Paving the Way: 10 Inspiring Women in #BlackHistory

Monday, February 22, 2021

In honor of Black History Month, we celebrate the women who paved the way for us to lead and excel in ways we never imagined. Here, we honor the legacies of powerful Black women and celebrate inspiring women who are the epitome of our ancestor’s wildest dreams:

Photo Credit: Stephen Parker / Alamy Stock Photo

1. Maya Angelou

You can’t talk about great literary works without mentioning award-winning author, poet, and Civil Rights activist Maya Angelou. Her first book and famed autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” was the first nonfiction bestseller by an African American woman and was followed by several more autobiographies in which she told her story of resilience and strength. Angelou received numerous awards and much recognition for her impactful work that spans multiple mediums, including literature, theater, film, and television. In 1993, she was the first African American woman to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration; and in 2010, Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian award.

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” — Maya Angelou

Photo Credit: Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard file photo

2. Amanda Gorman

A lot of us were introduced to Amanda Gorman as she so beautifully recited her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at the inauguration of 46th U.S. President Joe Biden. At 22, she’s the youngest inaugural poet in history. Gorman made history again this year as the first poet ever to recite a poem at the Super Bowl. While her bold brilliance is a pleasant surprise to some, this young wordsmith and activist has regularly used her platform and poetry to advocate for racial equality, oppression, and feminism. Gorman is a cum laude graduate of Harvard University and the first National Youth Poet Laureate. A special edition of her inaugural poem will be published in March 2021. Her debut picture book, “Change Sings,” and the breakout poetry collection, “The Hill We Climb and Other Poems,” will be published in September 2021.

“For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” — Amanda Gorman, @AmandaCGorman

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3. Shirley Chisholm

Known for her slogan, “Unbought and unbossed,” Shirley Chisholm is a pioneering African American politician with multiple firsts to her name. In 1968, she was the first African American woman elected to Congress; and in 1971, she was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women’s Political Caucus. Chisholm proved her courageous leadership by becoming the first African American to campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 1972. Although she did not win, she continued to make an impact by serving another 11 years in Congress.

“You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.” — Shirley Chisholm

Photo Credit: Celeste Sloman/Redux

4. Kamala Harris

We’re proud to celebrate our 49th vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris! Breaking barriers as the first woman, and the first Black and South Asian American, in this role, Vice President Harris has always been a pioneer. In 2004, Harris became the first woman and first African American to hold the office of district attorney in San Francisco and made history again as attorney general of California in 2011. No stranger to paving the way, Harris became the first African American to represent California in the U.S. Senate in 2017.

“There will be people who say to you, ‘You are out of your lane.’ They are burdened by only having the capacity to see what has always been instead of what can be. But don’t you let that burden you.” — Kamala Harris, @Kamala Harris

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5. Cicely Tyson

If we learned just one thing from Cicely Tyson, it was to live fully and do the best you can. Tyson was one of America’s most respected actresses and known for her portrayal of strong women across different mediums. Within her extraordinary career, Tyson received numerous awards and recognition for her roles in “Sounder,” “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” and “Roots.” In addition to being nominated for an Academy Award in 1973, and winning two Emmys in 1974, Tyson won a Tony Award for her performance in “The Trip to Bountiful” in 2013. This year, Tyson released her bestselling memoir, “Just As I Am,” and we’re forever inspired by her contributions to the arts and her legacy that will last a lifetime.

“I think when you begin to think of yourself as having achieved something, then there’s nothing left for you to work towards. I want to believe that there is a mountain so high that I will spend my entire life striving to reach the top of it.”­ — Cicely Tyson

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6. Regina King

As one of the most versatile actresses in Hollywood, Regina King has executed powerful performances on the big and small screen. Her performance in ABC’s “American Crime” earned her first two Emmys, which she followed up with Emmy wins for Netflix’s “Seven Seconds” and HBO’s “Watchmen.” King also won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Taking on a new role, King transitioned into directing shows such as NBC’s “This Is Us” and HBO’s “Insecure.” This year, King made her feature directorial debut with “One Night in Miami,” a fictional account of a night in 1964 when four icons of sports, music, and activism gather for a big moment in boxing history. Whether she’s acting or directing, King uses her platform to shed light on societal issues.

“If you have the opportunity for your art to meet activism, you shouldn’t pass that up when it comes your way.” — Regina King, @IAmReginaKing

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7. Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes is an award-winning writer, showrunner, producer, and director who has created her own lane and dominated the television industry. Rhimes is the first African American woman to create and executive produce a top network series with “Grey’s Anatomy,” a drama centered around young doctors in a Seattle hospital. Rhimes is also the creator of the hit show “Scandal” and, in 2005, she founded Shondaland, her own production company that produces shows such as “How To Get Away With Murder.” In 2015, she released her first book, “The Year of Yes: How To Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person.” Most recently, Rhimes debuted her first scripted show for Netflix, “Bridgerton,” a multiracial romance that proved to be an immediate hit with more than 63 million households streaming.

“The goal is that everyone should get to turn on the TV and see someone who looks like them and loves like them. And just as important, everyone should turn on the TV and see someone who doesn’t look like them and love like them.” — Shonda Rhimes, @ShondaRhimes

Photo Credit: Christopher Patey/Contour by Getty Images

8. Issa Rae

It’s almost impossible to observe the rise of Issa Rae and not be inspired. Issa Rae first caught our attention with her YouTube series, “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” and her accompanying memoir, which became a New York Times bestseller in 2015. With her HBO series, “Insecure,” Rae became one of the first Black women to create and star in her own TV series. The acclaimed show has received multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominations and is gearing up for its fifth and final season this year. In 2018, Rae made her big-screen debut in “The Hate U Give,” and last year starred in Netflix’s “The Lovebirds.” Additionally, she owns Color Creative, a production and distribution company dedicated to creating more visibility and opportunities for women and minority writers.

“I thrive on obstacles. If I’m told that it can’t be told, then I push harder.” — Issa Rae, @IssaRae

Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

9. Madam C.J. Walker

Sarah Breedlove, also known as Madam C.J. Walker, is one of the first African American women to become a self-made millionaire. Walker specialized in a beauty product line for African American women that helped their hair grow and healed scalp issues. Outside of her successful business, Walker was a political activist. According to Timeline, Walker played a key role in Black internationalist movements and joined forces with various Black activists to end racism, colonialism, and imperialism.

“I got my start by giving myself a start.” — Madam C.J. Walker

Photo Credit: Jason McCoy

10. Monique Rodriguez

After leaving her career as a registered nurse, Monique Rodriguez used her background in science and her passion for healthy hair to create a natural hair care line that has shaken up the natural hair industry. Rodriguez founded Mielle Organics in 2014. The company has grown from one product to more than 25 results-driven solutions, making it one of the fastest-growing natural hair companies in the U.S. In addition to promoting hair growth, Rodriguez is dedicated to inspiring women in business and entrepreneurship and shares invaluable lessons from her journey on her podcast, “The Secret Sauce To Success Podcast.”

“Leaving a strong legacy is so important for me, especially because I’m raising two African American young girls. I want them to know despite what society says about African Americans and women, they can excel, push the limits, and break the mold.” — Monique Rodriguez, @ExquisiteMo

Be surrounded by inspiring women at our 2022 Woman, Thou Art Loosed Homecoming! Join us in Atlanta, GA, next year for the Grand Finale by registering at

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