In honor of Black History Month, the Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity Alliance created a community spotlight on Black American contributions. The project, which was shared with the entire MSP community in mid-January allowed students, faculty, and staff to share the name of an important African-American figure, along with their contribution to American society. These submissions were written up into short profiles and shared by IDEA with the community via weekly emails and social media posts throughout Black History Month. As Black History Month comes to a close we’re excited to share the contributions of these amazing Black people with you.
Due to the complex nature of her story, we’ve chosen to feature the the full IDEA profile of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells have been used by countless of researchers without her, nor her families consent, in this post. More information about Henrietta Lacks can be found here.
- Maya Angelou, Poet: April 4, 1928 – May 28th, 2014
- Maya Angelou was a world-renown poet who used her talents to discuss racism, trauma, and other taboo topics. In addition to her literary works, Angelou was an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement. Learn more about the life of Maya Angelou here.
- Fred Hampton, Civil Rights Activist: August 30, 1948 – December 4, 1969
- Fred Hampton was an active member of the NAACP along with service as a deputy chairman in the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers. He was killed during at just 21 during FBI raid which you can learn more about here.
- bell hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins), Author: September 25, 1952 – December 15, 2021
- Writing under her pen name, bell hook’s works are a prime example of critical theory and examined intersections of race, gender, class, and sexuality. Listen to an interview with bell hooks to learn more.
- Ralph Ellison, Author: March 1, 1913 – April 16, 1994
- Best known for his work Invisible Man, Ellison was an acclaimed author whose work examined the African-American experience and culture. Learn more about Ellison.
- Malcolm X, Civil Rights Activist: May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965
- One of the most recognizable names coming from the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X was a passionate speaker who advocated for black empowerment. You can listen to one of Malcolm X speeches on police brutality here.
- Katherine Johnson, Mathematician: August 26, 1918 – February 24, 2020
- Katherine Johnson was a talented Mathematician whose work was influential in the success of the NASA space program. She was a member of the team whose story was portrayed in the popular film Hidden Figures. The film can be found for free on Disney+ or rented with Amazon.
- Marsha P. Johnson, LGBTQIA+ and Human Rights Activist: August 24, 1945 – July 6, 1992
- Known for her prominent role in the Stonewall uprising, Marsha P. Johnson was an outspoken advocate for Black transgender rights and humane HIV-treatment. You can learn more by visiting the Marsha P. Johnson Institute website.
- Condoleezza Rice, Politician: November 14, 1954 – Present
- Condoleezza Rice was the first female African-American Secretary of State. She served during the second administration of George W. Bush and left a lasting mark on field of international relations. You can learn more about Condoleezza Rice’s tenure as Secretary of State by visiting the White House Archive.
- Carla Hayden, Librarian: August 10, 1952 – Present
- Carla Hayden was the first African-American and first women of any race to become a librarian at the Library of Congress. She is a fierce advocate for free and open access to information. Check out her profile on the Library of Congress website.
- Nkeiru Okoye, Composer and Musician: July 18, 1927 – Present
- Nikeiru Okoye is a renowned composer and musician and 2021 Guggenheim Fellow, whose pieces are known for shedding light on the Black experiences. Listen to pieces composed and performed by Nkeiru Okoye.
- Alicia Garza, Activist: January 4, 1981 – Present
- Alicia Garza is an American civil rights activist who helped start the Black Lives Matter movement. She works to increase the visibility of challenges facing the Black community along with working with programs to empower young Black Americans. Read about Alicia Garza and how #BlackLivesMatter began.
A special thanks to Farid Alsabeh, IDEA, and everyone who submitted a profile for their contributions to this project.