Oprah Winfrey is a billionaire media executive, actress, talk show host, television producer, and philanthropist and is best known for hosting her own internationally popular talk show, which was among the most popular of the genre. From there she launched her own television network, OWN. She became one of the richest and most influential women in the United States.
Oprah Winfrey graduated in 1987 from Tennessee State University where she majored in Speech Communications and Performing Arts. Yes, Oprah attended an HBCU and she is one of the many successful graduates of HBCUs. Among many of her inspirational sayings, Oprah Winfrey has famously said, “Education is the key to unlocking the world, a passport to freedom.”
When Oprah worked in Baltimore, I met her twice as a child. Once when our class went to the local television station and once at a local restaurant in East Baltimore that she used to frequent with friends. In both of those meetings, Ms. Winfrey was gracious to me as a you g Black girl. I remember her smile and her warmth. I thank God for her example.
She is a beautiful Black woman who looks like me and broke glass ceilings changing the way people see Black women and women of color. In the coming weeks, she will be the first report to interview the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Meghan and Prince Harry).
She is Black History, living history and continues to break barriers, create pathways and challenge us as women to do more and change the world.
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This one is so personal to me. I grew up adoring Muhammad Ali. My stepfather used to take me to the fights and to wrestling matches. I was somewhat of a Tom boy. Actually, I was a Tom boy! I loved going with him. He always took me in the back to meet the fighters and wrestlers. I just thought when you went to an event, that’s what you were supposed to do. I had no idea of my privilege at such a young age.
We lived in Maryland so I’ve met and even had dinner with Sugar Ray Leonard. I had no idea how Wayne knew all these people so personally. It was just part of my life as a child. The one person with whom I never got to meet was Muhammad Ali.
He was however the one person I always wanted to meet. Every time he took me to a fight or went without me because it was just the “grown-ups,” I always asked about Muhammad Ali. If he knew Sugar Ray and Andre the Giant, he had to know Muhammad Ali. I still think that he did, but we never had the opportunity to meet.
As we take this journey in Black History each week, I share people I know, people whose stories are so inspiring to me and people who are living history. But as we prepare for the weekend of love, I must share my love for Muhammad Ali. (I almost became a Muslim following his life and work, but I love the Lord and could not make that change!)
People know when he was born, when he died and how his life change not just Black America but American society as a whole. People know that he was mentored He is American history as all Black History is American history.
Muhammad Ali is one of the most prolific, charismatic and outspoken leaders of the 20th century. He and his friends were devoted to equality, success and family. It is what brought them together. It was one of their common denominators. It may have brought them together.
I encourage you to learn more about Muhammad Ali. I encourage you to learn about his life, his friends, and his journey. Learning more of their time, their stories and their accomplishments teaches where we’ve come but more importantly, where we plan to go.
Katherine Dunham was an African-American dancer, choreographer, creator of the Dunham Technique, author, educator, anthropologist, and social activist. Dunham had one of the most successful dance careers in African-American and European theater of the 20th century, and directed her own dance company for many years.
Click this link for a great video about Katherine Dunham and her dance company:
Katherine Dunham was born on June 22, 1909 in Chicago, to an African American father and a French Canadian mother. She transitioned on May 21, 2006 in Manhattan, NY.
She sang in her local Methodist Church in Joliet; but for a financial crisis at her church, she might never have sung anything but gospel songs. At age eight, she amazed and scandalized the elders of her church by doing a performance of decidedly non-religious songs at a cabaret party, in order to raise money. We can only imagine what lessons she learned but her life’s work gives us a glimpse.
She never thought about a career in dance. Instead, she consented to her family’s wish that she become a teacher and followed her brother, Albert Dunham Jr. to the University of Chicago, where she became one of the first African American women to attend this University and earned bachelor, masters and doctoral degrees in anthropology. While attending the University of Chicago, Ms. Dunham was a student Ludmilla Speranzeva, formerly of the Moscow Theater.
