Links I Like: Black History Month Edition

To round out Black History Month I wanted to create a round-up of unsung heroes of the Black community. I also wanted to take the time to gush about the greatness of the Black Panther movie because it’s worth all the hype it’s receiving and more.

The Original Black Panthers 

At a time when federal law prohibited black soldiers to fight alongside their white counterparts. The 761st Tank Battalion aka the original Black Panthers was founded.  With the recent release of Marvel’s Black Panther film, the term has moved from being connected to the political party to the superhero. But I wanted to shine a light on the real heroes who first bore the title. Members of the 761st received Purple Hearts, Silver Stars and a Medal of Honor.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m just as obsessed with Marvel’s Black Panther as the next person. I’ve seen it twice already and will be seeing it again this weekend.  Films like this that highlight Black Excellence, black beauty and portray Black people in a positive light can have ALL my money! And I’m not the only one that feels that way. The film has already grossed over 700 million globally and this is only week number two!

Seeing things like These Photos Of Black Kids Watching ‘Black Panther’ Highlight Why This Film Was Needed.  Representation matters and when the list of Black Superhero films includes Blade, Hancock, and Steel- all of which are ten to twenty years old. It makes it abundantly clear that not only did the Black Community need this film, the world needed it.

Black-Kids-Watching-Black-PantherPhoto via Christopher Aluka Berry/Reuters

Now, if you’re one of the few people on earth (excluding China and Japan where it’s yet to be released) who still hasn’t seen Black Panther, don’t worry. I’m not going to spoil it. The social media coverage alone probably has you aware of how important the female characters were to this film. One woman, in particular, was the backbone of the technological advances that made Black Panther such a force. The article We Need To Talk About The Significance Of Princess Shuri And Seeing A Black Girl In STEM is just the conversation that needs to be had after seeing how important Princess Shuri was to the success of the main character.

Princess-Shuri-Black-PantherImage via Blavity

Reading the headline, Disney donates $1 million from ‘Black Panther’ to the Boys & Girls Clubs made me immensely happy. Then discovering that those funds will go towards the STEM program in predominantly Black Communities like Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington gave me so much joy! I know in comparison to the 700 million made that one million doesn’t sound like much. But as a child I frequented the San Francisco Boys & Girls Club, it was a safe place I could go to get away from the drugs and violence going on around me. So I know from personal experience that every little bit helps.

There are too many exceptional Black People that get left out of history books. Men, women, and children who contribute to the advancement of our communities, our culture, our country, and the world. Here are 6 Black, Female Scientists You Should Know
Examples of Black Excellence have always been present. They just weren’t given their just due and the recognition they deserved. So I want to take a moment to appreciate a few of the firsts.  Some of these people you may have heard of, but many have been overlooked. So I want to show some respect and #SayThierNames.

Helen Williams

This Jersey girl had a passion for fashion from a young age and as a teen was encouraged to start modeling. At the beginning of her career, she worked exclusively for Black publications like Ebony and Jet. Because not only was there no Black Supermodels the only models getting booked by non-black businesses were light-skinned. When Williams moved to Paris she modeled in the ateliers of notable names like Christian Dior.

Upon her return to the States in 1961, Helen refused to take “No” for an answer. When told by an agent that they had “one black model already, thanks.” She took her complaints to the press which helped draw attention to the colorism and exclusion of Black models in the fashion industry. Soon Helen was the first Black woman to book jobs with major brands like Budweiser. Ads that were seen in the pages of The New York Times and Redbook.  Making her the first Black model to go mainstream.

My mom always told me, “A closed mouth don’t get fed.” Helen Williams is a shining example of knowing your worth and demanding it.

Helen-Williams-Black-History-MonthImage via Tumblr

Helen Williams for Ebony Magazine January 1959.

Loïs Mailou Jones

Loïs Mailou Jones paved a path for African American artists. At the beginning of her career the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston graduate had her work submitted to galleries by a white friend. Knowing that if she brought them in herself, she would be denied solely based on the color of her skin. She was given awards for her art that she couldn’t accept in person. Knowing that the award would be taken away if it was known that she was a Black woman. Jones was no stranger to rejection but she put her efforts in worthy places. Like traveling through Haiti, Africa, and Europe to learn and create art about the African Diaspora. Eventually going on to teach at the Historically Black University (HBCU) Howard University for more than 40 years and winning countless awards for her work as an artist.

Hazell Scott

 Hazel Scott was a musical prodigy who at the age of eight was given a scholarship to study at the Julliard School. The  Trinidadian-born jazz and classical pianist and singer was the first Black woman to have her own TV show. Scott went on to become an actress and civil rights activist. Refusing to perform at segregated places. Passing on roles as the “singing maid”. Insisting on having final cut privileges and control over her wardrobe.

During the Red Scare Scott was one of many Hollywood stars blacklisted. After appearing before the government, stating her case and admittedly denying any connection to the Communist Party her show was canceled. Check out this article to learn more about Hazel Scott’s Lifetime of High Notes.

Claudette Colvin

Nine months before Rosa Parks famously protested segregation by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old girl went to jail in Montgomery, Alabama for doing the exact same thing. Colvin was one of five plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle case that ended bus segregation in Alabama.

Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks died in 1951, but her cells continue to save lives daily. While being treated for cervical cancer at John Hopkins Hospital her cells were taken without her consent. At the time this was common practice as formal consent standards had not yet been established. Researchers found that unlike other cancer cells that died, Lacks’ doubled every 20 to 24 hours. The cell line was named Hela after Henrietta’s first and last name and was distributed to other scientists for research purposes.

Although the hospital claims they never sold Lacks’ cells. The Lacks family wasn’t informed of the use until over twenty years after Henrietta’s death. The Hela cell has been used by both public and private companies to make some of the most significant medical advances in history. Including the polio vaccine, advancements in AIDS and cancer research, cloning, in vitro fertilization and gene mapping. Scientists continue to use the Hela cells to test diseases like Zika, herpes, measles and to develop a vaccination for HPV.
I consider what happened to Henrietta and the fact that after 70 years her family has not received compensation for all that she’s done to advance medical education a form of injustice. Another form of injustice is the environmental injustice happening now in Uniontown, Alabama.

 Cheyney McKnight

Historical Interpreter Cheyney McKnight is making sure that historical sites are historically accurate. “I went to historical sites and I was really pissed off by the interpretation of African-Americans,” McKnight tells Racked. She’s worked at over 40 historical sites with her company  Not Your Momma’s History.  “Through fashion, I can connect with my ancestors, but I can also change the future.”

I hope this trip down memory lane has taught and inspired you. I usually get inspiration for these round-ups from social media and then start digging into the topics that are meaningful and need to be shared. As Black History Month wraps up I want to remind us all to celebrate Black Excellence, the contributions of Black people and each other every day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.