“I am a feminist, and what that means to me is much the same as the meaning of the fact that I am Black; it means that I must undertake to love myself and to respect myself as though my very life depends upon self-love and self-respect.” – June Jordan
Today, and everyday we honor and celebrate the inspiring Black women across the world and throughout history. These are the women who have shaped history and continue to inspire generations of women. Happy Black History Month.
1. Dr. Alexa Canady
Dr. Alexa Canady is the first African-American woman to become a neurosurgeon. When she became a neurosurgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, she was voted one of the top residents.
In 1984, she became the first African-American woman to become certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery. From 1987 to 2001, she was chief of neurosurgery at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan and has since helped thousands of pediatric patients.
2. Laverne Cox
Laverne Cox is most notably recognized for her Emmy-nominated performance as Sophia Burset on Orange Is the New Black.
Laverne Cox works as a voice in the LGBTQ+ space by educating the public and combating misconceptions about the transgender community. Her goal is to have people can understand “not everybody who is born feels that their gender identity is in alignment with what they’re assigned at birth…if someone needs to express their gender in a way that is different, that is okay…That’s what people need to understand, that it’s okay and that if you are uncomfortable with it, then you need to look at yourself.”
In 2014 Laverne Cox was honored by GLAAD with the Stephen F. Kolzak award for her work as an advocate for the transgender community. She also became the first transgender person to win (2015) a Daytime Emmy as a producer.
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3. Dr. Joycelyn Elders
Dr. Joycelyn Elders was the first Black person and second woman ever to serve as the United States Surgeon General. Once she was appointed as US Surgeon General, she initiated projects for robust sex education, available birth control, and counseling.
4. Kizzmekia Corbett
Kizzmekia Corbett, Ph.D., was notably one of the leading scientists developing the Covid-19 vaccine in 2020. Working at the National Institutes of Health, Corbett was a part of the team that developed the Moderna vaccine.
5. Lena Waithe
In 2017, Waithe made history as the first Black woman to win an Emmy in the category of writing in a comedy series for the Netflix show Master of None. She is also an outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and strives for representation in film and TV for queer people of color.
Photo: Shayan Asgharnia
6. Tarana Burke
Tarana Burke founded the “Me Too” movement in 2006 and has spent decades supporting sexual violence and sexual assault survivors, especially young women of color.
Inspired by Tarana’s work, the 2017 #MeToo movement drew attention to sexual violence and abuse in both private and public sectors. It has helped to publicly expose the impact of sexual violence and led a movement for change to help survivors.
7. Jaha Dukureh
After living through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and being forced into marriage at age 15, Jaha Dukureh began speaking out against both practices and became a leading voice in the movement.
Dukureh is a UN Women Regional Ambassador for Africa and is the CEO and Founder of “Safe Hands for Girls” which provides support to African women and girls who are survivors of FGM and addresses its lifelong, harmful physical and psychological consequences. Jaha Dukereh has also contributed to the Gambian Government’s ban on FGM after youth mobilization and campaigning in the country.
Photo: Courtesy of L’Oreal Paris
8. Audre Lorde
Lorde, a self-described “Black, lesbian, feminist, mother, poet, warrior,” made lasting contributions in the fields of feminist theory, critical race studies, and queer theory through her teachings and writing. Among her most notable works are “Coal” (1976), “The Black Unicorn” (1978), “The Cancer Journals” (1980), and “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name” (1982).
“I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.” – Audre Lorde
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9. Andrea Jenkins
Jenkins made history in November 2017 by becoming the first openly transgender Black woman elected to public office in the U.S. Jenkins is also a published poet and an oral historian at the University of Minnesota. Jenkins made history again in January 2022, when she was elected as the first transgender official in the U.S. to lead a city council.
Photo: Anna Rajdl Photography
10. Gabrielle Union
Gabrielle Union has openly discussed her fertility struggles, racial and gender equality in Hollywood, and raising her children, as well as being brutally attacked when she was only 19 years old.
She is an ambassador for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, as well as supporting the Young Survivor Coalition and advocate for survivors of sexual assault by speaking out against sexual violence and assault against women.
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