This year, TNBC wanted to pass the mic for Black History Month by highlighting past and present day Black womxn who have helped shape our world into a better place. Whether it was in athletics, nutrition, policy, research, or even going to space, we are deeply grateful for the energy, tenacity, labor and light from the contributions from our Black heroes. Here are their stories.
An American political activist, philosopher, academic, and author, Angela Davis has spent her life working to abolish the prison-industrial complex as well as advocating for women's rights. Davis knew about racial prejudice from a young age; her neighborhood in Birmingham was nicknamed “Dynamite Hill” for the number of homes targeted by the Ku Klux Klan. Her work greatly impacted the Civil Rights and Feminist movements and shaped the political landscape we see today.
With a BA, MA, and PhD, Davis has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame, been listed "Woman of the Year" by Time Magazine, as well as "100 Most Influential People of 2020." She's written several books such as, "Women, Race, and Class (1980), Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday (1999), Are Prisons Obsolete? (2003), Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture (2005), The Meaning of Freedom: And Other Difficult Dialogues (2012) and Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement (2016).
"I'm no longer accepting the things I cannot change...I'm changing the things I cannot accept." -Angela Davis
An American lawyer, civil rights advocate, philosopher, and leading scholar of critical race theory, Kimberle Crenshaw developed the theory of intersectionality, the unique and discriminatory experience of Black women who experience both racism and sexism.
Crenshaw's work as an activist, professor, public speaker and author aims to demolish racial hierarchies altogether, and has forever changed inclusive rhetoric around how we discuss the unique experiences of Black women in our society. "The empowerment of Black women constitutes the empowerment of our entire community." - Kimberle Crenshaw
An American singer, songwriter, guitarist, and recording artist, Sister Rosetta Tharpe is considered to be one of the key founders in Rock and Roll.
Gaining popularity in the 1930's and 1940's for her gospel recordings, Tharpe blended deeply spiritual lyrics and rhythmic accompaniment with the fundamentals of modern rock and roll. Not only is she considered the "original soul sister" and "the Godmother of rock and roll," but her music reached international influence and helped develop British and European blues.
Tharpe's work paved the way for artists such as Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis. "Can't no man play like me. I play better than a man." -Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Founder of the #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke is an American activist, community organizer, and executive from The Bronx. Her hashtag has been used over 19 million times on twitter alone to help others find solidarity and survival after being sexually assaulted. Not only an activist for women and Black women's rights and bodily autonomy, Burke has also led campaigns around issues like housing inequality, racial discrimination, and economic injustice.
Burke has a wealth of experience and knowledge in the non-profit and advocacy sector as well as being a "Silence Breaker" and Person of the Year in 2017 and the Sydney Peace Prize in 2019. She is also frequently asked to provide social commentary and has been published in Teen Vogue, Colorlines, Mic, BK Nation, Glamour, Ebony, Essence, The Source, and The Root, among others. "It wasn't built to be a viral campaign or a hashtag that is here today and forgotten tomorrow. It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for racial healing was happening and possible."
An American jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald was referred to as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, and Lady Ella. Noted for her purity of tone, impeccable phrasing, timing and intonation, Fitzgerald is thought to have "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.
Winning 13 Grammy awards and selling over 40 million records, Fitzgerald inspired artists such as Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, and Benny Goodman.
After surviving The Great Depression while experiencing housing insecurity and extreme poverty, Fitzgerald began winning amateur singing competitions to survive. During the Civil Rights movement, Fitzgerald's band refused to adhere to segregation while touring and demanding equal treatment for all accommodations. With a voice that transcends race, gender, and time, Fitzgerald's music still stands as as the gold standard for jazz music. "I stole everything I ever heard, but, mostly, I stole from the horns." -Ella Fitzgerald
An American chef, television personality, and former model, Carla Hall has taken the culinary industry by storm. Centering her recipes around quick and healthy soul food options, Hall has starred in Bravo's "Top Chef", "Top Chef: All Stars", co-hosted ABC's "The Chew", Featured on "Good Moring America", and starring in upcoming Netflix feature "Crazy Delicious" and "BakeAway Camp". Hall is also originally from our very own Nashville, Tennessee!
