In honor of Black History Month, the Oola team celebrates seven extraordinary women who radiate #BlackExcellence. These women of color broke down political, academic, medical, social, and cultural barriers despite the societal odds historically stacked against them.
#BlackExcellence can’t be appreciated without acknowledging these odds. The movement is defined as a Black individual who portrays great qualities and abilities, but it’s also a mindset. “Black excellence is the audacity to look at the place where hundreds of years of being exploited and abused, on both the motherland and beyond, has brought us and say we can rise and prosper,” according to Black Excellence.com.
In defiance of centuries of systemically enforced inequality, the Black community rose to make outstanding contributions to every aspect of modern society. These remarkable women are certainly no exception.
Amanda Gorman, Poet
At only 22 years old, Amanda Gorman already has a stunning number of accolades under her belt. She is a recent Harvard University graduate, the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate, and the founder and executive director of One Pen One Page, an organization that provides free creative writing programs to underserved youth.
You might recognize her from the 2021 presidential inauguration, where she effortlessly moved an entire nation with her poem, The Hill We Climb. Or maybe you saw her at the Super Bowl—the first poet ever commissioned to recite a poem at the sporting event.
Gorman’s new book of poetry is set to release this year, and we can’t wait to dive into more of her phenomenal wordsmanship.
Kizzmekia Corbett, Ph.D., Immunologist
When life finally returns to some semblance of pre-pandemic normal, we’ll have Kizzmekia S. Corbett, Ph.D., to thank. Corbett is a research fellow and the scientific lead for the Coronavirus Vaccines & Immunopathogenesis Team at the National Institutes of Health.
The viral immunologist and her team designed the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine that was rapidly deployed to Moderna, Inc., only 66 days after the viral sequence release. The next fastest vaccine development was for the mumps in the 1960s—that took four years.
Thanks to the marvels of modern science and brilliant minds like Corbett’s, the world is one step closer to leaving COVID-19 behind as a foggy, chaotic memory.
Allyson Felix, Olympian
Nine-time Olympic medalist Allyson Felix is currently tied with Merlene Ottey as the most decorated female Olympian in track and field history. Felix is also the most decorated athlete of any gender in World Athletics Championships history with 18 career medals.
But her impact on modern society doesn’t stop at record-breaking relay times. In May of 2019, Felix wrote an op-ed for The New York Times in which she blasted her sponsor, Nike, for attempting to pay her 70% less following her pregnancy in 2018.
Just three months later, Nike removed contract reductions for pregnant athletes from their company policy, elevating Felix from a global champion into a historical champion for working mothers everywhere.
Joy Buolamwini, Computer Scientist
Artificial intelligence is progressing rapidly into all areas of modern society, and aptly-proclaimed poet of code, Joy Buolamwini, is at the precipice of this virtual frontier. Buolamwini founded the Algorithmic Justice League to ensure the AI-dominated world in which we find ourselves is one rooted in equity and accountability.
Her TED talk on algorithmic bias has over one million views, her research has been covered in over 40 countries, and she has advocated for the need for algorithmic justice at the World Economic Forum and the United Nations.
As our sci-fi dreams turn into reality, Buolamwini faces the unknown head-on to build a societal foundation that serves all genders, races, and abilities.
Cori Bush, Congresswoman
Bush is a fierce advocate for her hometown of St. Louis, where she spent more than 400 days protesting for justice following the shooting of Michael Brown Jr.
It’s impossible not to feel like “100% that b!$@#” when listening to the unmistakable songs of singer/rapper/flutist Lizzo. The multi-talented artist released her debut album, Lizzobangers, on an indie label based out of Minneapolis in 2013, but it wasn’t until 2019 that she reached international stardom.
She has also inspired a tidal wave of body positivity movements, advocating for plus-size representation and creating that representation herself via empowering songs and an unapologetically confident social media presence.
Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi; #BlackLivesMatter Founders
In response to the 2013 acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, a Black-centered social justice movement began to take root in Missouri. Three radical Black organizers—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—elevated this grassroots movement into an international Black Lives Matter Global Network with more than 40 chapters.
The BLM movement seeks to “eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.” The six-year-strong movement has led to necessary police reform, the removal of confederate statues and monuments, and worldwide racial solidarity.
Time included the three BLM founders in their 2020 list of the 100 most influential people in the world, but we have a feeling we’ll be hearing their names and seeing their effects on modern society for many, many years to come.
How to Celebrate Black Voices Year-Round
February is Black History Month, but the accomplishments and contributions of people of color cannot possibly be condensed into a single 28-day month. As important as it is to recognize #BlackExcellence when we see it, a simple acknowledgment is not enough.
Bowie State associate professor of history Roger Davidson recently spoke to the importance of celebrating Black voices year-round, stating, “It’s become a month where we take a look at certain anecdotes and famous people, but it was intended to be much more than that—a celebration of Black life.”
The University of California San Diego, Harvard Business Review, and countless other online resources offer literature, testimonials, and advice on being an effective, trustworthy ally. The NAACP and BLM Foundation also offer ways to contribute to economic, political, and social justice directly.
#BlackExcellence is more than just a hashtag; it’s a movement. The only way to stay on track is to remember where we’ve come from and where we’re trying to go.