March is Women’s History Month and, to honor the occasion, we’d like to create a space for all the women history forgot. For the women who deserve a place in our textbooks. For the women whose voices should echo. This piece — just one in a series — is for them.
The following is a list of truly marvelous black females who are marvelous not because of the vastness of their accomplishments, but because their life stories go beyond their race and gender. Everything from science to music to politics wouldn’t be the same without these women, and one can safely say that they’ve changed the world. They are a key part of our history, though they may not be featured within our textbooks (yet). With this in mind, I encourage you to go beyond what I’ve written and explore further.
1Michelle Obama (1964-Present)
Michelle was so much more than a First Lady. For starters, the Princeton and Harvard grad is one of only three First Ladies with a graduate degree. She also skipped second grade and was in a gifted program by the time she was in sixth grade. She’s an elegant, multidimensional celebrity who cannot be put in a box. She perpetuates that grace by focusing greatly on poverty, education, and healthy eating.
Michelle actually wrote her own speeches during Obama’s campaign and at the 2012 Democratic Convention. Interestingly enough, she met Barack Obama at a law firm, where she was his boss!
2Maya Angelou (1928-2014)
Born with the name Marguerite Johnson, she was many things — an author (with 7 autobiographical books), a poet, a singer, a songwriter, a director, a producer, a dancer, and a civil rights activist. Angelou also learned 6 languages and made Tupac cry (without even trying)! At 16, she became a mother to her son, Guy, and regardless of the fact that she’s never been to college, Angelou has over 50 honorary degrees. She was the first black woman to direct a major motion picture (the movie Down in the Delta). With the encouragement of Martin Luther King Jr., she took on the role of northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
During his time in office, Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Before she died, Angelou said she wanted this simple yet goosebump-inducing sentence engraved on her tombstone: “I did my best, I hope you do the same.” She’s a trailblazer whose words have gotten us all through tough times.
3Joyce Banda (1950-Present)
Malawi is home to one of the most exemplary leaders: Joyce Banda. She is a huge supporter of grassroots movements, particularly ones geared toward helping the poor. This truly altruistic mindset was something she brought into government in April 2012, when Banda helped bring down government spending by taking a 30% pay cut, selling the 15 million dollar presidential jet, and firing her entire cabinet because of persistent corruption. As a result, monetary sanctions were removed from Western nations and the International Monetary Fund.
She’s an example of a great leader, who truly thought of others and knew when to actually relinquish power.
4Founders of the Black Lives Matter movement (Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi)
The untimely death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the trial of his killer, George Zimmerman, was the catalyst for what eventually grew into the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. It started with Alicia posting on Facebook and using the phrase “black lives matter.” Patrisse, an L.A. community organizer, saw her post and put the hashtag in front and #BlackLivesMatter was born. The movement eventually expanded when Patrisse and Darnell L. Moore organized the BLM ride to support the movement in St. Louis after Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. It entered the mainstream, and was even on Law and Order SVU.
While it is controversial to some, the truth of the matter is that Black Lives Matter has created awareness, prompting the public to engage in an important dialogue on systemic racism that is all too often ignored.
5Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace (Crystal Roh Gawding, Leymah Gbowee, and Comfort Freeman)
In 1999, when the Second Liberian Civil War hit, systematic rape and violence was rampant in Liberia. In response, Leymah Gbowee brought together a multi-faith group of women called the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement. This collective of Muslim and Christian women used many non-violent strategies, like pray-ins and protests with the hope of reviving negotiations for peace. One method that didn’t work, but garnered a lot of media attention, was the sex strike, in which women chose to stop having intercourse with their partners until the fighting stopped.
President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, was later exiled, and this paved the way for the first African female leader and Nobel Laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Gbowee joined Sirleaf and became a well-deserved Nobel recipient as she continues work on grassroots movements to promote peace and equality.