to help us grow,” Gieg said. “I’m a 30-something-year-old White woman, and I think that if our whole community starts to listen to young women of color, we’ll all be better for it.”