5 Black Women currently making history that we are saluting this Black History Month
This year, the theme for Black History Month is ‘Saluting our Sisters’. This theme brings to life the role black women have played in shaping history, pushing for change and creating communities all over the world. Often, when we speak of black history, we speak of the changemakers from many years ago such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Claudette Colvin.
However, there are many prominent black figures shaping history today and many of them are women.
So, who are the 5 black women we think are making history right now?
At just 19 years old, Coco Gauff won the most recent US Open Women’s title. Her win was celebrated by people from all over the world and she received personal congratulations from President Joe Biden and Barack Obama but what makes Coco Gauff so special?
So far, 55 women have won the US Open Women’s title since its inception in 1968 however only 5 of those women have been black and Coco Gauff is the second youngest black woman to do so after Serena Williams.
When Coco was six years old her parents created a ten year plan for her success. To achieve it, her mother resigned as a nurse and became a full-time mother whilst her father took on the role of her coach. To their amazement, Coco exceeded the plan by two years and became a professional tennis player at fourteen years old.
In fact, in 2019, at 15 years old, Gauff made her Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon and was the youngest in the Open Era to ever reach the main draw of Wimbledon.
In the tournament she defeated five-time champion Venus Williams and months later, won her first singles title. At 19, there is still so much more history for Coco to make!
Misty Copeland is the first African American dancer to be appointed as a Principal Dancer for the American Ballet Theatre in their 75 years of existence. There are no public records of how many black ballet dancers have been promoted to Principal Dancer in international major companies because there are so few of them. This is surprising when we take into account that ballet has existed since the 15th century!
Misty Copeland was the fourth child of six siblings. Her mother had several broken marriages which meant the family moved around a lot in poor conditions. Misty’s mother married for the fourth time but unfortunately, her husband was emotionally and physically abusive to his stepchildren and called them racial slurs.
By 1996, Misty Copeland’s mother divorced him and moved her children into a motel. Around the same time, a teacher at Copeland’s school encouraged Misty to start ballet and at 13 years old, she did her first ballet lesson. Her ballet teacher, Cynthia Bradley, was so shocked at Misty’s skill and grace that she eventually fostered Misty to make sure she would continue doing ballet lessons. This was because Misty’s homelife with her mother was making it harder for Misty to pursue her passion.
Eventually, through legal battles, Misty Copeland had to return to her mother but did so on the promise that she could still do ballet. What would come later is years of Misty winning ballet awards, being chosen as a soloist for major roles and being a standout dancer at the American Ballet Theatre for over a decade. Misty Copeland made history when she was promoted to the highest title for a ballet dancer and she continues to inspire young black ballet dancers all over the world.
Sha’Carri Richardson recently made headlines for winning the women’s 100 meters at the Track and Field World Championships in Budapest, setting an event record with a time of 10.65 seconds, overcoming the controversy of being disqualified from the Tokyo Olympics.This means that she ran faster than some of the greatest ever previous World Champions including Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Merlene Ottey, Marion Jones and Gwen Torrence.
As a child, Sha’Carri was abandoned by her mother who also was a field athlete and did not grow up with a father. This meant that Sha’Carri’s aunty and grandmother had to quickly step in and raise her. Soon, they discovered they had a championship sprinter in their hands.
Unfortunately, in 2021, Sha’Carri’s biological mother died and to deal with the loss Sha’Carri smoked marijuana however during testing for the upcoming olympics, the athlete was tested with marijuana in her system and was ultimately disqualified from competing for her country in one of the biggest global competitions in the world.
Yet Sha’Carri’s 2023 win, is a testament to her determination and personal and public victory. Let’s hope that we will see Sha’Carri in the 2024 Paris Olympics Securing gold!
In 2021, Lashana Lynch made history when it was announced that she would star as Nomi, the first black and first female secret agent who inherits the 007 title in James Bond.
This is inspiring considering there have been 26 James Bond films over 6 decades! In the film Nomi is MI6’s new 007, you will have to watch the film to find out more.
There was a lot of criticism at the time that 007 would be female and black yet Lashana did not give up the role and instead blew audiences away with her incredible on-screen performance.
Lashana was raised in London by Jamaican-immigrant parents and her love for acting started in primary school when her head teacher, a black woman, gave her the lead role in her school play.
In a recent interview, Lashana said as she got older and experienced racial prejudice in the industry, she began to realise that in primary school her head teacher had given her an opportunity that black girls rarely get.
In 2022, Lashana played the role of Igozie in The Woman King. The film was inspired by the true history of a one of a kind all-female warrior group that protected Dahomey, a kingdom in West Africa. This role helped push Lashana into further stardom and truly inspired young actresses who saw her on the big screen.
Lashan Lynch continues to make history working on films with Marvel and other well-known franchises. She hopes that her life’s work will show black women that anything is possible.
Jessica Watkins is an American NASA astronaut, geologist, aquanaut and former international rugby player.
Over 600 people have been to space and Jessica Watkins is only one of five women who have done so.
Yet, what makes Watkins really special is that 260 people from 21 countries have visited the International Space Station but in April 2022, Jessica Watkins was the first Black woman to do so.
Watkins’ research in space has improved life on Earth and has helped researchers learn more about the long term effects of spaceflight on the human body.
She was in space for six months which is how long it takes for a baby to develop blood cells and taste buds in the womb. During those six months, Watkins orbited the Earth 2,720 times, traveling a distance of 72,169,935 statute miles.
In 2002, she surpassed the record of being the African American woman who has spent the most time in space. With so much out there in space that we don’t know, humanity awaits the new things Watkins will uncover, especially because as part of NASA’s Artemi program, she could be sent on a mission to the moon.
If you would like to carry on the conversation
We would value your thoughts. Please do follow us and join the conversation on LinkedIn
If you want to see change and race equality in the workplace, join the Race Equality Matters’ movement if you are not registered already.
Images – Shutterstock