This year has certainly been one of change and adjustment for many of us. The new semester has begun, and with it comes new classes and the turning of a new page. While in this new chapter of our lives, it is important and necessary to reflect on not only the changes and obstacles we have overcome individually, but also those faced by the heroic individuals who came before us and helped to shape the world we live in today. Black History Month, beginning on Feb. 1, serves as an amazing reminder and opportunity to reflect upon the strength of those who came before. Throughout our lives, many of us have heard of the work of influential Black activists, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and so on. In this article, however, I hope to take you on an educated journey, enlightening you about five new heroic individuals and their stories.
Where are my heartfelt sports fans out there? Hank Aaron was born the third of eight children in 1934. Raised in poverty, Aaron attended a segregated school known as Central High School and focused on his undying love for baseball. In 1951, at the age of 18, he quit school to play for the Negro American League’s Indianapolis Clowns. After leading his team to victory in the 1952 World Series, he left the Negro League and played for the Major Leagues, becoming the last individual to have played in both. Did you know that Aaron beat Babe Ruth’s record with a total of 755 home runs throughout his career? Unfortunately, this achievement further revealed the racial tensions still present in sports. He began to receive death threats via letters and many fans were appalled at the mere fact that Aaron could break Ruth’s record. Nevertheless, Aaron persisted throughout his career, holding his record for nearly three decades. In his later years, he pursued the act of becoming a spokesman for minority hiring in baseball, something about which he felt very passionate.
The next stop on our journey is with Richard Allen, who was born into slavery in 1760 and then at the age of 17 converted to Methodism, with his owner closely following in his footsteps. Soon after 1783, Allen was able to buy his freedom at the cost of $2,000, and he began his journey of freedom by joining St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church, where a community of Black and white Americans worshipped together. However, he quickly became increasingly frustrated with the limitations placed upon Black parishioners, including the segregation of pews. He later left the church as part of a mass walk-out, and in 1794 he founded Bethel Church with several other Black Methodists. His bravery continued to flourish as he helped to hide escaped slaves in the basement of his church, which served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. In 1816 he was able to found the first national Black church in the United States: the African Methodist Episcopal Church. His hard work is still prevalent today, as the church has grown to more than 2.5 million members.
Next on our list is someone I am very excited to introduce you to: Mary McLead Bethune! She was one of seventeen children born to two former slaves, and (having been raised in poverty) was the only one in her family to attend school and receive an education. This greatly shaped her perception of knowledge as both power and the key to racial advancement. She founded Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute in the year of 1904, which later became Bethune-Cookman College. Starting out with only five students, Bethune worked excruciatingly hard, gradually raising this number to over 250 students within just a couple of years. This college served as one of the only places that African American scholars could pursue and obtain college degrees. In 1935, Bethune founded the National Council of Negro Women and also became a special advisor to President Roosevelt on minority affairs. After her death she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, where her legacy lives on.
Barbara Jordan is another shining example of an individual with great strength and heroism. Having grown up in a poor Black neighborhood in Houston, she worked exceedingly hard to rise in her career. She graduated from Texas Southern University in the year of 1956 and continued her studies at Boston University School of Law. She became the first African American congresswoman to come from a deep Southern background, and was the first woman to be elected to the Texas Senate in 1966. Jordan didn’t stop here in further advancing her career because she also won the election into the United States’ House of Representatives in 1972. After finishing her final term in 1979, she went on to teach at the University of Texas at Austin. In 1994, President Bill Clinton bestowed upon her the honor of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her service as an inspiration to many of her time and generations to come!
The last individual that I would like to bring to your attention is Tarana Burke. You may notice that Burke is different from the other individuals I mentioned, as she is still in the act of making history today. Burke started her career working with the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement, the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute and the Black Belt Arts and Cultural Center. In 2006, Burke founded the #MeToo movement with hopes of it becoming a safe space for marginalized Black female victims of sexual assault to feel heard and seen. The hashtag quickly spread across social media, expanding to include women of all races. Burke exclaims how the hashtag is a “message from survivor to survivor” and is a symbol of unity and hopefulness for the well-being of one another. In 2017, Burke and other influential activists were nicknamed “The Silence Breakers” by the media, and great change began to take place revolving around the treatment of female victims. Her campaign has flourished exponentially and has positively impacted, and brought security, to so many young women.
Well… that is the end of this educated journey! I can only encourage you to further look into the great activists of our past who helped form the world we live in today. Although we have all undergone great change and adjustment, we must remember that the world is always adapting and evolving, every day. We need to strive to grow along with it and carry on our days in the best possible ways!