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Reebok’s Human Rights Awards Returns After 14-Year Hiatus

Reebok—now the subject of a $2.46 billion deal between Adidas and Authentic Brands Group—handed out its first Human Rights Awards in 14 years Thursday.

The footwear brand celebrated the three recipients—LaTonya Myers of Philadelphia, Eva Maria Lewis of Chicago and Hernán Carvente-Martinez of New York—in a virtual ceremony last week. The honorees, activists working to dismantle systemic racism, will each receive a $100,000 award to support their work, Reebok said.

“We are thrilled to celebrate LaTonya, Eva Maria and Hernán—three incredibly talented, driven young people who are doing such phenomenal, crucial work to combat systemic racism and support the most marginalized,” Reebok president Matt O’Toole said in a statement.

As founder of Above All Odds, Myers said she is dedicated to working with families and those impacted by the criminal justice system. “We provide secure housing, host welcome home events to ensure returning citizens have essential resources, and work to get people civically engaged to have the knowledge and resources to raise awareness and fight systemic oppression as a community,” she said. If needed, the organization also connects individuals with therapy, mental health services and court support, she added.

LaTonya Myers was one of three activists to receive Reebok's first Human RIghts Awards since 2007
LaTonya Myers was one of three activists to receive Reebok’s first Human Rights Awards since 2007 Reebok

“Our goal is to utilize the $100,000 as a tool to provide secure housing and essential resources for individuals in the future,” Myers said. “The long-term goal would be [to be] able to purchase a building that we can provide healing and support without having to put a price on safe housing; we would like to purchase a building that will allow people to have a safe home.”

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Lewis founded the Free Root Operation six years ago at the age of 16. Her work aims to end gun violence on the south and west sides of Chicago and beyond by providing local communities with the resources they need, whether that’s connecting families with food and supplies or designing school rooms that can act as “an alternative to traditional disciplinary measures.” She described Reebok’s $100,000 award as “transformative.”

“I now call myself a socio-cultural architect which derives from a dream for my community and the purpose I first had as a teenager,” Lewis said. “This resource will help me begin to bring those dreams to fruition.”

Carvente-Martinez supports the leadership development of young leaders who are campaigning around the country to close youth prisons and reinvest that money in community alternatives. Through that work, he said, he found that communities everywhere are struggling to make mental health visible and accessible to communities of color, and particularly young people. As a result, he decided to found Healing Ninjas, a tech and media company aiming to make “mental health and healing resources accessible to everyday people.”

Hernán Carvente-Martinez plans to use his $100,000 to build a financial foundation for himself to grow his tech and media company Healing Ninjas
Hernán Carvente-Martinez plans to use his $100,000 to build a financial foundation for himself to grow his tech and media company Healing Ninjas. Reebok

“I want to use the $100,000 to begin to build a financial foundation for myself to be able to keep growing this company without having to rely on traditional government or non-profit funding structures,” Carvente-Martinez said. “I also want to be able to connect with more business leaders and others in the corporate community to learn from them and explore other pathways that young leaders in my current work can also jump into to continue pushing for the transformation of America’s criminal justice system.”

Myers—like Lewis and Carvente-Martinez—was unfamiliar with Reebok’s Human Rights Awards program until it relaunched this year. The decision to bring it back, she said, demonstrates Reebok’s commitment to change. “It’s great to see Reebok use their privilege as a large business to help others and amplify those voices who are in the fight,” Myers added.

To those companies looking to support activists today, Lewis advised simply providing resources and letting those affected do what they need to do with it. “Enforcing control over livelihood just adds to the problem, but trusting communities to take care of themselves is radical and a precedent set before colonialism,” she said.

“We know what we need, just believe us,” Lewis continued. “The best thing companies can do is allocate those resources without a hidden agenda. Just do it because it’s the right thing.”

Carvente-Martinez suggested businesses hire and work with the people who can speak to the causes they say they care about, and give activists spaces to share their work with those with access to wealth and decision-making power.

“To take it a step further, we should also be encouraging more activists and community organizers to open their own businesses and partner with big-name brands as well,” Carvente-Martinez said. “Real change is creating generational wealth for people who are not traditionally in the world of business.”

Reebok’s Human Rights Awards program originally ran from 1988 to 2007 and honored more than 80 recipients, including Tiananmen protest leaders Li Lu, Wang Dan, Chai Ling and Wu’erkaixi; Equal Justice Initiative founder and the subject of the 2019 movie “Just Mercy” Bryan Stevenson; and civil rights attorney and associate attorney general Vanita Gupta.

Reebok announced the program’s return in February. Starting this year, it will annually honor human rights activists less than 30 years old. Helping revitalize the program are Alabama State University (ASU) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Its reconstituted board of advisors includes leaders at Reebok, ASU, the ACLU, the NAACP and former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal.

Reebok launched its Human Rights Now collection Friday
Reebok launched its Human Rights Now collection Friday. Reebok

Accompanying the Human Rights Award program’s relaunch is a new Human Rights Now! footwear and apparel collection. The “long-term product platform” brings back the original graphics from the 1988 Human Rights Now! World Tour—a 20-stop benefit concert series celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and made possible in part by a grant from the Reebok Foundation.

The unisex collection includes Classic Leather, Club C and Workout Plus sneakers, as well as vintage-wash apparel. To celebrate the launch, Reebok hosted an in-person popup poetry slam—headlined by Black Thought of The Roots—in Brooklyn Friday, the day the collection dropped.