Alas, Black History Month is coming to a close and what better way to celebrate than to honor some of the powerful black women who have been and are continuing to pave the way for us?
Of course, there are a number of black women that have contributed to history, but my goal is to inform you of those who may not be familiar with but have aided in advancing society in one way or another. Without further ado, here is a list of nine black queens of past, present, and future.
- Mary Kenner: Ms Kenner was an inventor who is most well-known for creating the sanitary belt in 1956. Although tampons were an available option for women to use at the time, they were often shamed for utilizing one for it was seen as “indecent.” The unsanitary alternative would be using cloth or rags. For this reason, the invention of the sanitary belt was more convenient and preferred before the maxi pad became more popular in the ’60s. According to blackthen.com, “It was patented 30 years after she invented it because the company who was initially interested in her creation rejected it when they learned that Kenner was African American.” Among other inventions Kenner created were the bathroom tissue holder, a back washer mounted to shower or bathtub walls and a carrier attachment for an invalid walker.
- Bessie Coleman: Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman was the first African American female aviator. She was working as a manicurist and restaurant manager before finding an interest in aviation. Upon applying to aviation schools, Bessie faced a great deal of discrimination but continued to press forward. Britannica.com writes, “Undaunted, she learned French and in 1920 was accepted at the Caudron Brothers School of Aviation in Le Crotoy, France.” Because of her excellence and determination, she was awarded and given recognition and applause at many air shows where she would perform incredible stunts. Unfortunately, Coleman passed when an unsecured wrench was caught in the control gears of the plane she was flying. Many mourned and paid tribute to the late pilot in the decades following her death.
- Shirley Chisholm: Shirley Chisholm was a teacher turned politician who became the first black congresswoman in 1969. She attained a Master’s degree in elementary school education from Columbia University. Before pursuing a seat in Congress, she served as a director at the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center. Once becoming a member of the House, she served seven terms and graduated to working on the Education and Labor Committee. Among her other noteworthy achievements are being the first African American woman to bid on being president, wrote two books and continued to teach after leaving Congress at Mount Holyoke College.
- Ava DuVernay: Ms DuVernay is a decorated director, writer, producer and visionary. She also is a distributor of independent film. Under her belt of work are the films “Selma”, “13TH”, “This Is the Life”, “Queen Sugar”, “A Wrinkle in Time” and much more. Through the release of “A Wrinkle in Time”, Ava earned the title of being the “highest grossing African American woman director in all of domestic box office history.” The stories she tells through the screen allows for women of color to feel represented and in a light that box office hits do not usually do. DuVernay also constantly acknowledges herself as a colored woman who is working in a predominantly white male industry and will use her position as a director to allow other women to rise up in the industry as well.
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Adichie is a Nigerian author whose writing impacts many not only those in Nigeria but around the world. Learning of her youth and how educated she is, goes to show how intelligent and passionate she is. She first studied medicine, then came to America and studied communication and political science before studying African history at Yale and earning a Master’s in creative writing. Her works include but are not limited to “Half of a Yellow Sun,” “Purple Hibiscus” and the piece she wrote for a TEDx talk titled, “We All Should Be Feminists.” This speech is well known for the fact that Beyoncé uses a piece of it in her song, “Flawless.”
- Mae C. Jemison: Mae was the first ever African American female astronaut, and also the first African American woman to be accepted into NASA’s training program for astronauts. Her first flight into space took place on September 12 of 1992 with six other astronauts. According to biography.com, “During her eight days in space, Jemison conducted experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness on the crew and herself.” After returning, Jemison made it a point to state that women and people of color can offer a great deal if only they were given the opportunity to do so. She has earned many awards and recognition for her work. Mae was also a medical doctor before taking part in her space endeavors. She also founds the “Jemison Group” whose mission is to “research, develop and market advanced technologies.”
- Marley Dias: At just 14 years old, Marley is an activist, author, and founder of “#1000blackgirlbooks.” Her book drive idea stemmed from her frustration with the lack of diversity she witnessed when reading books. To combat this issue, she started #1000blackgirlbooks featuring main characters that were both black and female. Her book, “Marley Gets it Done: And So Can You!” is a guide for kids, encouraging them to rise up and take action in their communities. “Having far surpassed her original goal of 1,000 books, Dias now hopes to collect and distribute 1 million black girl books across the globe to libraries, schools and community organizations, as well as create an app to go along with her book guide and possibly a future book club on a global level” according to pbs.org. Marley is also an editor for her very own magazine in ELLE, titled “Marley Mag.”
- Luvvie Ajayi: “Luvvie Ajayi is an award-winning author, speaker and digital strategist who thrives at the intersection of comedy, technology, and activism” as said on her website. She immigrated from Nigeria and often refers to herself as a “professional troublemaker.” Ajayi is the author of a book titled, “I’m Judging You: Do Better Manual” which got picked up by Shonda Rhimes to be part of a new comedy series. She can be found unapologetically speaking out about racial issues and privilege. At the different events that she speaks at, she encourages people to stay open-minded through her humor. Click here to watch her TED talk.
- Yara Shahidi: You may recognize Yara from her role as “Zoey Johnson” on the shows “Black-ish” and “Grown-ish.” Before she was captivating audiences through her acting skills, she started “Yara’s Club” at school. This organization is “an extension membership program partnered with the Young Women’s Leadership Network that focuses on the YWLN’s vision: Empowering youth to defeat poverty through education” according to kultureclub.com. She places an emphasis on education is attending Harvard University. Shahidi also constantly advocates for STEM empowerment and feminism. She also was a partner in Always’ “#LikeaGirl” campaign which stressed the importance of self-love and taking back the definition of what it means to be a girl.
WOW. I don’t know about you guys, but I am feeling greatly inspired and thankful for these incredible women and their drive to pursue their passions and make a difference. And psst, you can too.