This week’s post will cover contemporary figures making history right before our eyes. Before we begin I wanted to start with a tribute to Harper Lee, who passed away yesterday at the age of 89. Her widely-acclaimed, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird is a staple of American literature and remains a widely important text in regards to American race relations. It’s companion, Go Set a Watchman, published just last year, is an equally thought-provoking account of race in the United States. It’s fitting, during this Black History Month that we reflect on the poignant themes and messages of Lee’s novels and her great contribution to society that so boldly and wisely grappled with race from a White perspective. Rest in Peace Ms. Lee.
Serena is known for dominating the tennis world with her big sister, Venus back in the 90s. The tennis star from Compton, CA overcame immense odds to lead one of the most elite sports in the world. Williams is regarded as the greatest female tennis player of all time and holds the most major singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles of all active players male or female. Her 36 major titles puts her 5th on the all time list. She and Venus are the most recent players to hold all four Grand Slam women’s doubles titles at once. Serena is the third player (man or woman) to hold all four major titles simultaneously twice. She is the only player to have won singles titles at least 6 times in 3 different Grand Slam events and 10 Grand Slam singles titles in 2 separate decades. She holds a record 12 Grand Slam titles on hardcourt and a record 6 Australian Opens and US Opens (tied with Chris Evert). She is the 2nd highest paid female athlete and owns 4 Olympic gold medals. She’s the current Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year and the only black female athlete to grace the cover of Vogue solo.
Born Ahmir Thompson, Questlove is a musician, producer and DJ known for his role in the Grammy-winning band The Roots, which is also the house band for Jimmy Fallon’s late night show. The Roots were ranked #7 on the list of best hip-hop groups and formed by Questlove and his friend Tariq Trotter while students at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. He is known as one of the best drummers. He has produced for some of the most popular artists of our time including Elvis Costello, Common, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Jay-Z, Al Green, Amy Winehouse, and John Legend. He also played drums on Christian Aguilera’s Stripped album. His work has brought some of the greatest music to airwaves and continues to evoke discussion and emotion in hip hop music.
Jokingly known as the woman who owns television, Shonda Rhimes is the mastermind behind ABC’s #TGIT: the leading primetime television lineup of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How To Get Away With Murder. Her company, Shondaland, has brought diversity to television with her multi-racial casts who reflect characters of all economic, political, religious, sexual and philosophical backgrounds. In 2007, she was named one of the 100 People Who Shape The World. A graduate of Dartmouth and USC, Rhimes also wrote Crossroads and Princess Diaries 2 before Grey’s was picked up by ABC. She is also a best-selling author for her memoir Year of Yes and continues to revolutionize the industry by what she calls “normalizing television.”
Misty Copeland/Brooklyn Mack
Misty Copeland is known for making history last June when she was named a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, becoming the first Black woman to do so in the company’s 75 year history. Her story was documented in the 2015 documentary A Ballerina’s Tale and in two autobiographies. Copeland is regarded as a prodigy, having risen to the ranks of one of the best international dancers after taking up ballet at the age of 13. She holds several endorsements and awards. Brooklyn Mack is a professional dancer from SC who also picked up ballet late (age 12) to improve his football skills. Within two years he earned a scholarship to study in Washington DC and now performs for The Washington Ballet, one of few black male ballet dancers to do so.
Jaylen Bledsoe looks like your average 17-year-old, probably stressing over college applications and who to take to prom. He’s from St. Louis, not far from the epicenter of racial unrest that has many young men of color his age angry, and on the front lines of protests. However, a quick Google search will tell you something very different. Bledsoe formed Bledsoe Technologies, LLC at the age of 12, an information technology consulting business. Two years later the company had 150 contractors and $3.5 million in net worth. The nationally recognized entrepreneur gives talks on business and innovation. He recently began The Young Entrepreneur University that he hopes to establish in 10 cities this year. His mantra is: “Dream & Think Big. Control Your Future. Own Self Validation. Don’t Seek Validation.”
Lisette Titre-Montgomery is a video game developer who has managed global art teams in Japan, China, Australia, India, and the Philippines. Lisette contributed to some of the industry’s highest profile games, including Tiger Woods Golf, The Simpsons, Dante’s Inferno, Dance Central 3, SIMS 4, and Transformers Age Of Extinction for Android and iOS. Lisette works hard to encourage other young women of color to enter STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) fields. She has also been a keynote speaker at N.A.S.A., Intel, Black Girls Code, Girls Who Code, and Soledad O’Brien’s Starfish Foundation, NPR’s show Tell Me More with Michelle Martin and named One of the Most Powerful Women in Tech by Business Insider.
Ridley is the mastermind behind the acclaimed TV show American Crime, which garnered 10 Emmy nominations last season. He serves as writer and executive producer of the primetime drama. Before this, Ridley wrote for such popular shows as Third Watch, Martin, Fresh Prince, and Justice League. He also wrote the films Three Kings, Red Tails, the upcoming Ben-Hur, and 12 Years a Slave, for which he became the second African-American to win the Academy Award for Best Screenplay (Geoffrey Fletcher for Precious was the first). He’s currently working on a Marvel Comics TV series.