Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by black people and their role in history. Since 1976, February has been designated Black History Month, not only in the USA, but in countries around the world- including Canada and the United Kingdom. When thinking about celebrating Black History Month, public figures such as Nelson Mandela and Oprah immediately come to mind. But I wondered if we could broaden that list of black heroes and include those ordinary people who are making or have made giant leaps in their communities, those working internationally to make change on a global scale, and those that were making history long before the Civil Rights Movement. There are so many hidden figures that need to be on everyone’s lips throughout the year. Here are just a few of the amazing figures you might not have known about:
JOSHUA BECKFORD- The Youngest Person to Attend Oxford
At age six, when his peers were entering first grade, Joshua Beckford attended Oxford University and received a certificate of excellence for getting distinctions in all his courses. Beckford was listed as one of the top 30 most remarkable people in the world with Autism who have impacted society, and gave a TedTalk when he was 11 in 2016 in Vienna on the importance of saving our Planet.
PHYLLIS WHEATLEY- The First Published African-American Female Poet
Phyllis Wheatley was born in 1753 West Africa and sold into slavery around the age of seven. Many white Americans at the time found it difficult to believe that an African slave could write poetry. Wheatley had to defend the authorship of her poetry in court in 1772 in front of the governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson. Below is an excerpt from one of her poems, “To S.M., A Young African Painter, on Seeing His Works”:
To show the lab’ring bosom’s deep intent,
And thought in living characters to paint,
When first thy pencil did those beauties give,
And breathing figures learnt from thee to live,
How did those prospects give my soul delight,
A new creation rushing on my sight?
Still, wond’rous youth! each noble path pursue;
On deathless glories fix thine ardent view:
Still may the painter’s and the poet’s fire,
To aid thy pencil and thy verse conspire!
SILAS ADEKUNLE – The Highest Paid Robotics Engineer
The 27-year old Nigerian was 2018’s highest paid robotics engineer after signing a deal with Apple Inc. Adekunle is the founder and CEO of Reach Robotics, a company that is developing gaming robots, including the Mekamon, a four-legged battle robot. He appeared on the Forbes 30 Under 30 in Technology 2018 list. Adunkle had a passion for experimenting with technology since an early age, when he was 8 he accidentally caused a power outage in his neighborhood in Nigeria when he took a battery and plugged it with some exposed wires on the wall outlet. When his family moved to the UK, Adunkle continued tinkering with amateur robots and learned how to code.
DENIS MUKWEGE- Nobel peace prize winning doctor who performs surgeries on survivors of sexual assault and female genital mutilation
Denis Muwege is a Congolese gynecologist who specializes in the treatment of women who have been assaulted by armed rebels. He has treated thousands of women who were victims of rape since the Second Congo War. He received the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, the UN Prize in Human Rights and the Civil Courage Prize. We was named the “world’s leading expert on repairing injuries of rape” by The Globe and Mail.
MAE JEMISON- the First African-American woman in Space and a Cornellian!
Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman to travel to space in 1992 on the Endeavour on mission STS47. She received her M.D at Weill Cornell Medical School and was appointed to a six-year A.D White Professorship at Cornell in 1999. She founded the non-profit Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence which developed and hosted The Earth We Share, an annual international science camp where students ages twelve to sixteen work together to solve current global dilemmas. There is no better way to end this than with one of my favorite quotes from her, “You have much right as anyone else to be in this world and to be in any profession you want. You don’t have to wait for permission.”
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