In honor of Black History Month, we’re taking a thoughtful look at Black Americans who have paved ways for all Americans. Earlier this month, we posted a blog about 5 Black History Figures and Facts You May Not Know. To continue the conversation, we’ll look at Black leaders that are in the process of making history today.
In 2021, Kamala Harris became the first Black, first South Asian American, and first woman Vice President of the United States. She continued to make history by hiring the first all-woman senior staff for the vice president’s office. Prior to the White House, Vice President Harris served as the first Black American Attorney General for the state of California.
A scholar, professor, and activist focusing on civil rights, constitutional law, race, and gender equality, Doctor Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in the 1990’s. Though the term is relatively new to the mainstream, intersectionality both explains and addresses the challenges Black women face as part of two demographics simultaneously: race and gender. Her groundbreaking work on this topic was influential in drafting the equality clause of the South African Constitution.
The first Black senator from Georgia, Rev. Doctor Warnock is the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Rev. Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. was also a pastor. Rev. Doctor Warnock is also the first Black Democrat Senator from the South since the Reconstruction Era.
Doctor Corbett is the lead scientist on the team that developed the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine. She previously had six years’ experience studying the spike proteins of other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS which led her and her team to design the vaccine within two days of the novel coronavirus being discovered.
Having dedicated his career to helping reduce mass incarceration and racial disparities in the justice system, Bryan Stevenson is a public interest lawyer and the founder of The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). The EJI has uncovered 800 previously undisclosed lynching incidents as well as helped dozens of wrongly condemned prisoners on death row gain reversals of their convictions, relief, or release. Mr. Stevenson was instrumental in the creation of the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, two cultural institutions that detail the enduring effects of slavery, lynching, and racial segregation of African and Black Americans.
Mx. Willingham-Jaggers is the first Black nonbinary executive director of LGBTQIA+ advocacy group GLSEN, who aims to make schools safer for LGBTQIA+ students in grades K-12. Mx. Willingham-Jaggers aims to bring intersectionality into GLSEN after the previous founder and successor were both white and cisgender. Before their current executive director role, Mx. Willingham-Jaggers worked as a program coordinator for runaway and homeless LGBTQIA+ youth in both Atlanta and New York City.
Out of more than 300 NASA astronauts who have been sent to space, only 14 have been Black Americans. Victor Glover is the first Black astronaut to live and work on the International Space Station for an extended period. Before becoming an astronaut, Mr. Glover was a commander and test pilot in the United States Navy and received his bachelor’s degree in General Engineering from California Polytechnic State University. Mr. Glover attributes his success in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) to his fifth-grade science teacher who suggested engineering to him.
One of the most recognizable Black and LGBTQIA+ rights activists in Hollywood today, Ms. Cox regularly speaks about issues transgender women of color face in entertainment and everyday life. She is best known for her role in Netflix’s Orange is the New Black where she was the first transgender woman of color to have a role in a scripted, mainstream production. Following this success, she has become a vocal advocate for mental health initiatives and reform including an increase of safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ children and teens.
Esmeralda Simmons is an accomplished lawyer and public servant who has spent decades fighting for human and civil rights on federal, state, and local levels. She founded the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, a community-based racial justice advocacy center that focuses on legal work and research on civil rights and domestic human rights violations. Ms. Simmons advocated for equity in public education, voting, policing, and the child welfare system for 34 years. Previously, she served as First Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Division of Human Rights and the Assistant Attorney General for the State of New York.
An American politician, lawyer, voting rights activist, and author, Stacy Abrams served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017. She later founded the Fair Fight Action in 2018, an organization founded in 2018 to address voter suppression and discrimination. Her efforts have been recognized for boosting voter turnout in Georgia.
On the importance of Black History, Abrams said, "there's a mural of my face on a building and it's near where my nieces go to daycare. Knowing that my 4-year-old niece looks up every day and doesn't just see my face but sees her potential and believes that it's possible - and that's what Black History is about."
With the names that are on this list, we acknowledge the other Black Americans that have worked for over a hundred years to promote diversity, equality, and equity.
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