Over the past eight months, increased attention has been paid to the stories of Black visionaries who have changed our world. With Movement 4 Black Lives and Black Lives Matter leading conversations about racial equity and liberation, and more focus on elevating and amplifying Black voices in all areas and conversations, we have all been challenged to dig deeper into the rich history of the anti-racist movement and to acknowledge innovators who have long since been neglected in public discourse.
This movement toward telling the stories and acknowledging the impact of Black voices that are no longer with us is an imperative part of dismantling the inaccurate history of the United States perpetuated by white dominant culture. We must also work toward applying this energy toward acknowledging and appreciating Black leaders while they are still here. Black voices are an important part of our past, but they are also an important part of our present and future.
For Black History Month, we’re sharing the names and stories of Black women who are making history in the current moment.
We might be a little bit biased when we talk about Alexis McGill-Johnson. Afterall, she currently leads the Planned Parenthood Federation of America as President & CEO. In her role, she has ushered in a new era of representation, diversity of thought, and inclusivity with the nation’s largest provider of sexual and reproductive health care. But her impact on our world extends far beyond her reach at PPFA. McGill-Johnson is also a co-founder of the Perception Institute, an anti-bias research group that is investing in understanding how and why our brains are hard-wired for bias, and how we can rewrite our own predispositions.
Anyone following the 2020 election season, and particularly the Senate run-off election in Georgia, likely knows the name Stacey Abrams. After losing her race for Governor of Georgia in 2018, Abrams committed to dismantling the system that has continuously suppressed voters rights in the state. Through the organization she founded, Fair Fight, Abrams was part of a large voter mobilization movement that led to historic voter turnout in the state, aiding in the election of President Joe Biden and the flipping of the U.S. Senate from control by anti-abortion politicians to champions of sexual and reproductive health care. The work that Abrams and many other voting rights advocates did in Georgia proved that when all people are allowed to vote, overwhelmingly we see officials who believe in medically and scientifically accurate policy elected to office.
Though you might not have heard Tarana Burke’s name before, you have likely heard the slogan she coined that sparked a revolution: #MeToo. Burke’s work to develop the #MeToo movement spanned over a decade of developing trusting relationships with sexual assault and abuse survivors, primarily young women of color. In 2017, allegations toward many notable men in positions of power began to ignite an unstoppable flame and the #MeToo hashtag became part of a global lexicon, widely understood as a symbol of solidarity and alignment with the movement. Despite the years of work that Burke and others did laying the groundwork for #MeToo, Burke has largely been a name left out of discourse.
A widely known name in the art-world for some time, Amy Sherald rose to national recognition when she painted former First Lady Michelle Obama’s official portrait, now hanging in the National Portrait Gallery. In this portrait, Sherald aimed to capture who Obama was at that moment in time: a woman of integrity, intellect, compassion, and humanity. In August of 2020, Sherald painted another portrait that preserved someone in a specific moment in time: Breonna Taylor, shortly before her murder at the hands of police officers. This image, Sherald has said, is meant to feel both ethereal and grounded, the way that Taylor’s name and image have stayed with us, fueling protests and memorials alike.
Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett
Long before the word ‘coronavirus’ was a regular part of our communal vocabulary, Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett was on a small team of scientists and healthcare professionals tasked with understanding the vaccine immunology of coronavirus variants, in the event that we ever needed to develop one. This has been Dr. Corbett’s work since she joined the NIH’s Vaccine Research Center in 2014. With six years of research and work behind her, in 2020 she and her team moved quickly toward developing and finalizing a vaccine. The next time someone questions how a vaccine could have been developed so quickly, you can politely inform them that Dr. Corbett has actually been working toward it’s development for several years.
Many people know Cori Bush as a current sitting U.S. Representative from St. Louis, MO. However, Cori Bush has never been just one thing. Before being elected to serve in office, Bush was a registered nurse, community activist, organizer, and ordained pastor -- all while raising children as a single mother. What makes Bush’s current role as an elected official so monumental is that she has firsthand experience of community organizing, activism, and advocacy and has personally experienced situations that she currently is writing policy to address, from homelessness and eviction to domestic violence and racial injustice.