Black History Month

       When you hear Black History Month, what comes to mind? Likely, one of these trailblazers. Rarely do we go beyond the folks commonly found in high school history books and even more rare are black leaders of today. Black History Month is a great time to turn our collective consciousness to the achievements of black Americans.

       Any attention to Black History Month should begin with Carter G. Woodson. It's his grassroots efforts that launch what would become black history month. An activist with a PhD in History from Harvard, Woodson notices an underrepresentation of black people in American history-- a glaring problem for a black historian. He co-founds The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915, and a decade later, they launch "Negro History Week." The week intentionally coincides with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas during the second week of February. Woodson aims for comprehensive black history education, not just the history of great leaders.

       In the following decades, this week gains popularity. Progressive high schools form Negro History Clubs, and cities initiate Negro History celebrations in their communities. Woodson and the black community solidify the importance of black history education in the United States and in 1976, President Ford officially declares February Black History Month.

Woodson’s movement inspires our nation to recognize black achievement, great and small. It’s exciting to celebrate the accomplishments of fellow Americans, and it’s also a good time to discuss unfamiliar parts of our history. As we learn, we honor the triumphs and struggles of black Americans. In this series we'll introduce you to numerous black Americans, many you may not have heard of. Please join us as we make visible the often invisible contributions of individuals who have helped shaped the timeline of US history.

Imagine you’ve been in a car crash. Badly injured you're losing blood quickly and without a blood infusion you will die. Thankfully the hospital has ample supplies of your blood type on hand and doctors are able to save your life. Before 1941 you would've likely died.

It's in that year that Dr. Charles Drew develops a method to preserve blood donations up to five times longer. His breakthrough science goes on to save countless lives. But despite his discovery, Drew’s race bars him from donating. This injustice leads Drew to dedicate the rest of his life to another cause-- medical equality for all.

Dr. Charles Drew

Lisette Titre

The computer gaming industry begins to carve out its piece of American life in 1972 when Atari releases a game we all know -- Pong. Half a century later, Lisette Titre shakes up the gaming industry in a new way, as an advocate for gender diversity.

 

A talented animator, Titre’s the reason why Vijay Singh looks so realistic in Tiger Woods Golf. But she also creates educational opportunities for young black girls in the computer game design. Don’t be surprised if the “Pong” of 2055 comes from one of her protégées.

Have you ever dreamed of being an astronaut? Well, Dr. Mae Jemison did. At five years old, she watches NASA send the first American into space and knows she's destined for the stars.

 

With a medical degree from Cornell, Dr. Jemison has a successful career in medicine, but decides to follow her heart. She calls the front desk at Johnson Space Center for an application to NASA. In 1992, Mae fulfills her childhood dream. Aboard the Endeavour, she's the first African-American woman in space.

Dr. Mae Jemison

Marc Hannah

Remember this guy and his blood-stained teeth? Movie blockbusters like Jurassic Park and The Abyss are the downstream result of Marc Hannah and the firm he co-founds in 1982, Silicon Graphics, Inc.

 

An electrical engineer with advanced degrees from Stanford University, Hannah's pioneering work at SGI in computer generated three dimensional effects influences everything from Hollywood films to military simulations to everyday cars. Think about that on your next morning commute.

In 1945 a new past time has America cheering-- race car driving. We're feeling the need for speed, and so is a daring taxi driver Wendell Scott.
 
When work is slow, Scott bootlegs moonshine across Virginia. He outruns authorities like a pro. He’s nominated to compete in a local racing circuit from an unlikely source-- the police that can’t catch him. Scott’s racing career begins. Nine years later, his determination leads him to become the first black man to race in the NASCAR Grand National.

Wendell Scott

Stephanie Johnson

What would you think if your company employs 130,000 people, but only 12 of them are black women? That's point zero zero zero one percent. This is reality for pilot Stephanie Johnson. She is the first Black female to pilot commercial flights-- and the first black woman made Captain.

Today, Johnson inspires underprivileged youth in career camps. Your future flight could be piloted by one of these talented young people. Normally the one breaking glass ceilings, today she says, “My proudest accomplishment is giving others the opportunity to soar.”

Misty Copeland

Picture a ballerina. What does she look like? Standing only at 5’2”, Misty Copeland probably doesn’t have the “look” you’re thinking of. For a traditional ballerina, she's too short. Her skin too dark. Her body too muscular. Most ballerinas start shortly after they learn to walk. She begins at 13.

Barriers like these lead most of us to quit, but not Misty. After a lot of rejection, hard work and pain, she becomes the first black female principal dance in the 75 year history of the American Ballet Theatre.

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