Most recently, Hall partnered with 4-H to serve as 4-H Healthy Habits Program Ambassador. This program provides nutrition education to more than 250,000 diverse youth, their families, and communities. Hall is not only an advocate for healthy, tasty food, but also for communities of color to have healthy, sustainable food options.
"Food is the one place where we allow differences, but it’s also the one place that we can see so many similarities." -Chef Carla Hall
Laverne Cox is an American actress and LGBTQ+ advocate. She rose to prominence with her role as Sophia Burset on the Netflix series 'Orange is the New Black.,' becoming the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in any acting category, and the first to be nominated for an Emmy Award since 1990. She also became the first openly transgender person to appear on the cover of Time and Cosmopolitan magazine, among many other accomplishments.
Cox has and continues to be a trailblazer for the transgender community. Her work has led to a growing conversation about transgender culture, specifically transgender women, and how being transgender intersects with one's race. In May 2016, Cox was awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree from The New School in New York City for her groundbreaking work in the fight for gender equality.
"It is revolutionary for any trans person to be seen and visible in a world that tells us we should not exist." -Laverne Cox
Simone Biles is an American artistic gymnast. With a total of 30 Olympic and World Championship medals, Biles is the most decorated American gymnast to date. After Biles birth mother was unable to care for her and her siblings, Biles and her sister were adopted by their grandfather after being in foster care. At the age of 15, Biles chose to switch to homeschooling to train in gymnastics for 32 hours per week, dramatically improving her craft. This choice ultimately led to Biles wildly successful professional career in gymnastics, authoring a book, and starring in season 24 of "Dancing with the Stars".
Biles is not only a top athlete, but also a survivor of sexual violence. Releasing a statement in 2018 confirming the former USA Gymnastics physician, Larry Nassar, had sexually assaulted her and had subsequently been protected by the Gymnastics administration. Biles and her fellow survivors were awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award and continue to stand united against sexual violence and abuse in the athletic industry.
"I'm not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I'm the first Simone Biles." -Simone Biles
An American politician, lawyer, voting rights activist, and author, Stacey Abrams has changed the political landscape of the America we see today. Graduating from her high school class, Abrams went on to become a campaign speech writer at the age of of 17.
With a BA in Political Science, Economics, and Sociology from Spelman College (magna cum laude), a MA in Public Affairs, and a JD from Yale School of Law, Abrams is a powerhouse of intellect and tenacity.
Because her career is littered with accomplishments not only for herself, but also for her community, we will only touch on some: -At the age of 29, Abrams became the deputy city attorney for Atlanta, Georgia -Represented the 89th District for the Georgia House of Representative -2010 Abrams became Georgia Minority House Leader -Founded "Fair Fight," a voting rights nonprofit organization that fights voter suppression and discrimination
Most recently, Abrams is credited with leading the charge in 'flipping Georgia blue" in the 2021 Presidential Election by registering thousands of eligible voters in the state of Georgia, mostly people of color whose registration had been purged.
"Like most who are underestimated, I have learned to over-perform and find soft but key ways to take credit. Because ultimately, leadership and power require the confidence to effectively wield both." - Stacey Abrams
An American actor and model, Indya Moore most known for their role on "Pose." Recently named one of 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine, Moore is an advocate for the trans and non-binary community.
At the age of 14, Moore was forced to leave their home and enter foster care. During this time, they were frequently bullied and relocated, ultimately pressuring Moore to drop out of high school and obtain a GED for their safety.
At 15, Moore began modeling for Dior and Gucci, despite the fashion industry's initial transphobia. Continuing on to a successful acting career, Moore became William Morris Endeavor's first trans actor before starting their own production company for disenfranchised groups.
In 2019, Moore become the first person to appear on the cover of Elle Magazine and, in 2020, Moore was named one of fifty heroes "leading the nation toward equality, acceptance, and dignity for all people." by Queerty.
"We deserve the same things that cis women do, the same things that other humans do, from our social lives to our families to love." -Indya Adrianna Moore
An American sabre fencer, author, clothing designer, and member of the U.S. fencing team, Ibtihaj Muhammad is renowned for being the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing in the Olympics, and winning a bronze medal.
