Nina Simone

The High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone, was an icon with a commanding stage presence and whose rich contralto voice  powerfully wove together stories about liberation, empowerment, and love. She became a voice to power for the black American community. Nina sang from a diverse catalog – jazz, classical, folk, blues, gospel, and covers of contemporary popular artists such as Bob Dylan. She recorded more than 40 albums between 1958 and 1974.

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Wanda Sykes

Wanda Sykes is an award-winning comedian, writer, and actress with a brilliant style of stand-up comedy that she’s been doing since the late 1980s. She is the first African-American woman to star in her own prime-time sitcoms and the first to perform at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (and she was also the first out lesbian to do so). She is a strong, confident, hilarious, driven woman who has found her voice and uses it well.

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Black History Month, Boss Bitches, and Eartha Kitt

Last year during Black History Month I tried to do a post every day about an innovative black American whose name was likely not currently common knowledge, starting with Carter G. Woodson, the historian who started Black History Month, and ending with Octavia Butler, a science fiction writer. And, I tried to not focus on the “predictable” focus areas of black excellence, such as athletics and music. I wanted to hi-light how time and time again black Americans fought adversity, excelled, and changed our world, such as with Percy Julian, who was instrumental in creating birth control, or Bayard Rustin, the civil rights and gay rights activist who brought the non-violent teachings of Ghandi to MLK Jr. Continue reading

Octavia Butler

On this last day of Black History Month, let’s carry forward the legacy of black Americans who, despite their struggles in this violently oppressive country, have shown innovation, talent, depth, and courage. And, let’s look to what is possible in the future.

I was a fan of science fiction and fantasy fiction as a child. It was my favorite escape – imagining impossible adventures, fantastical creatures, emotion-driven characters, good and evil, mystery and magic, creativity and curiosity, exploration and adventure, legacy and the future. The majority of these stories, though, are obviously rooted in western, white patriarchal concepts. I distinctly remember my excitement when I first read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time – how refreshing to read about a young, female protagonist! Then, as an adult, I found Octavia Butler, a black woman science fiction writer – an afrofuturist who’s short bibliography shifted the white male-dominated field of science fiction with amazingly crafted worlds and powerfully disturbing stories of struggle, colonization and oppression, perseverance, hope, and change.

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Ralph Bunche

As Black History Month nears its close, I have come across another innovative, radical, groundbreaking, extremely intelligent individual who few likely know by name. Ralph Bunche was an academic, political scientist, activist, and diplomat. While alive, he was celebrated for his peacekeeping efforts in the Middle East, Africa and the Mediterranean, for helping form the United Nations, and for his work in the Civil Rights Movement. And, not only was he the first African American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he was the first person of color to receive the award.

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Mae Jemison

This post goes out to my 7-year old science-loving niece, Xenia. I hope that learning about all of these innovative and brilliant black Americans will inspire you to shoot for the stars.

You’ve probably seen a particular photo of Mae Jemison before: an orange puffy suit,  a black round helmet, and a beautiful smile. But, like so many other groundbreaking black Americans, you probably don’t know her by name. Jemison is an engineer, physician, and astronaut. In fact, she was the first African American woman in space.

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Florence Griffith Joyner

There are three reasons I want to do a Black History Month post about Florence Griffith Joyner: I purposefully stayed away from featuring athletes, because sometimes it seems like that’s the area most people focus on when considering the accomplishments of black Americans (and the approach starts to feel a little too reminiscent of seeing black Americans as property and not people), but there is no denying that there are many amazing black athletes who deserve to be recognized; Flo Jo is one of the athletes I recall most from my youth; This photo is everything.

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