Following graduation, Ms. Dunham founded the Negro Dance Group. They performed at the Chicago Beaux Arts Theater in ‘A Negro Rhapsody’, dancing with the Chicago Opera Company, and one of the performances was attended by Mrs. Alfred Rosenwald Stern, who was sufficiently impressed to arrange an invitation for Dunham to appear before the Rosenwald Foundation, which offered to finance any study contributing toward her dance career that she cared to name.
Armed with foundation money, Ms. Dunham spent most of the next two years in the Caribbean studying all aspects of dance and the motivations behind dance. Although she traveled throughout the region, including Trinidad and Jamaica, it was in Haiti that she found special personal and artistic resonances. She wrote some scholarly essays during her trip and sold lighter magazine articles about the Caribbean under the name of K. Dunn.
Katherine Dunham revolutionized American dance in the 1930’s by going to the roots of black dance and rituals transforming them into significant artistic choreography that speaks to all. She was a pioneer in the use of folk and ethnic choreography and one of the founders of the anthropological dance movement. She showed the world that African American heritage is beautiful. She completed groundbreaking work on Caribbean and Brazilian dance anthropology as a new academic discipline. She is credited for bringing these Caribbean and African influences to a European-dominated dance world.
In 1931, Miss Dunham met one of America’s most highly regarded theatrical designers, John Pratt, forming a powerful personal and creative team that lasted until his death in the 1986. They married in 1949 to adopt their daughter, Marie-Christine, an 18 month-old French child.
Dunham’s big breakthrough to popular recognition took place after she moved to New York in 1939 where, in February, she opened at the Windsor Theater in a program called ‘Tropics’ and le ‘Jazz Hot’. It was supposed to be a one-night event but demand was such that Dunham ended up doing 13 weeks. She then founded the Katherine Dunham Dance group – which later developed into the famous Katherine Dunham Company – devoted to African-American and Afro-Caribbean dance.
Katherine Dunham is credited for developing one of the most important pedagogues for teaching dance that is still used throughout the world. Called the “Matriarch of Black Dance,” her groundbreaking repertoire combined innovative interpretations of Caribbean dances, traditional ballet, African rituals and African American rhythms to create the Dunham Technique. The Dunham Company toured for two decades, stirring audiences around the globe in 57 countries, with their dynamic and highly theatrical performances.
Katherine Dunham also appeared in several films: Carnaval of Rythms (1939), including Star Spangled Rhythm (1942), Stormy Weather (1943), Casbah (1948), Botta e Risposta 1950 Italy – Musica en la Noche 1955 Mexico – Liebes Sender (1954) Germany – Mambo, (1954), Italy – Karaibishe Rythmen (1960) Vienna. She also choreographed, without appearing: Pardon my Sarong, 1942, USA- Green Mansion, 1958, USA – The Bible, 1964 (by John Houston, shot in Rome). In 1962 Katherine Dunham and her company appeared in Bamboche, the three-act revue that first introduced to America the dancers of Morocco, who appeared with the consent of King Hassan II.
Most of Katherine Dunham’s awards were for her contribution to the arts, but whenever she was engaged in conversation, she used the opportunity to teach and strategize to solve the social problems created by poverty and racism. She used her talent and insight to re-direct the energy of violent street gangs through the performing arts. We can learn a lot from Ms. Dunham’s example.
One of the beautiful things about living in a more vital world is that events are now available to a wider audience. Our county has scheduled a series of conversations with local leaders who have had a national or global impact. I am fortunate to have worked with three (3) of the four who are participating this month during my professional and volunteer career. I am so excited to share this chance fir you to get to know them.
Tonight, my friend and councilman Julian Jones will talk about the successes of Black people in our community and the path forward to achieving equity in today’s society. I invite you to join us for tonight’s conversation. Please see the schedule list in this post.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski announced a Black History Month Conversation series, engaging African-American leaders across Baltimore County in a dialogue about the successes of African-American leaders and the work ahead to promote a more equitable and inclusive County.
