6 [email protected] Black Women to Kick Off BHM

February is dedicated to Black History Month, a month where we are reminded of the endless contributions and black excellence that black people have bestowed upon not just America, but the world. As a black woman myself, I always remember loving Black History Month, especially in elementary school. It was one of the only few times where my blackness was highlighted in my predominately white school for a positive reason. The only other time black people were discussed in my classrooms were when we were covering the topic of slavery, and all of my fellow classmates turned to look at me--as if to remind me that if this were the 1800’s, I too would be a slave. But figures in black history that were highlighted every February always felt like the same stories over and over: Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, George Washington Carver. Although these people are very important and their contributions deserve to be spotlighted, I was often left to research other figures myself. I did not have the privilege of having my history be a part of the curriculum, black history was always offered as an elective.

In more recent years, however, this has changed as media outlets have begun to provide black creatives with a seat at the table. Successes of many black-led movies including Black Panther, Blackk Klansman, and Moonlight caught the attention of the entertainment industry. This has led to the visibility of more black public figures and celebrities. As someone who didn't often see themselves represented in media, I'm very jealous of children like my 9 year old sister Madison who get to see the limitless possibilities that come with black skin. Among them, many women have shown me the beauty that lays at the intersection of being both black and a woman.

Lizzo

Lizzo is a 30 year old rapper from Minnesota who is known for her hits such as “Good As Hell” and, my favorite, “Juice”. (She also knows how to kill a flute solo!) When I first saw Lizzo perform, I was immediately captivated by her; she was so unapologetically herself and I had never witnessed such genuine self-love. She gave me the courage to love myself, too.  

Misty Copeland

I have loved Misty Copeland for a long time. I remember being about 13 when I first saw her featured on a PBS special; she was such a beautiful dancer and, immediately following her performance, I googled her until I found out everything I possibly could. Misty Copeland did not begin taking dance lessons until she was 13 years old, which was essentially unheard in the world of ballet. Dancers typically begin lessons as young as two years old. Despite her late start, she quickly became the star she was destined to be. In 2015, she became the first black principal dancer at ABT where she still dances today at 36. Misty Copeland taught me that it’s never too late to go after your dream.

Naomi Walder

Naomi Wadler is a gun control activist who is best known for the heart wrenching speech she gave at last year’s March For Our Lives protest in Washington DC at only 11 years old. With this speech, Naomi Walder ensured that black women were not forgotten by using her platform to spotlight the black women who fall victim to gun violence but are rarely featured in the news. Naomi Walder taught me to never be afraid to use my voice.

Lena Waithe

Lena Waithe does it all; she is a writer, actor, activist, and producer. Along with writing Showtime’s hit series The Chi, she starred alongside Aziz Ansari in Netflix’s Master of None, where she became the first black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. The beautifully written episode, “Thanksgiving," is based on her own coming out experience. Lena Waithe continuously uses her voice and platform to lift others up. She has seen the positive changes that Hollywood has made in terms of representation for both the black and lgbtq community and wants to ensure that these changes continue to happen. Lena Waithe taught me that there is strength in vulnerability.

Marley Dias

Marley Dias is an activist and author from West Orange, New Jersey, who created the campaign #1000BlackGirlBooks at 11 years old. Dias created the campaign after noticing the lack of diversity in children’s books. With this campaign, she wished to collect and donate books that featured black girls. Dias’s campaign quickly gained attention on social media and she was able to collect more books than she ever imagined. In 2018, she released a book of her own titled “Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You!” Marley Dias taught me that you are never too young to make a difference.  

Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes is a powerhouse writer, producer, and director. Everything she touches is an instant hit; she is known for writing some of your favorite shows--and mine! You can thank her for How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, and Princess Diaries 2. However, Shonda Rhimes herself was not an instant hit. She worked hard to become the person she is, and still works hard today. That’s what I admire most about her; Shonda Rhimes taught me that if you want something you have to work for it.

These are just a few of the lessons that black women have taught me. (Not listed here: literally everything I know from the best teacher in the world, my mom Rosiland Washington) I celebrate them today, during Black History Month, and for the rest of my life.