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When Black Women and excellence intersect you can be certain that something beyond magical is about to occur. Now, if you combine all that awe with grit and athletic physicality, you’ve got yourself some pretty indelible forces to reckon with. Black women in sports have consistently broken barriers and historical records and continue to do so. They rise to the occasion and get the job done on and off the field while inspiring legions of young women and girls to be great–period. MADAMENOIRE x Volvo has compiled a two-part list acknowledging several standout athletes and Women To Know in sports.
Claressa Shields (Boxing)
Claressa Shields is a boxing legend, who is taking a stab at becoming an MMA champion. Her life has not been easiest. In an interview with The Guardian, she shares a bit of that her-story. Shields was raised primarily by her grandmother Joanne Adams, who became Shield’s caretaker at the age of five. Shields’ father introduced her to the sport through boxing legend Laila Ali. She began training to surpass her idol at age 11. In six short years, that aspiration came to fruition. Shields became a gold medal Olympian in London, in 2012, at just 17-years-old. She is cited by teamusa.org as the “first American woman to win gold in boxing and become the first American boxer (male or female) ever to win gold in back-to-back Olympic Games.” In 2020, Shields added MMA fighter to her resume, signing a 3-year contract with The Professional Fighters League. Her aim is to surpass her own greatness. In an interview with MMA Weekly, Shields lays out her plan to “cement [her] legacy as the Greatest Woman of All Time.”
A movie about Shields’ trials and triumphs is currently in the works. The film is directed by Oscar winner Barry Jenkins. Shields will be played by actress Ryan Destiny. According to Shields, this is only the beginning. While the film may cover the first part of her career, at 26-years-old, there is so much left for her to achieve.
Deja Young (Track & Field)
Deja Young-Craddock is a track and field phenom. Young claimed the bronze medal in the 2020 Tokyo Para-Olympics. Her dedication and excellence in track and field is well documented. Off the track, Young-Craddock is using her platform and voice to discuss mental health awareness. Young was impacted by a birthing accident. Her shoulder was injured as it collided with her mother’s pelvic bone, resulting in a type of nerve damage called a brachial plexus. Young overcame her disability and began running track in high school, earning a scholarship to Wichita State University. It was there that Young experienced her first serious bout with depression. Young-Craddock has been an avid mental health advocate ever since:
Young is taking a break from the sport. She plans to put her degree in social work to use, as she takes time to find what brings joy. Young-Craddock is careful not to commit to full retirement. Her break is meant to be a time of self discovery. Still, one thing Young-Craddock is sure of is the place track and field holds in her life:
“[running is] going to be a part of me. It’s always been a part of me, and I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere anytime soon.”
Renee Montgomery (NBA Owner)
Renee Montgomery is a boss — literally. After an 11-year WNBA career, Montgomery became minority owner and vice president of the Atlanta Dream. For Montgomery, this is just the natural progression to help further her advocacy. Montgomery was a 4th round draft pick after she graduated from University of Connecticut. Over the course of her career, Montgomery played with three different teams — Minnesota, Connecticut and Indiana — before joining the Atlanta Dream. Joining the Dream would prove to be a pivotal moment in her career.
Montgomery was called to service, sitting out the 2019 and 2020 WNBA Season. Since then, she has put in work with the Renee Montgomery Foundation to support education reform and raising funds towards her Moments Equal Momentum initiative. Still, it was Montgomery’s next move that made history. While working on her advocacy initiatives, Montgomery became aware of the possibility of buying the Atlanta Dream. She shares the responsibility of ushering the WNBA into the future with Larry Gottesdiener, chairman of the real estate equity firm and Suzanne Abair, Northland’s president and chief operating officer. Montgomery sees this triumvirate investment group as the perfect fit to further the city of Atlanta and her advocacy. Montgomery is the first player turned owner in WNBA history.
Aquana Brownlee (Baseball)
Aquana Brownlee is a woman to watch in softball. Brownlee is in the beginning of her career. A native of Houston, Mississippi, Brownlee was a multi-sportswoman at Houston High School. According to the Mississippi State University website, an “earned Division 4-4A Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year honors her sophomore season.” Brownlee went on to commit to Mississippi State’s softball program as in infielder. Her 2020 season with the team was cut short due to the pandemic, but she is definitely off to a great start. There are so few African American women in the game of softball. So, Aquana Brownlee’s presence is a win to be celebrated.
Simone Manuel is a breakout star and history maker in professional swimming. Manuel holds multiple world championship medals: six gold, three silver and three bronze to be exact. According to the official website for USA Swimming, Manuel is the first African American woman to win a Gold Medal in the 100m freestyle during the 2020 Beijing Olympics. Manuel’s prowess in the pool shows her dedication to her craft. Her resume outside of the pool shows another side. Manuel is taking steps to leverage her partnerships into opportunities for African Americans. Her official website boasts her inclusion rider with the brand TYR. Not only is Manuel securing the bag, her inclusion rider ensures that she brings other minorities with her. Manuel has also partnered with Lebron James’s I Promise school to give swim lessons to students during the summer. Manuel’s goal is to help African American youth learn a life-saving skill.
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