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Black Female Leaders Who Are Shaping History Today

Feb 17, 2024 12:00PM ● By Gift Joe

As Michelle Obama memorably said at the Democratic Convention in 2008, "The only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work hard for them."

Throughout history, Black women in America have played a crucial role in advancing the different sectors, from politics to sports to medicine and entertainment, shaping it into what it is today. In honor of Black History Month, we’re taking a look at Black female leaders who are still breaking barriers, doing their bit, and changing society for the better. These women have accomplished great milestones, paving the way for future generations to come.

Though this focuses mostly on modern-day women, we cannot forget to acknowledge other trailblazers like Billie Holiday, Coretta Scott King, Sojourner Truth and so many more, who walked so these modern-day women could run.

From breaking barriers in the White House to helping to develop a COVID-19 vaccine and many more, below are Black female leaders who are proof that you can achieve anything.

Kamala Harris: First Black, First South Asian American, And First Woman Vice President

Vice President Kamala Harris. Public Domain

She is in a political position no Black woman, or any woman, has ever held. In 2021, Harris made history as not only the first woman, but the first Black and South Asian American to become Vice President of the United States. She did not stop there, she hired the first all-woman senior staff for the vice president’s office. Prior to becoming the Vice President, Harris served as the first Black American Attorney General for the state of California.

Oprah Winfrey, First Black American Woman to Own Her Own Production Company

Oprah Winfrey is a name that needs no introduction in America. At 32, Winfrey took the reins as the first African American nationally syndicated television host and the first Black person to control her own major studio when she launched her television production company. Not only is she one of the world’s richest Black people, but she is also the world’s wealthiest Black woman. Her success story has been an inspiration to many around the world, especially to women and people of color.

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Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett, Lead Scientist On the Moderna Covid-19 Vaccine Team

Doctor Corbett’s contributions to one of the most stunning achievements in the history of immunizations: a highly effective, easily manufactured vaccine against COVID-19, cannot be forgotten so soon. She led the team that developed the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

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Sandra L Lindsay, First American to Get the Covid-19 Vaccine Outside of Trials

Sandra Lindsay, RN receiving COVID-19 vaccine. Source:, Credit: Northwell Health

While many were still skeptical, Lindsay took the bold step to become the public face of the vaccine that promised to turn the tide on the COVID-19 pandemic. She was the first person in America to get the COVID-19 vaccine and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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Jessica Watkins, First Black Woman to Live And Work on the International Space Station

Dr. Jessica Watkins. Public Domain

Dr. Watkins was announced as the first Black woman to complete an International Space Station long-term mission in April 2022. On June 9, 2022, she became the African American woman with the most time in space.

Ibtihaj Muhammad, First American Athlete to Wear a Hijab While Competing

This Olympic medalist made history as the first American to wear a hijab while competing at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro. Her role in shining a light on the Muslim American community and other laudable feats saw her named as one of TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in 2016.

Cori Bush, First Black Congresswoman in Missouri History

Congresswoman Cori Bush. Public Domain

Congresswoman Cori Bush has many firsts - the first Black woman and the first nurse to represent Missouri; the first woman to represent Missouri’s 1st Congressional District; and the first activist from the movement fighting for Black lives elected to the United States Congress. After she was elected to the House of Representatives in 2021, she became the first African-American woman to represent Missouri.

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Michelle Obama, First African-American First Lady

Michelle Obama. Public Domain

Michelle Obama made history by becoming the first African American First Lady of the United States. Her work didn’t stop when she left the White House, as she has done a plethora of things after, including becoming the author of a bestseller Becoming. The book sold 10 million copies in its first year and was followed by a corresponding Netflix documentary in 2020.

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Rosalind Brewer, First Black Woman to Hold the Position of CEO at Walgreens Boots Alliance

Rosalind Brewer. Source: Detroit Regional Chamber

Rosalind Brewer is making history as CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance and one of only two Black female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. As one of the most powerful women in the world, she keeps inspiring the younger generation with her successes. Brewer is not just making history, but she's redefining the narrative of leadership and diversity.

Rashida Jones, First Black Woman to Head a Major Television Network

 Rashida Jones. Source: X | @RJonesNews

She is the president of MSNBC, and the first Black executive - man or woman - to head a major cable news network. She’s one of the many talented Black women throughout the industry who are influencing the future of TV. This influential and high-ranking Black woman in the TV industry is an inspiration to other people of color out there.

Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall, First Black Woman CEO in the NBA

 Cynt Marshall. Source: Instagram | @cyntgm

Cynt was the first Black cheerleader at the University of California, Berkeley in the late 1970s, and today she is the first Black, female CEO in the NBA. In 2021, Forbes named her one of 15 of the world's most inspiring female leaders.

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Nicole Lynn Becomes First Black Woman Agent To Represent A Player In The Super Bowl

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Sydney Barber, U.S. Naval Academy’s First Black Female Brigade Commander

Source: US Navy

Sydney Barber etched her name in the annals of history as the first Black woman to achieve the top role of brigade commander at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in its 175-year history. Her resilience and determination are setting an excellent example for future generations.

Amanda Gorman, Youngest Inaugural Poet in U.S. History

Amanda Gorman. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Gorman rose to national fame when she performed at President Biden’s Inauguration, making history as the youngest inaugural poet in US history. She inspired millions of people around the world with her poem “The Hill We Climb.” Her powerful verses and inspiring presence captivated hearts globally. This young poet is showing every young Black girl that their dreams can be achieved and they can transform the world.

Mae Jemison, First African American Woman in Space

Dr. Mae Jemison. Source: Wikimedia Commons

On Sept. 12, 1992, this trailblazing explorer boarded the space shuttle "Endeavor" with six other astronauts, as they orbited the earth. She etched her name in the history books as the first Black woman in space. Jemison not only broke barriers but also inspired generations that nothing stops them from reaching for the stars.

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