About a year ago, I picked up a copy of Mae Among the Stars for Oscar. The book told an abbreviated story of Mae Carol Jemison, the first woman of color in space. The book itself is a little formulaic and simplistic, but so are most children’s books to be honest. But credit where credit’s due, it introduced me to Dr. Mae Jemison, who I hadn’t heard of previously.
Dispatches From the Internets
I picked up a copy of Baratunde Thurston’s How to Be Black pretty much as soon as it hit the shelves in 2012. I was a huge fan of his work as digital director for The Onion and was really excited to read his take on what it meant to be black in America. The book was brilliant in its concept—part memoir, part satirical self-help book—but also in its execution, which included not only reflections on his own life experiences, but thoughts from others folks like W. Kamau Bell (who I profiled earlier) and damali ayo.
Investigative journalists have it rough. First off, it takes a ton of research to uncover the truth. Triple that if the subject is something folks really don’t want you investigating. Then there are the smear campaigns, threats of violence, intimidation, and (in some cases) actual violence committed against these reporters. With that in your head, imagine being Ida B. Wells, a black former slave (and woman) reporting on lynchings throughout the South after Emancipation. Brave doesn’t even begin to describe her.
I’m the first to admit that I really don’t know much about sports. Sure, I know, generally, how most sports are played, but I only recognize a handful of “sports heroes,” mainly because I dabbled in collecting sports trading cards in my teens. When it comes to sports, I may live under a rock, but I know who LeBron James is. I also respect the hell out of him. Not because he’s a phenomenal basketball player (which I’m sure he is… I’ve never seen him play), but because of how he has channeled his power as a cultural icon into making a difference for the children of Akron, Ohio.
I don’t recall the first time I heard W. Kamau Bell speak. Perhaps it was one of his stand-up specials or maybe it was an interview on the Daily Show or an appearance on Premium Blend, but he immediately made an impression. Throughout his career, he’s never shied away from confronting issues of race, racism, and the systemic oppression of blacks in America, but he’s also used his bully pulpit to start some important, but difficult conversations.
History is filled with people who are notable for one reason or another. Pauli Murray is notable for dozens. Throughout her life, she was told she couldn’t do things, often because she was black or a woman (or both). In pretty much every instance, she pushed back, challenging the cultural norms of her time and notions of what was acceptable.
I can’t remember exactly when I discovered Lizzo, but I do remember how refreshing I found her work. A self-professed “big girl with a cute face,” Lizzo is incredibly empowered and comfortable in her own skin. Having struggled with my own body image issues—including dealing with a decent amount of body shaming—I’ve found her ability to find beauty in everyone—including herself—inspirational.
Nina Simone’s performance of “My Baby Just Cares for Me” has long been one of my favorite songs. Her hands slink across the piano keys as her unmistakable voice seems to dance in, out and, around the melody they produce. It’s a joy to listen to and still gives me those this-is-amazing shivers that only the best music does. I don’t recall my first introduction to Nina Simone, but I remember how striking her voice was. And she used that voice to say the things others couldn’t.
During Black History Month, there is, understandably, a great deal of focus placed on the folks who risked their lives (and, in some cases, lost them) in the fight for the civil rights of their fellow Black Americans. Growing up, however, I never heard about Bayard Rustin and his incredible legacy of standing up for marginalized people, both here in the U.S. and abroad.
A few weeks back, Marcy Sutton shared a slide deck by Tanya Reilly with me. The talk was “Being Glue” and it discussed the incredibly important (and shamefully undervalued) role of being the “glue” that holds a team together and makes them successful. That talk was concerned with technical teams, but this role is universal to any organization, collaboration, or project. In many ways, Anna Arnold Hedgeman was glue for the civil rights movement and I don’t think she gets enough credit for it.