As Women’s History Month begins, I reflect on where we are today as a nation and who I am as a young African-American woman. Maybe like you, it was vital for me to have role models as I was growing up, whether it was the mother who raised me or someone I read about at school or watched on TV.
Reflecting on women of color who paved the way for young women like me is vital to appreciating where we once were as a nation, where we are now, and where we are heading. With that in mind, here are nine influential women of color to think about during Women’s History Month. What women inspired you? Share your thoughts with a comment below!
Azza Mouhktar, my mother
My hero (and personal favorite) is a single mother who in times of difficulty and pain didn’t find escape through complaining or blaming but instead made a name for herself through persevering and putting others first. My mother has inspired my sisters and me to be strong women who will always persist in the face of adversity. Although not as famous as the other women on this list, she is a true inspiration.
Activist, civil rights icon, and change-maker, but most importantly someone who has taught me to stand up (or sit down) for what I believe in. Her story of not giving up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, has inspired many and preserved for her a place in history as an icon for all women of color. A statue of her now resides in the U.S. Capitol.
An inspiration to filmmakers, film fans, and, more importantly, fans of social progress: She was the first African-American woman to receive a Golden Globe nomination for best director. Her will to see more diversity in American films remains an important statement in the ongoing effort to ensure Hollywood and American media reflect all Americans.
Davis made history at the 2015 Emmys when she became the first African-American woman to win the award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series. Performing with passion and drive, she continues to inspire generations to pursue their passions and do what they love, including by winning the Academy Award last month for Best Supporting Actress in the movie Fences.
Award-winning and prolific poet, author, and activist, Maya Angelou was the artistic escape we needed during times of struggle. She used her words to highlight the pain of injustice and the need for social change and was best known for her stirring autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Angelou, who appeared on stage and on television, read her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” at the inauguration of President William J. Clinton in 1993.
Coretta Scott King
Being the wife to Martin Luther King Jr. was only a part of who she was. A woman who didn’t need her husband to inspire her, she led the change she wanted to see in the world through her activism and being the founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, based in Atlanta. Her life was an inspiration to millions over the years, and her legacy will continue to invoke images of beauty, strength, and courage in the struggle for equal rights.
Michelle Obama has accomplished many firsts, including being the first African-American first lady in American history, as well as the only first lady to hold two Ivy League degrees. Another woman who is defined not by the famous man she married but by her own accomplishments and beliefs, including empowering 6 million schoolgirls and leading the effort for healthier eating and exercise habits, she has many years ahead of her to make an impact not only on girls and women but our nation as a whole.
A poet, fearless writer, and activist, Audre Lorde made way for a new genre of love and expression through writing. The sense of hope expressed through her pieces blended emotion and passion. Lorde was the New York State poet laureate from 1991 until her death from cancer in 1992.
An activist, style icon, and legacy in the making, Angela Davis defined the meaning and practice of being a true activist to millions of women (and men) across the country. A major figure in the 1960s, she now uses her profound wisdom to reach out to students and future change-makers. I know personally because she came to my school to address us and motivate us to be the change we want to see in the world.
These women have made history, and what we must take away from this list is not only admiration and recognition but a guiding light for change. This Women’s History Month, we honor these and many other women as role models for all who might one day affect the world — and maybe end up on a list like this in the future.
Written by Ayah Mouhktar for Common Sense Media