Being black is a wonderful thing.
Throughout history, black people have proven our courage, intelligence, and creativity time and time again. But as Black History Month approaches, you may notice the same names and faces representing African-American accomplishment and resilience. No shade to Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Medgar Evers, but there are plenty more examples of black excellence worth noting.
There are even people whose legacies we don’t confine to the limitations of Black History Month who are rumored to be black or biracial (Beethoven, Pushkin, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, to name a few) but because most records of African ancestry were hidden, scrubbed, or mentioned in hushed tones, a lot of that is speculative.
The beauty of black history is that we’re still making it every single day.
It’s no secret that black “firsts” happen each year, but the sheer number from the last quarter-century is both surprising and inspiring. Some of these individuals are household names while others barely received their 15 minutes of fame. But all are great moments worth commemorating and sharing.
Take a minute to celebrate and discover these 25 black “firsts” from the last 25 years.
1. First African-American woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress: Halle Berry (2002)
2. First African-American pilot to fly solo around the world: Barrington Irving Jr. (2007)
3. First African-American appointed surgeon general of the United States: Dr. Joycelyn Elders (1993)
4. First African-American to win the Masters golf tournament: Tiger Woods (1997)
5. First African-American U.S. attorney general: Eric Holder (2009)
6. First African-American woman named U.S. attorney general: Loretta Lynch (2015)
7. First African-American to reach the peak of Mount Everest: Sophia Danenberg (2006)
8. First African-American named U.S. poet laureate: Rita Dove (1993)
9. First African-American chess international grandmaster: Maurice Ashley (1999)
10. First African-American president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: Cheryl Boone Isaacs (2013)
11. First African-American president of an Ivy League institution: Dr. Ruth Simmons (2001)
12. First African-American to earn a gold medal at the Winter Games: Vonetta Flowers (2002)
13. First African-American to earn an individual gold medal at the Winter Games: Shani Davis (2006)
14. First African-American to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature: Toni Morrison (1993)
15. First African-American billionaire: Robert Johnson (2001)
16. First African-American woman to serve as mayor for a major U.S. city: Sharon Pratt (1991)
17. First African-American driver to qualify for the Indy 500: Willy T. Ribbs (1991)
18. First African-American to lead the Environmental Protection Agency: Lisa Perez Jackson (2009)
19. First African-American to launch his own film and television studio: Tyler Perry (2008)
20. First African-American named secretary of state: Gen. Colin Powell (2001)
21. First African-American woman named secretary of state: Dr. Condoleezza Rice (2005)
22. First African-American to host the Academy Awards: Whoopi Goldberg (1994)
23. First African-American promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre: Misty Copeland (2015)
24. First African-American to referee a Super Bowl: Mike Carey (2008)
25: First African-American woman in space: Dr. Mae Jemison (1992)
Hats off to these role models, charting new courses for black excellence each and every day.
It may seem shocking that after over 400 years in this country, we still see so many African-American firsts. That’s why it’s imperative we commemorate these achievements and not just for one month out of the year.
It’s important for children of all of races to see examples of African-Americans succeeding in different industries and professions. Positive representations and strong role models are vital to kids as they create themselves and craft their identity. By celebrating these individuals and the mark they made in history, we open up a world of possibility to a new generation.