UMBC President Dr. Freeman Hrabowski spoke last week. Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, was named UMBC’s first Black president in 1992. A child-leader during the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Hrabowski is regularly recognized as one America’s most influential leaders, and he was recognized by Time Magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.” Under his leadership, UMBC has been recognized as a model for inclusive excellence.
Baltimore County Council Chair Julian Jones: Wednesday, February 10, 2021 Time: 7:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Baltimore County Council Chair Julian Jones is the first person to serve twice as Baltimore County Council Chair. As a member of the County Council Jones has championed legislation to advance equity, supporting the SMART Policing Act, which enacted reforms to the Baltimore County Police Department, and the HOME Act, which banned housing discrimination by source of income. A career public servant, Jones served 36 years as a firefighter in the Anne Arundel County Fire Department, retiring as Division Chief.
Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones is the first Black woman to serve in her leadership position. Serving in the House of Delegates since 1997, Jones was also the first Black woman to serve Speaker Pro Tem. In her 37-year civil service career, Jones was the first Executive Director of the Baltimore County Office of Fair Practices and Community Affairs. She is the Founder of the Annual Baltimore County African American Cultural Festival, now in its 21st year.
Makeda Scott, chair of the Baltimore County Board of Education, is the first Black woman to hold her role. A communications professional with decades of experience in government and nonprofit work, Scott has held leadership roles with the Baltimore Housing Authority, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and as Director of Communications for U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes.
Barrington Irving is a Jamaican-born American pilot who previously held the record for the youngest person to pilot a plane around the world solo, a feat he accomplished in 2007. He is also the first black person and first Jamaican to accomplish this feat.
Born November 11, 1983, Barrington is a you g man with so much to accomplish in this life. He has traveled to 50 countries and conducted more than 30 STEM expeditions, and successfully challenged middle school students to build a car faster than a Ferrari 430. Barrington then challenged high schoolers to build a plane which he flew on its test flight. In 2007, he set two world records—at age 23.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica and brought up in inner-city Miami, Barrington was inspired to pursue aviation at age 15, when a Jamaican airline pilot offered to mentor him. He rejected college football scholarships to pursue a career in STEM and never looked back.
A Magna Cum Laude graduate of Florida Memorial University, Barrington was the recipient of a Congressional Resolution acknowledging his pioneering work in aviation education. He received the Guinness World Record as the youngest person to fly solo around the world and was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer in 2012.
A little know but important fact is Trayvon Martin participated in his Build and Soar program for four (4) years. Trayvon even was a passenger in the plane with Barrington. What an amazing mentor he was and continues to be.
Black History is not just the people who lived and died. Black History is being made every day by the incredible who live, work, and mentor NOW!
I was the plaintiff in the seminal case establishing the analytical framework for employment discrimination cases. I was a black mechanic and laboratory technician laid off by McDonnell Douglas in 1964 during a reduction in force at the company.
I was active in the civil rights movement and I protested that my discharge was racially motivated. McDonnell Douglas advertised for vacant mechanic positions, for which I was qualified as I had been doing the job before. I applied, but was not hired.
I filed a lawsuit and it went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s decision was unanimous, 9-0 in my favor. My case, McDonnell Douglas Corp. v Green 411 U.S. 792 (1973) is cited in nearly every employment discrimination case since. My name is Percy Green.
The 1st Rhode Island Regiment, widely regarded as the first Black battalion in U.S. military history, originated, in part, from George Washington’s desperation.
In late 1777 during the American Revolution, the Continental Army, led by General Washington, faced severe troop shortages in its war with the British. “No less than 2,898 men now in camp [are] unfit because they are barefoot and otherwise naked,” Washington wrote to Congress, begging for material support. Disease claimed nearly 2,000 soldiers during the army’s winter encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. When enough white men couldn’t be persuaded to enlist in the depleting army with bounties of land and money, Congress resorted to the draft. Its mandate: Each state must fill a quota of militias, based on its population.
