February is traditionally marked as Black History Month in the U.S. and Canada. It’s a month-long recognition and celebration of achievements by black innovators.
Let's look at some people who have changed history recently and some who are still changing history today. In this article, we’re going to recognize the accomplishments of black leaders in different areas in recent years.
It's impossible to recognize everyone who is making a difference. I've tried to focus on those whose names might not be as recognizable, but whose work has made an impact nonetheless. We'll look at a variety of achievers from various fields including:
So, let's get started! Here's our list of black leaders:
12+ Black Leaders & Influencers
The black influencers and leaders below have made a significant contribution to science, culture or life in general in recent years. The influence of their contributions continues to shape and impact science, culture, technology, and other areas of our lives, even today.
1. Kimberly Bryant
Kimberly Bryant is best known for founding Black Girls Code in 2011 after feeling isolated for much of her studies and in her field in general. In her own words:
“[...]Much has changed since my college days, but there’s still a dearth of African-American women in science, technology, engineering and math professions, an absence that cannot be explained by, say, a lack of interest in these fields. Lack of access and lack of exposure to STEM topics are the likelier culprits.”
Bryant set out to change this and Black Girls Code was born. The workshops and school programs teach basic programming concepts to black girls with the main idea to bring more black girls into the STEM fields.
Bryant studied high voltage electronics and earned a degree in Electrical Engineering as well as a minor in Computer Science at Vanderbilt University. Early in her career, she worked for various biotechnology companies such as Genentech, Novartis Vaccines, Diagnostics, and Merck.
2. Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson is a theoretical physicist and the first black woman to receive a doctorate from MIT. She's also the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2014 by then United States President, Barack Obama.
Jackson's degree in physics also allowed her to contribute to the advances in telecommunications research during her time at Bell Laboratories. Thanks to her research, other scientists have been able to invent the portable fax, touch tone phone, fiber optic cables, and more.
3. Wes Moore
Wes Moore is a best-selling author, Army veteran, and the CEO of Robin Hood, an organization focused on improving the living standards for low-income residents of New York. Moore's also a social entrepreneur. He previously served as a founder and CEO at BridgeEdU, a tech platform that addresses the college completion and job placement crisis.
He's also been involved with many veterans' groups such as Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America and Things We Read. He's also the member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and gave a TEDTalk on How to Talk to Veterans About the War.
Moore attended John Hopkins University where he earned a degree in International Relations and Economics.
4. Oluyinka O. Olutoye
Dr. Olutoye garnered a lot of attention in 2016 when he performed a surgery on a baby in-utero (source: Face 2 Face Africa). Dr. Olutoye and his team of surgeons removed a sacrococcygeal teratoma (a large tumor that can develop on the tailbone of a fetus). They then returned the 23-week-old fetus to the mother’s womb so it could continue to develop.
Dr. Olutoye graduated from medical school in Nigeria. He also completed a PhD in Anatomy at the Virginia Commonwealth University. Today, he's the Surgeon-in-Chief at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in the U.S. He was also inducted into the American Surgical Association.
5. Mark E. Dean
Mark E. Dean was one of the top engineers at IBM. His first significant achievement was in the early 1980s when he and a colleague developed a system that allowed computers to communicate with printers. Here's some of what he's got to say about his work at IBM in this YouTube interview with the Knoxville News Sentinal:
Dean holds over 20 patents and is credited with contributing to various technological achievements such as color PC monitor, the Industry Standard Architecture system bus, and the first gigahertz chip. In 2000, California African-American Museum honored him as one of the "50 Most Important African Americans in Technology". (source: Biography.com)
Today, he's a John Fisher Distinguished Professor at University of Tennessee Tickle College of Engineering.
6. Janet Emerson Bashen
According to Black Enterprise, Janet Emerson Bashen is the first Black woman to hold a software patent. She developed LinkLine, a software designed to store and access the data related to Equal Employment Opportunity claims. Bashen continues to develop other software programs that'll help corporations better adhere to Title VII, the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
According to a ThoughtCo. biography, Bashen is also a member of the Black Inventors’ Hall of Fame. She also founded Bashen Corporation, which was created to impartially handle EEO compliance and complaints. Bashen graduated from Tulane Law School with a Master of Jurisprudence in Labor and Employment Law. After graduation, she worked for an insurance company, dealing with Equal Employment Opportunity claims.
7. Shaundra B. Daily
In 2003, Shaundra B. Daily combined constructionist learning and affective computing to create a system that would address the emotional needs of teenage girls. One of her notable contributions is recruiting and mentoring women and minorities into the field of science and engineering.
Here's what she told the National Science Foundation about human-centered computing:
Shaundra B. Daily is an Associate Professor of Practice in Electrical and Computer Engineering & Computer Science at Duke University. Daily has a masters and doctorate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. Her doctoral work focused on designing and implementing tech-infused learning environments for youth where they can learn about how interpersonal dynamics work.
8. Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates is the resident writer at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. He wrote several bestselling books, including We Were Eight Years in Power and Between The World And Me. He's received a MacArthur Fellowship and is the current author of the Marvel comics The Black Panther and Captain America.
He gained fame and readership after writing for the Atlantic. His topics revolved around cultural, social, and political issues, particularly regarding African Americans. His best-known article is “The Case for Reparations,” a long essay that talks in-depth about the history of racist oppression.
9. Agnes Day
Agnes Day is an associate professor of Cellular and molecular biology and cancer metastasis at Howard University. According to her biography on The Historymakers, an African American video oral history collection, Day specializes drug resistance in fungi, bone, and connective tissue diseases. She also focuses her research on breast cancer and genetics of breast cancer in black women.
She also received the Outstanding Research Award and the Kaiser-Permanente Outstanding Teaching Award by the Howard University College of Medicine. Today, she's the sitting member on the Minorities in Cancer Research and Women in Cancer Research committees in the American Association for Cancer Research.
Day grew up in Florida in a poor family. She was invited to live with her teacher, who recognized her intelligence. This event set Day on the path of achieving academic education and excellence.
10. DeRay Mckesson
DeRay Mckesson is an American civil rights activist, podcaster, and former school administrator. He is one of the leading voices in the Black Lives Matter movement and a co-founder of Campaign Zero, whose goal is to eliminate police violence. Mckesson is the host of the award winning podcast, POD Save the People. His podcast episodes feature topics on current news and social justice as well as politics and interviews with influencers and other activists such as Brittany Packnett and Sam Sinyangwe.
Since his childhood, he’s been an organizer in Baltimore City, most notably as the Chairman of Youth As Resources. He's got a degree in government and legal studies from Bowdoin College. During his time in college, he was the president of the student government and class.
11. Jon Gosier
Jon Gosier is a black software developer, investor, and philanthropist. He's best known for building tech companies to acquisition and working in crisis response in East Africa. Gosier co-founded many organizations and tech hubs in Africa that focus on improving and developing new economic activity and technological growth.
Currently, he's focused on creating new business opportunities in the entertainment industry. This allows many prominent stars such as Madonna, Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran, Shakira (and others) to find new ways of monetizing data.
Gosier is an alum of Savannah College of Art and Design and the THNK School of Creative Leadership and Innovation. CNN named him as one of the Ten African Tech Voices to Follow on Twitter in 2012 and Business Insider named him as one of the 25 most influential African-Americans in Technology.
12. Charlene Carruthers
Charlene Carruthers is the founding national director of Black Youth Project 100 which works with hundreds of young Black activists to create a national base of Black 18-35 year olds who are dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all Black people.
Charlene Carruthers has over 15 years of experience in racial justice, feminist, and youth leadership development work. Throughout her career, Carruthers has worked with high-profile activist organizations such as Color of Change and Women's Media Center.
In 2016 The Root 100 recently recognized Carruthers one of the top 10 most influential African Americans. Ebony Magazine recognized Carruthers as one of "Woke 100”. Carruthers has also received the YWCA's Dr. Dorothy I. Height Award.
13. Kathryn Finney
Kathryn Finney is the founder and CEO of digitalundivided, a social enterprise that helps Black and Latinx women founders one their journey through the startup pipeline. According to Kathryn,
"I took a big bet on digitalundivided because I know in my soul, in my very being, that women of color can build amazing companies. If I'm going to bet on anyone, I'm going to bet on us. And I know we can do it."
Digitalundivided also launched an innovation center in Atlanta, Georgia in 2015. The center is dedicated to helping Black and Latina women tech founders succeed in their business ventures.
Finney also interned in the White House and worked for USAID and other non-profits in Ghana, West Africa and South Africa. Finney has an undergraduate degree from Rutgers University in Women's Studies and Politics and a Master of Public Health Degree with Honors from Yale University.
These are just a few of those whose lives and works have made a real difference in our world today. There are many others whose life and works are changing our world.
If this article has inspired you, check the following articles for even more inspiration:
- Black History Month20 Successful Companies Founded or Owned by Black EntrepreneursAndrew Blackman
- Black History MonthTop 40 Inspirational Quotes of Black Entrepreneurs & LeadersAndrew Blackman
And if you want to make your company more inclusive and diverse, check the articles below:
- DiversityHow to Set Up an Employee Network & Improve DiversityAndrew Blackman
- Diversity10 Ways Your Business Benefits From Having a More Inclusive Leadership TeamAndrew Blackman
I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of the most influential black leaders of the past fifty years. But, this list is just a few of those who've changed the world. So, leave us your suggestions in the comments below.
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