As young girls, many of us learn that people who look like us aren’t noteworthy. The who’s who of entertainment, literature, art, philosophy, politics—you name it we weren’t there—or so goes the dominant narrative. But with a little digging, it’s not that hard to uncover the truth that black women are trendsetters in a variety of fields, even though we’re not always given the credit we deserve for being great. Well, its high time we give it to ourselves; starting with a look at these examples of black woman leadership and excellence.
Ella Baker: Ella Baker is affectionately referred to as the Mother of the Civil Rights movement for good reason. From 1940-1960, she played an instrumental role in the NAACP, MLK’s Southern Christian Leadership Organization, and the voter registration campaign called the Crusade for Citizenship. Toward the later years of the movement, she decided to switch her focus to young activists and founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Majora Carter: A native of the South Bronx Ms. Carter has dedicated her life to revitalizing the area in a sustainable way. Noticing that her community was turning into a literal dumping ground for sewage, and toxic waste Carter spearheaded a grassroots organization ‘Sustainable South Bronx’ to halt the development of these projects in addition to creating a ‘Green jobs training program”. From land reclamation to opening the Bronx’s first waterfront park in 60 years-her accomplishments are just too many to count. Suffice it to say, she’s left a mark.
Nina Simone: Dubbed the ‘high priestess of soul’, Nina Simone is partly responsible for transforming the evolution of music as we know it today. This year she finally received some well-deserved recognition when she was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll hall of fame. Apart from the various samples that continue that make frequent appearances in modern music, Nina’s style as a pianist and songwriter has been imitated by generations of musicians.
A fearless activist, Nina’s music was first and foremost rooted in her experience as a black woman. She may have missed out a couple opportunities in her heyday, but when you consider all the women she inspired to be courageous and stand in their truth (a topic she speaks to in the song ‘To Be Young, Gifted, and Black’), her outspokeness was definately worth it.
Octavia Butler: In her time, the world of science fiction writing had very little dark faces-let alone trail blazing black women. But in spite of her lack of contemporaries, Butler managed to create dystopian stories that checked all the epic sci fi boxes: they fill you with wonder, entertain and ignite your imagination. Whats more Octavia Butler’s use of black characters allowed her to explore previously unchartered territory for the genre. Because honestly, who can speak to themes like oppression, challenging norms and stereotypes like a black woman?
Kimberly Bryant is the founder and director of Black Girls Code—a nonprofit dedicated to increasing the representation of women of color in technology. An engineer herself, Foster was inspired to create the organization upon noticing that her daughter was the only black girl at her technology camp. As of today, her workshops, hackathons and Black Girls Code has chapters all over the country and a few overseas as will, with over 8,000 participants.