Named one of Time's 100 Most Influential people in the World, Muhammad spurs on discussions on the importance of equality in sports while also promoting her book, 'The Proudest Blue,' as well as two other books, an autobiography and a young reader's addition.
Not only a champion for the Muslim community, Muhammad also has active advocacy efforts in the Special Olympics, Charity: Water, Athletes for Impact, and Laureus Sport for Good. Additionally, Muhammad and her siblings launched their own clothing company in 2014 which aims to bring fashionable clothing to the U.S. that honors her Muslim culture and religion. Most recently, Muhammad was honored to be the inspiration for a new line of inclusive Barbie dolls sporting a hijab and fencing attire.
"I will continue to fight because the prize this time is an America that truly respects all of its citizens. And that is worth more than any medal." -Ibtihaj Muhammad
A prominent journalist, activist, and researcher, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a trailblazer for Black women today. In her lifetime, she battled sexism, racism, and violence. As a skilled writer, Wells-Barnett also used her skills as a journalist to shed light on the conditions of Black Americans throughout the Southeast United States. Born into an enslaved family during the Civil War. Wells' family instilled a fighting spirit in Ida through their own political activism, despite the risk to their safety by white supremacists and terrorists. After yellow fever killed both her parents and younger sibling, Wells became the primary caregiver for her brothers and sister at the age of 16 and took a job as a teacher to support them all.
After moving to Memphis, Tennessee, Wells-Barnett filed a lawsuit against a train car company for unfair treatment after she was removed from a first-class train despite having purchased a ticket for that class. Winning the case on a local level, Wells-Barnett began publishing her writings and investigative work exposing the lynchings of Black men in Memphis. The reaction to this was so violent, her family had to flee to Chicago for safety.
Wells-Barnett went on to tour internationally exposing the realities of lynchings in the U.S. to foreign audiences and openly confronting white women in the suffrage movement who ignored racism while advocating for gender equality.
Wells-Barnett founded of the National Association of Colored Women's Club and was present for the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Her work has influenced activists like Kimberle Crenshaw (previously featured) who expose the intersectional nature of being both Black and female in America today.
"The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them." -Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Zulfat Suara was elected as an at large council member in September 2019. With over 34 thousand votes, she became the first Muslim to be elected to the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County and the first immigrant elected to an at-large position. She is also the first Muslim woman elected in the State of Tennessee and the first Nigerian woman elected to any office in the United States.
Moving to the U.S. from Nigeria in 1993, Suara has been active in community service and leadership in Tennessee for 23 years, all while working as a full-time CPA, founding an accounting firm, and becoming the Assistant Controller of a local university in Nashville.
Here are several other of her many accomplishments: -Board Member of PENCIL Foundation -Chair of the American Muslim Advisory Council
-Served two terms as State President of the Business and Professional Women -Treasurer of the National Women's Political Caucus -Received the FBI Director's Community Leadership Award -Named 2018's Muslim Policy Advocate of the Year by Islamic Society of North America -Inducted into the Tennessee Women Hall of Fame in 2015 -Board Member of the Nashville Metro Action Commission -Award Recipient for Outstanding Service to Human Rights from the TN Human Rights Commission
Simply put, Zulfat Suara makes Tennessee a better state to live in for all and we are deeply grateful for her contribution to our community.
“I had to tell myself if I don’t get on the council I’ll wake up tomorrow and continue to do what I do as an activist. Then, I heard my supporters cheer, and I thought, ‘I have a chance.' To me, it means the council is looking more like the city we represent. It’s a message to people we are a welcoming city and a diverse city.” -Councilwoman Zulfat Suara
An American social psychologist, Mamie Phipps Clark focused on the development of self-consciousness in Black preschool children. Her work at Howard University not only explored mental development in Black youth, but also featured the iconic doll experiment that investigated the way Black children's attitudes toward race and racial self-identification were affected by segregation. This study was ultimately a key component in the Brown v. Board of Education court case establishing the unconstitutional nature of segregation in public schools. Clark went on to found the Northside Center for Child Development, the first center in Harlem providing holistic therapy, vocational training, education, psychological testing, and behavioral assessments for Black children, as well as Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited (HARYOU).
