7 BLACK WOMEN MAKING HISTORYSep 22, 2022 10:00AM ● By Minna Davies
Black History Month may come and go, but the contributions of Black women ought to be honored every day of the year. Black women have contributed significantly to the advancement of American culture throughout history in every sphere, including politics, medicine, and athletics.
Abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth preached freedom persistently, and they were followed by a slew of prominent Black women leaders, including Rosa Parks, Daisy Bates, Shirley Chisholm, Angela Davis, and Maya Angelou (to name a few!). Recently, Kamala Harris became our country's first female – and first woman of color – Vice President.
Today's Black female trailblazers are breaking down boundaries and transforming our society for the better, following in the footsteps of these remarkable ladies. This list includes names you may recognize, as well as a few you may not, of people making history in fields such as the military, science, and sports. From developing one of the first COVID-19 vaccinations to breaking the glass ceiling in politics and the media, these incredible Black women are paving the way.
1. Serena Williams, Iconic Tennis champion
Legends never die, but Serena Williams' historic career came to an end Friday night with a 5-7, 7-6 (4), 1-6 third-round loss to Ajla Tomljanović in the 2022 U.S. Open at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows.
After the U.S. Open, Williams announced in Vogue that she would be "evolving away from" tennis to devote her attention to other things, such as expanding her family with her husband Alexis Ohanian. Olympia, the couple's only child, is born.
Despite the defeat, fans, athletes, and celebrities praised Williams for being the greatest of all time.
Serena Williams has won 23 grand slam singles titles, four Olympic gold medals, 14 grand slam doubles titles, and a "Serena Slam," or non-calendar year grand slam, which involves winning the four major tournaments — Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open — in that order. That is a great level of victories. Even though many people in the tennis community would like to forget, it's important to keep in mind how terribly the sport treated Serena and her sister Venus in order to understand the complete picture. “I’ve built a career on channeling anger and negativity and turning it into something good,” Serena wrote. “To me that’s kind of the essence of being Serena: expecting the best from myself and proving people wrong. There were so many matches I won because something made me angry or someone counted me out.”
2. Kamala Harris, first Black, first South Asian American and first woman U.S. Vice President
On Jan. 20, Kamala Harris became the first Black, first South Asian American and first woman Vice President of the United States. Harris, born in Oakland, California to an Indian mother and Jamaican father.
A product of Howard University, Harris is also the first vice president to have graduated from a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). She credits her “sense of being and meaning” to her time as a student there. She is a member of the oldest historically Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Her political career includes being the first Black American to serve as California’s Attorney General from 2011 to 2016. In 2016, she was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate for the state of California.
Harris also helped others make history in December when she hired the first all-woman senior staff for the U.S. vice president’s office.
2. Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett, lead scientist on the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine team
Indeed, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a viral immunologist and research fellow in the Vaccine Research Center of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is the lead scientist on the team that developed the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine. She built on her six years of experience studying the spike proteins of other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS in order to design the vaccine within two days of the novel coronavirus being discovered. Spike proteins sit on the surface of coronaviruses and penetrate human cells, causing infection.
4. Jessica Watkins: NASA astronaut and 1st Black woman to fly a long-duration spaceflight
The first Black woman to spend a prolonged period of time in space was Dr. Jessica Watkins, who makes history. Dr. Watkins, an astronaut who is 33 years old, was a mission specialist on NASA's SpaceX Crew-4 mission. She is the first Black woman to travel to space for a prolonged period of time.
"I think it really is just a tribute to the legacy of the Black women astronauts that have come before me," Dr. Watkins said of her extended assignment on the ISS crew.
Following the footsteps of the legendary Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space, Dr. Watkins is hopeful that the future of space exploration lies in the hands of Black women and other women of color.
Read about Mae Jemison:
5. Amanda Gorman, youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history
Gorman spoke her poem "The Hill We Climb," in which she urged Americans to "rebuild, reconcile, and recover" from deeply embedded inequalities and racial disparities, especially in light of unparalleled disease, death, political struggle, and calls for racial justice across the country. Gorman wrote her poem shortly after the Capitol Building riots on Jan. 6, using inspiration from speeches by American leaders throughout earlier historic moments of conflict, such as Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The teenage poet, author, and activist grew up in Los Angeles and began writing as a method to cope with a speech impairment; at the age of 16, she had been chosen LA's Youth Poet Laureate, and by the age of 19, she had become the first National Youth Poet Laureate while studying sociology at Harvard.
6. Sydney Barber, U.S. Naval Academy’s first Black female brigade commander
In the U.S. Naval Academy’s 175-year history, there has never been a Black woman to serve as a brigade commander. But all of that changed this January when Midshipman Sydney Barber stepped into the role.
Barber, who grew up in Lake Forest, Illinois, says her father, who graduated from the academy in 1991, inspired her to enroll. She explains that her father, like many other Black students who have passed through the academy's doors before her, encountered racism throughout his time as a midshipman. Knowing her father's experience as well as the experiences of countless other varied leaders, the 21-year-old says she is "very humbled" by her new job and does not take the obligations lightly.
7. Aicha Evans, first Black woman to run a self-driving car company
When Aicha Evans agreed to become the new CEO of self-driving car startup Zoox in 2019, she became the first Black woman to lead a self-driving car firm. She led Zoox to a $1.3 billion sale to Amazon in 2020.
Evans is now collaborating with Amazon to bring Zoox's idea of an autonomous ride-hailing service to life with its own fleet of self-driving electric cars.
Evans, who was born in Senegal and graduated from The George Washington University with a computer engineering degree, previously worked at Intel for 12 years. As a Black woman in tech, she's "had to overcome a lot," she told the Financial Times, citing the industry's (along with the auto industry's) insufficient representation of women of color.
On the other hand, Evans sees potential, particularly in her capacity to provide a different perspective and other ideas.
Evans was lured to Zoox because of the ability to "disrupt the status quo" with a "autonomous mobility system designed from the ground up" at a time when the car industry is at a crossroads with self-driving technology.
Minna Davies is a creative writer and a thespian with a degree in theatre arts from the University of Lagos. He has been privileged to have some of his works featured on Nigeria's big stages. It is important to dream, but if no one gets to see it, it is as good as dead.
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