In recent times, we have all seen and felt the devastating effects of Black tragedy. From George Floyd to Breonna Taylor, countless names of Black death have flooded our minds the past few years, especially in 2020. As important as it is to remember and reflect on Black tragedy to move forward in a progressive way, it is equally important to acknowledge and celebrate Black excellence within our society today and within history.
In celebration of Black history month, let us reflect on a few inspiring Black women today that are changing the world to be a better, more inclusive, and just world.
Tarana Burke (USA)
In 2006, Tarana Burke founded the enormously popular #MeToo movement that brought attention to sexual violence in the private and public spheres. She has dedicated decades of her life to supporting sexual violence survivors, focusing primarily on young women of colour. Her contribution to uplifting and empowering women across the globe has helped expose the alarming scale of sexual violence that takes place to various degrees. It has also created a movement that empowers and shines a spotlight on women’s voices and stories.
Jaha Dukureh (The Gambia)
As the UN Women Regional Ambassador for Africa and the CEO and Founder of the NGO “Safe Hands for Girls,” Dukureh has supported, raised awareness, and changed policies regarding Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) among African women and girls. As a survivor herself, she has been very outspoken and politically active in addressing the physical and psychological effects of FGM. She played a significant role in the decision to ban FGM by the Gambian Government after her work with women’s organizations and campaigning with youth across the country.
Valdecir Nascimento (Brazil)
In 2015, Nascimento was one of the primary organizers of the historic and monumental Black Women’s March (Marcha de Mulheres Negras), mobilizing over ten thousand Black women in a call to end violence and racism. As a prominent women’s right advocate that has worked to empower Black women for over four decades, she is also the Executive Coordinator of the ODARA–Instituto da Mulher Negra (Black Women´s Institute), based in Salvador, Brazil and coordinates the Rede de Mulheres Negras do Nordeste do Brasil (Black Women´s Network for the Northeast of Brazil).
The most nominated Grammy artist of 2020, Lizzo, has been a champion of body positivity and Black women’s power. Lizzo has redefined what it means to be beautiful and successful in the highly judgemental world of the American music industry. She has empowered fans and women worldwide by encouraging them not to cower in fear of unrealistic body expectations set forth by the male gaze, but rather, find joy and celebrate in your own self by never letting anyone shame you for being you.
Allyson Felix (USA)
With nine Olympic medals, six of them gold, Felix is one of the most decorated track and field athletes in history. After becoming a mother in 2018, she won gold again in the World Championships. Despite that, she was faced with a 70 per cent pay cut from her sponsor Nike as part of her maternity treatment. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Felix exposed the insensitive and discriminatory treatment she received after becoming a mother and has worked to protect maternity protections for sportswomen and working women across the U.S.
Adut Akech Biore (South Sudan-Australia)
Twenty-one-year old model Akech was featured as the only model on Time’s 100 Next List, Time’s 25 Most Influential Teens of 2018, and was named Model of the Year in 2019 at the British Fashion Awards. As a former child refugee herself, she has been working the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to help and support refugees find homes, and the safety and security of a family.
Amanda Gorman (USA)
After the delivery of her impeccable and moving poem at the inauguration of President Joe Biden, National Youth Poet Laureate Gorman has become the face of young talent in literature, and now poetry can transcend beyond books to touch our hearts and values directly. Inspired by the musical Hamilton and the work of American activists, her poetry has focused on issues of oppression, feminism, race, and marginalization, speaking to the African diaspora and empowering young people of colour across the U.S.
These women are only a glimpse into the vast array of Black women that have changed the way we live throughout history. From inventions like the caller ID by Dr. Shirley Jackson or the heater by Alice H. Parker, to famous political figures like First Lady Michelle Obama or Vice President Kamala Harris, Black women have been at the forefront of progressive change across the world. Black excellence, particularly Black women’s excellence, should be acknowledged, celebrated, and studied in order to truly appreciate their important contributions to directing our lives toward a more just and equal society.