In her lifetime, Clark served as chairman of a housing company in NYC, on the board of the American Broadcasting Companies, the Museum of Modern Art, the New York Public Library, the New York Mission Society, the Phelps Stokes Fund, the Teachers College at Columbia University, and the National Headstart Planning Committee. She also received the Candace Award for Humanitarianism from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1983.
"A racist system inevitably destroys and damages human beings; it brutalizes and dehumanizes them, blacks and whites alike." -Mamie Phipps Clark
An American abolitionist and women's rights activist, Sojourner Truth was born as Isabella Baumfree into an enslaved family in New York and survived unimaginable violence and cruelty at the hands of her perpetrators. After escaping her captivity with her infant daughter in 1826, Truth went to court to rescue her son from his captor and became the first Black woman to win such a case against a white man.
Truth went on to claim her rightful name after she felt compelled to leave her city and go into the countryside spreading the message of hope through her antislavery and women's rights advocacy work. Truth went on to help recruit Black troops for the Union army and tried unsuccessfully to secure land grants rightfully owed to formerly enslaved people.
A memorial bust of Truth was unveiled in 2009 in Emancipation Hall in the U.S. Capitol Visitor's Center. She is the first Black woman to have a statue in the Capitol building and was also included in Smithsonian magazine's list of the "100 Most Significant Americans of All Time". Her best-known speech (partially featured below) was delivered extemporaneously, in 1851, at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. The speech became widely known during the Civil War by the title "Ain't I a Woman?", a variation of the original speech re-written using a stereotypical Southern dialect, whereas Sojourner Truth was from New York and grew up speaking Dutch as her first language.
"Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?" -Sojourner Truth
An American poet and activist, Amanda Gorman's work focuses on issues of oppression, feminism, race, and marginalization, as well as the African diaspora. Not only was she the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate, she also recently achieved best-seller status for two of her books after she delivered her iconic poem "The Hill We Climb" at the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden at the age of 22.
Chosen as the first youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014, Gorman went on to publish her poetry book, "The One for Whom Food is Not Enough" the following year at the age of 17 before going on to study sociology at Harvard College and graduating cum laude.
In her life thus far, Gorman has founded the nonprofit organization, "One Pen One Page", became the first author featured in XQ Institute's Book of the Month, written tributes for Black athletes for Nike, secured a book deal with Viking Children's Books, selected as Glamour magazine's 2018 "College Women of the Year", chosen as the Root Magazine's "Young Futurists", been featured on John Krasinski's web series "Some Good News", and recently interviewed by Oprah.
"Somehow we've weathered and witnessed a nation that it isn't broken, but simply unfinished. We, the successors of a country and the time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one. And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn't mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect. We are striving to forge our union with purpose... And every corner called our country. Our people diverse and beautiful will emerge, battered and beautiful. When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid, the new dawn balloons, as we free it. For there was always light. If only we're brave enough to see it. If only we're brave enough to be it."-Excerpts from "The Hill We Climb" by Amanda Gorman
An American writer, feminist, womanist, librarian, and civil rights activist, Audre Lorde was a self-described "Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet," who dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, capitalism, heterosexism, and homophobia.
Born in New York City to Caribbean immigrants, Lorde struggled with deep-rooted colorism within her home as well as difficulty with communication at a young age and used the power of poetry to express herself. Going on to study at the National University of Mexico, Lorde confirmed her identity as a lesbian and poet before going on to earn a Master's degree from Columbia University.
While Lorde had many iconic writings, "Coal" has been coined as one of the most influential voices of the Black Arts Movement. Not only has Lorde's work been impactful for the poetry world, but the LGBTQ+ and Black community as well. Her words explore the depths of being female, queer, Black, and other lived experiences, ultimately, creating a safe haven for people like her through her words.
"The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." -Audre Lorde
An American singer, rapper, songwriter, and flutist, Lizzo rapidly shot to stardom after her third studio album, "Cuz I Love You" in 2019 with multiple hits topping the US Billboard Hot 100. Receiving the most nominations at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, Lizzo won Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best New Artist among other awards throughout her career thus far.
