In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson established Black History Month (which originally started as Negro History Week) to call attention to and inspire pride in the many contributions made by African Americans. He believed that “What we need is not a history of selected races and nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice.”
This year, in honor of Black History Month, let’s take a look at some of many African American women who impacted and shaped the past, and the many African American women who continue to pave the way to a more equitable and just future. Celebrate and honor Black History Month by sharing the achievements of these African American heroes with your troop.
Lena Olive Smith. In 1921, Lena Smith became the first African American woman lawyer in Minnesota. Prior to earning her law degree, Smith was a real estate agent; her work as a realtor exposed her to the rampant housing discrimination against African Americans, which led her to fight for equal access to housing. Smith founded the Urban League of Minneapolis and later became the first woman president of the Minneapolis chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Nikole Hannah-Jones. An investigative journalist and staff writer for The New York Times, Nikole Hannah-Jones received the MacArthur Foundation’s “Genius Award” in 2017 for her work on the persistence of racial segregation in American society. She reports extensively about the government’s failure to uphold the 1968 Fair Housing Act and how current policy continues to segregate communities.
Betty Reid Soskin. Betty Reid Soskin is the oldest national park ranger serving the United States (she’s 96!). She played a pivotal role in establishing California’s Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park, a park dedicated to preserving the history of women’s contributions during the War effort. In creating the park, she was adamant in ensuring the recognition of the history of segregation and discrimination during the War effort. She states, “What gets remembered is a function of who’s in the room doing the remembering.”
Lisa P. Jackson. Appointed in 2009, Lisa Jackson was the first African American woman to serve as the environmental protection agency administrator. As the administrator of the EPA, she spearheaded policy to curb the detrimental effects of climate change, particularly on low-income and minority communities who experience the brunt of environmental harm.
Amy Sherald. Artist Amy Sherald was recently commissioned by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery to paint an official portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama. This marks the first time a black artist has been selected to paint a portrait for the collection. As an artist, Amy Sherald chooses only to paint African Americans because of the lack of representation of African Americans in art and in the wider culture. “There’s not enough images of us,” she says. “I basically paint people who I want to see exist in the world.”
Marley Dias. After noticing the lack of black female protagonists in mainstream books, Marley Dias launched the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign. “I want these stories to be reflected for the black girls who are reading them, so they can see themselves and identify themselves,” she says. Though her initial goal was to collect 1,000 books about black girls, she’s currently at 9,500 books (and counting!).
You can incorporate black history and black futures in your troop activities not just during the month of February, but throughout the year. Not sure how? Here are some more tips and activities to start:
- Explore five African American artists and then create projects inspired by their art.
- Read works by black writers. Black writers (and writers of color in general) represent a tiny fraction of the publishing world. In 2016, writers of color wrote just six percent of all children’s literature published. Find some great titles for girls of all ages here.
- Browse the National Museum of African American History & Culture’s collection of historical artifacts, documents, and art.
- Learn about and support organizations founded and led by black women who are empowering and changing communities (and the world!).
History is made and changed by the people—in learning about these powerful individuals, perhaps your girls will be inspired to create change of their own. Use the G.I.R.L. Agenda to help them be the voices of today—and tomorrow. In the words of Betty Reid Soskin, “Some change is immediate, some change takes decades, and some change is generational—and all of that change is happening at the same time.”
Lily Yu – Lily is a Volunteer Resource Specialist at River Valleys. She earned her BA in comparative literature and Japanese from Hamilton College and has a background in publishing and advertising. In her free time, Lily enjoys going for long runs, reading, and spending time with her family (including her five-year-old daughter who is a Daisy this year