4 Black Changemakers You Should Know

4 Black Changemakers You Should Know

By Gabby Cushman

Celebrate Black history with your little ones year-round


Not only was February Black History Month, but our monthly theme was focused all on Black changemakers whose contributions deserve to be celebrated. And this success is something we should be celebrating every month of the year, not just during Black History Month. So for this blog, we will look at four different Black changemakers who made history in their own unique ways. And because the same individuals are often brought up in this conversation, we want to highlight those who may not be civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X but used their own disciplines to create change for themselves and others. That said, here are just four examples of extraordinary Black changemakers who shook up the world.


#1: Maya Angelou: Poet and Activist

Maya Angelou faced hardship as young as eight years old when she went through traumatizing experiences that caused her to silence herself for five years. However, she later found her voice through poetry and literature. With the help of fellow author James Baldwin, Angelou published the beloved I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1969, followed by seven other books to create an autobiographical series that received critical acclaim. About a decade later, she released a poetry collection that remains one of her most important works, And Still I Rise. Along with being an author and avid lover of literature, Angelou was a civil rights activist. She served as the northern coordinator for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and worked with Malcolm X to create the Organization of Afro-American Unity. 


#2: Katherine Johnson: Mathematician and Physicist

The math wiz Katherine Johnson accomplished many feats during her time at NASA. She was among many black women hired by the space program in the 1950s to work in their Guidance and Navigation Department. There, she was picked out specifically to work with an all-male flight research team, helped calculate the orbit for the Apollo 11 flight to the moon, and co-authored 26 scientific papers that NASA still has in its archives today. Most importantly, she helped launch the first use of digital electronic computers at NASA. Even before her time there, Johnson was a genius who graduated high school at age 14 and received a double degree in math and French from West Virginia State College when she was 18. At WVU, she was one of only three black students and the only female student. Johnson’s story is one of perseverance and importance that was in part highlighted by the critically acclaimed film Hidden Figures.


#3: Serena Williams: Tennis Superstar

One of the greatest athletes of all time, Serena Williams has numerous achievements under her belt. Raised in Compton and coached by her father alongside her sister Venus, Williams endured intense daily tennis practices, often without proper equipment. From there, she worked her way up to being one of the most recognizable tennis players in history, with a record-breaking 23 Grand Slam titles, six U.S. opens, four Olympic gold medals, and many additional awards on top of those. Due to tennis being a historically white sport, Williams had a lot of criticisms thrown her way. But she rose above them to prove her place among the most outstanding athletes. 


#4: Stevie Wonder: Singer-Songwriter & Producer

Born as Stevland Judkins in Saginaw, Michigan, he gained the name “Stevie Wonder” from Motown founder Berry Gordy when he auditioned for Motown Records at 11 years old. Ever since he has craved a defining place in the world of music with his critically acclaimed songs and melodies. In 1966, he performed a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which then became an anthem for the civil rights movement. Some of his original hits include “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours),” “I Just Called To Say I Love You,” “Superstition,” “For Once In My Life,” and “Sir Duke.” His 1976 album “Songs In The Key Of Life” is considered by many to be the best album ever released. And throughout this musical success, he continued to use his songwriting skills to communicate the struggles of marginalized communities. 

Use these four changemakers to start a conversation with your little ones and learn about even more accomplishments made by the Black community throughout history!

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