After the death of her father at the age of 21, Lizzo lived out of her car as she tried to break into the music industry. This experience shaped Lizzo into the compassionate advocate she is today. Throughout her career, Lizzo has been the target of intense body shaming and cyber bullying. In response, Lizzo has called out haters, continued to love herself wholly, and encourages others to as well.
As a nonprofit committed to health from the inside-out, Lizzo embodies our core mission of compassion, growth, holistic health, and mental wellness. We are deeply grateful for her energy, time, art, and light.
"I’m really proud of you – because life comes at you fast, and sometimes it can be so hard, but if I can make it, I know you can make it. We can make it together.” –Lizzo
An American sprinter born in Clarksville, Tennessee, Wilma Rudolph became a world-record-holding Olympic champion and international sports icon following her successes in the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games. Acclaimed as the fastest woman in the world, she gained international recognition as a role model for Black and female athletes. Helping to elevate women's track and field, Rudolph is regarded as a civil rights and women's rights pioneer.
Rudolph suffered from several early childhood illnesses, including pneumonia, scarlet fever, and polio. Due to her illnesses and lack of available medical resources to the Black community, Rudolph lost significant strength in her left leg and wore a brace for 7 years. After seeking services from Meharry Medical College (now Nashville General Hospital at Meharry) and the daily PT performed by her family members, Rudolph was able to overcome the debilitating effects of polio and learned to walk at age 12.
After the birth of her first child her senior year of high school, Rudolph attended Tennessee State University in Nashville while also competing in track, becoming a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, earning a B.A. in Education, and fully funding her schooling through a work-study program.
After returning home in 1960 from her Olympic tour, Rudolph insisted her welcome parade and banquet be a fully integrated municipal event, a first in Clarksville's history, and later went on to help successfully desegregate all of Clarksville's public buildings.
Rudolph continued her enormous impact after she retired at the height of her career serving and being featured in the following roles: -Goodwill Ambassador and Representative for U.S. State Department -Track Specialist for Operation Champion -Founder and CEO of a nonprofit that trains youth athletes -Director of Depauw University's Women's Track Program -TV Show Host -Publicist for Universal Studios -ABC Sports TV Commentator -Vice President of Nashville's Baptist Hospital
"Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us." -Wilma Rudolph
An American voting and women's rights activist, community organizer, and leader in the civil rights movement, Fannie Lou Hamer is a timeless inspiration to all people for her tenacious, resilient work.
Born in Montgomery County, Mississippi, she was one of 20 children in her family. At age 6, Hamer began picking cotton alongside her family while attending school in a one-room structure until she had to become a full-time sharecropper to help her parents at the age of 12. By 13, Hamer was picking up to 300 pounds of cotton per day while also living with polio.
After becoming time and record keeper of the property, Hamer wanted to have children with her husband of 16 years. However, Hamer was forcefully sterilized without her consent by a white doctor during a routine procedure, a common hate crime at the time in Mississippi to control the population of Black people. After this, Hamer and her husband adopted two daughters, one of which later died of internal hemorrhaging after she was denied admission to the local hospital because of Hamer's activism.
Joining the civil rights movement in 1962, Hamer was known for her use of spiritual hymnals, quotes, and resilience in leading the civil rights movement for Black women in Mississippi. During her activist work, Hamer was extorted, threatened, harassed, shot at, and assaulted by racists and terrorists while trying to exercise her right to vote.
Here are some of her many notable accomplishments: -Co-founder and Vice Chair of the Freedom Democratic Party -Organizer of Mississippi's Freedom Summer along with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) -Co-Founder of the National Women's Political Caucus, and organization created to recruit, train, and support women of all races who wish to seek election to government office -Helped hundreds of disenfranchised Black voters through the Freedom Farm Cooperative -Ran for U.S. Senate -Led legal action against the government of Sunflower County, Mississippi for continued illegal segregation -Posthumously inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame
"I am sick and tired of being sick and tired." -Fannie Lou Hamer