Rhode Island, the smallest state with a population under 60,000 on the eve of the Revolution, needed to fill two battalions. When the state couldn’t recruit enough white men, its leaders appealed to Washington to allow both free and enslaved Black men to enlist.
As both a slaveowner and commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from its formation in 1775, Washington had long opposed the use of Black soldiers, fearing that armed Black men would incite a rebellion among enslaved people and alienate Southern slaveholders. But over time, the harsh realities of a failing war effort called for America’s founding fathers to make some pragmatic decisions to preserve their nation’s future.
The 1st Rhode Island Regiment, widely recognized as the America’s first Black military regiment, didn’t start out that way. From its inception in 1775 as a part of the Rhode Island Army of Observation to its reorganization as the 1stRhode Island in 1777 and its recruitment of Black soldiers to their own unit starting in February 1778, the regiment was one of the few in the Continental Army to serve all seven years of war. The unit distinguished itself in battles from the Siege of Boston to the Battle of Rhode Island and beyond to Yorktown.
Stacey Yvonne Abrams was born December 9, 1973 in Madison, WI. The second of six siblings, Abrams was born to Robert and Carolyn Abrams and raised in Gulfport, MS. Her family moved to Atlanta, GA allowing her parents to pursue graduate studies at Emory University, eventually becoming Methodist ministers. With parents who valued education, Abrams attended Avondale High School, graduating as their valedictorian. She went on to attend Spelman College, the #1 HBCU for over 10 years as reported by U.S. News and World Report (this author also graduated from Spelman, so I am biased)! As a Harry S. Truman Scholar, Abrams studied public policy at the University of Texas at Austin‘s LBJ School of Public Affairs, where she earned a Master of Public Affairs degree in 1998. In 1999, she earned a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School.
As a student at Spelman College, Abrams was very active. She worked in the youth division office for Maynard Jackson, the mayor of Atlanta at that time and later interned with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Abrams was also an active participant in political and civil rights, a trait that is promoted at Spelman. She participated in a protest to replace the Georgia state flag. At that time, it still contained the Confederate flag image.
As a politician, Abrams was the Democratic nominee in 2018 for the Governor of the State of Georgia. Despite an excellent campaign, she was defeated in a controversial decision. This did not deter Abrams political career. She founded Fair Fight Action, an organization founded to address voter suppression, especially in Georgia and Texas.
Having served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017, Abrams had a prominent career in politics. She decided to continue her career by running for governor in 2018. The 2018 gubernatorial race received national attention for irregularities in voter access to the ballot. At the time, Brian Kemp was serving as Secretary of State for Georgia and was responsible for the state’s voter rolls. He stalled 50,000 votes, which was interpreted by Civil Rights groups as intentional voter suppression since his action affected predominantly black voters. Kemp gives a whole new meaning to be careful what you wish for, as he may have never foreseen the consequences of his actions.
Despite losing this election, Abrams was encouraged to and considered running for U.S. President. Ultimately, she decided to establish Fair Fight Action, commit to fighting voter suppression and go on to change the world as we know it today!
One of my Spelman sisters who I admittedly have only seen on campus as a student in 1991-92 and an alumni at campus events, I am so proud to call her my Spelman Sistah and share that she has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021.
A little known fact about Stacey Abrams is that she is also an author of fictional work! Under the pen name Selena Montgomery, Abrams is the award-winning author of several romantic suspense novels having sold over 100,000 copies. Abrams wrote her first book as a third year student at Yale Law. Check out Selena Montgomery’s books. You will be pleasantly surprised! Despite her busy schedule, her writing career is still flourishing. Abrams will publish her newest book under own name in May 2021. It is called When Justice Sleeps. I can’t wait to read it.
At a time when the intellect of people of color, veracity of American history and the value of Black women is questioned and distorted, it is so important to share the story of American people. As Black people and Black women, WE ARE Americans. We have a story to tell, and it is the success and work of people like Stacey Abrams that inspires and truly changes the world!
Check out this article on Stacey Abrams’s nomination for the Novel Peace Prize.