At the intersection of Black History Month and Black womanhood are incredible women who have made a historical mark in the American landscape. If we look back, we can immerse ourselves in the gripping history of Rosa Parks and her contribution to the civil rights movement. We can get lost in Annie Turnbull and Madame CJ Walker’s historical impact on beauty culture and Black women’s hair during the early 1900’s. We can even travel back to Harriet Tubman’s quest to free herself and others from enslavement and learn how her action and voice was integral during the U.S. Civil War which eventually led to the emancipation of enslaved people. Black History isn’t just an account of the past, neither are the fierce women who are a part of it. Black History is a living history that is constantly in the making–and is largely influenced by Black women who challenge the nation and demand change for the better good. Thus, celebrating history isn’t all about the past. It’s also about the now. MADAMENOIRE recognizes these Black women, these national treasures, as they create history in the moment.
Today, you see #MeToo at the end of tweets, crammed into the headlines of yet another article about a Hollywood predator and as the premise for many a standup comedian’s jokes. It’s become so widespread that its origins seem like a distant memory. But one woman was bold enough to start a movement that shed a very bright light on just how alarmingly widespread sexual harassment and assault is. That woman is Tarana Burke. Burke first coined the term in 2006 and her hope was that if every woman who had been a victim of assault started to use the phrase, they would all see that they are very much not alone. Many give credit to Alyssa Milano for popularizing the phrase because she breathed new life into it in 2017, but it was Tarana Burke who first created it. An activist and community organizer, Burke has been fighting issues like housing inequality and racial injustice since the 1980s. It was during her time working for a youth development organization called 21st Century that Burke encountered many Black women who had been victims of sexual assault. Since then, Burke has been involved in organizing several efforts that provide resources, help and a voice for Black women who have been assaulted. Burke was named Person of the Year by TIME Magazine in 2017.
Many know that Kamala Harris made history when she became the first woman and first Black person to serve as the Vice President of the United States, but some of her other important accomplishments aren’t as widely understood. In her first year as Vice President, Harris got several private companies to invest over one billion dollars to address the economic hardship in Central American countries seeing the greatest emigration to America. Within her first weeks in office, she fought the Republican opponents of the $2 trillion COVID-relief stimulus bill aka The American Rescue Plan. And in November of 2021, Harris served as the acting president for 85 minutes while President Biden went under anesthesia and transferred his power to her, making Harris officially the first Black women to be president – almost.
Patrisse Khan-Cullors is the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, but her work in Black activism started long before the BLM movement. Khan-Cullors has been an abolitionist organizer involved in several organizations challenging societal constructs for over 20 years. She’s been involved in Reform LA Jails, Justice LA and Dignity and Power Now. Khan-Cullors co-founded the BLM movement in 2013 with Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza after the acquittal of George Zimmerman. In 2020, Khan-Cullors assumed full control of the Global BLM Network. Warner Brothers Television Network eventually signed a production deal with Khan-Cullors who has been helping them develop original content to elevate Black voices in mainstream television.
Alicia Garza is the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, but her career in activism dates back to 2003 when she took part in an internship at the School of Unity and Liberation in a program that taught young people of color how to organize in the activism sphere. From there, she was a part of several organizations that researched and exposed issues such as the relationship between a lack of economic opportunity and an increase in crime, a lack of public housing access to minority communities and issues of gender and racial injustice. She did much of this work through an organization called People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER). She managed to successfully fight for free public transit for young people, disabled individuals and senior citizens in Bayview, San Francisco. She is known for coining the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” After the acquittal of George Zimmerman, Garza made a Facebook post that included the words “”I continue to be surprised at how little Black lives matter… Our lives matter.” Her first book, “The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart”, was published by Penguin Random House in 2020 and is a guide for future activists.
Stacey Abrams is an American politician, lawyer and activist. She is the House Minority Leader for the Georgia General Assembly and State Representative for the 89th House District. Abrams has previously run for Governor and though she didn’t win her first bid, she has announced she will run again in the 2022 Georgia gubernatorial election. Abrams is well known for her advocacy surrounding voter’s rights and the disenfranchisement of Black voters. Abrams is also for criminal justice reform and has pushed for no-cash bail for low-income individuals, the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana and the abolishment of the death penalty. In 2019, Abrams became the first African American woman to give a rebuttal to the State of the Union speech, in which she criticized Trump and the Republican Party for creating discord and abandoning the working class. Abrams has received several notable awards over the years, including the “100 Most Influential Georgians” award and the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award.