Celebrating African American Change-Makers.

Happy February! This year for Black History Month, we want to take time to reflect on and celebrate the journeys of seven Black Americans, some whose names you may not know, that have been trailblazers in Black History.    

Maggie Lena Walker

Maggie was born in 1864 to enslaved parents in Richmond, Virginia. At the age of 12 she joined an African American organization that worked to care for the sick and elderly population in Richmond. Maggie was an entrepreneur at heart and used her strengths in math and accounting to become the founder of the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. According to the National Women’s History Museum, Mrs. Walker was the first woman to charter a bank in the U.S. She also held a leadership position for the National Association of Colored Women and was also the Vice President of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Image from BlackHistoryStudies.com

Image from Britannica.com

William Edward Burghardt (W. E. B.) Du Bois

Du Bois, was born in 1868 and became the first Black American to earn his PhD from Harvard University. He was the editor for the NAACP’s monthly magazines and used his writing to bring much needed attention to the practice of lynching that was still being widely used at the time. According to the NAACP, Dr. Du Bois’s articles became so popular that in 1920, he was read by 100,000 people and was expanding the NAACP’s reach to new levels. 

Carter G. Woodson

Born in 1875, Carter G. Woodson worked in the coal mine from a very young age. He was eager to learn and completed his high school degree in just two years. He became a teacher, a principal and eventually traveled around the world and became a supervisor for a school in the Philippines. He was the second Black American to earn a PhD from Harvard (right behind W.E.B. Du Bois). Dr. Woodson created a scholarly journal that is known today as the Journal of African American History. In 1962 he started a Black History Week, which in 1976 became what we know today as the Black History Month. 

Image from Britannica.com

Image from CFMedicine.nlm.nih.gov

Dr. Joycelyn Elders

Dr. Elders was born in 1933 in Arkansas. By the age of 15, she began studying at Philander Smith College on a scholarship. After only 3 years, she graduated and decided to join the army where she was trained as a physical therapist and worked in army hospitals. She then studied at the University of Arkansas Medical School on the GI Bill and graduated in 1960. She later became the chief pediatric resident at the University of Arkansas Medical School in 1963. In 1987 she was appointed Arkansas’s Director of Public Health where she worked to reduce teen pregnancies, expand the availability of breast cancer screening, and HIV tests. In 1993 she became the U.S. Surgeon General. 

Dr. Robert Bullard

Dr. Bullard, AKA The Father of the Environmental Justice Movement, was born in 1946. He spent his career studying and bringing awareness to the large amounts of waste facilities in predominantly Black communities across the U.S. He is the founder of Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice and he has written over 18 books on the topic. He’s an award-winning author and amongst a plethora of other awards, in 2019 he was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people in Climate Policy. 

Image from Climateone.org

Image from PBS.org

Barack Obama

Born in 1962, Barack studied political science and international relations at Columbia University. He worked with churches to improve the housing conditions and implement job-training programs in the South Side of Chicago. Barack attended Harvard Law School in 1988 and just eight year later he was elected to the Illinois Senate. Barack was then elected to the U.S. senate in 2004. Four years later, he became the 44th President of the United States and was the first black president the U.S. had ever had. He continued on to serve two terms in office. 

Simone Biles

Born in Columbus, Ohio in 1997, Simone first became interested in gymnastics at the age of six. In 2014, she had four gold World Championships and earned four more the following year. In 2016, she attended her first Olympic games. In 2022, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Biden. Today, Simone holds seven Olympic medals and 30 World Championship Medals. She is the first Black American to become a world all-around champion, and the first woman to win three world all-around titles in a row. She stands as the most decorated gymnast, female or male, ever.  

Image from Olympics.org

As we celebrate Black History Month and honor those who have paved the way for Black Americans, let us continue to push towards greatness. Share their stories with students and families as inspiration to recognize the power within each of us to contribute to positive change. Together, we can build a world where diversity is celebrated, and EACH individual CAN and DOES THRIVE! 

By the way, Shadowbox Live, the nation’s largest non-profit theater company, located in Columbus is now showing The Dream and Beyond, which celebrates the triumphs of unsung heroes of the modern Civil Rights Era through an anthology of stories told through music and dance. Our CEO, Michele Timmons says “This beautiful and powerful performance is a must-see if you have reason to be in Columbus anytime soon”.

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