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Originally published on Good Housekeeping/RAENA LOPER AND CAMERON JENKINS
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It is no secret that Black women are trailblazers, role models and heroes in their own right. Through tenacity, ingenuity and hard work, many of the famous Black women that we look up to today have had to break through glass ceilings and create their own paths in order to secure their role in history. It is because of these qualities and inspiring stories that Black women deserve to be celebrated. Not just during Black History Month, but every day.
We’ve taken it upon ourselves to give some well-deserving Black women in modern history their flowers, and further recognize what they contribute to our lives and our society with their existence. On this list you’ll find actors, models, philanthropists, community organizers, directors, filmmakers and more. From women like Michelle Obama and Maxine Waters to Lizzo and Rihanna, the reach and impact that these women have is not short of phenomenal.
Though this list is made up of present day influential women, there is no doubt that the contributions of incredible women before them – people like Madame CJ Walker, Coretta Scott King, Katherine Johnson — paved the way. So while you’re familiarizing yourself with these amazing figures don’t forget to also take some time to learn more about some of the other women who helped create Black history.
women who helped create Black history.BILL INGALLS/NASA//GETTY IMAGES
Dr. Watkins’ talents are literally unbound. At just 34 years old, she became the first Black woman to complete an International Space Station long-term mission. What’s next? As part of NASA’s Artemis program, she could be sent on a mission to the moon!GETTY IMAGES
Comedian, actress and singer are all titles used to describe Maya Rudolph. The daughter of late singer Minnie Riperton and Richard Rudolph, Maya rose to fame with her notable role as a cast member on the Saturday Night Live, where she pulled off hilarious renditions of icons like Whitney Houston and Oprah Winfrey. At the 2021 Creative Arts Emmys, she won the Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance award for her role as Connie The Hormone Monstress in Netflix’s Big Mouth. She currently stars in the Apple TV+ comedy Loot.
Robyn Rihanna Fenty has carved out her own lane. Though her rise to fame was marked by her singing talent, Rihanna has proven through ventures like Fenty Skin, Fenty Beauty and her lingerie brand Savage x Fenty that she is also a top-tier businesswoman. In 2021, Forbes named her one of America’s Richest Self-Made Women. At the time, she was estimated to be worth about $1.7 billion, making her the wealthiest female musician in the world.
Rihanna has also made philanthropy as part of her mission by championing diversity and inclusion through all of her brands and pledging $15 million towards climate justice through her Clara Lionel Foundation.
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Congresswoman Cori Bush is a community activist, registered nurse and ordained pastor. After she was elected to the House of Representatives in 2021, she became the first African American woman to serve in the U.S. House from Missouri. She routinely lends her voice and her platform to combat social injustice as the co-founder of The Truth Telling Project and as a leader of the protest group #ExpectUS.
Monique Rodriguez is the founder of haircare brand Mielle Organics, which she started with her husband in 2014. She created her products to strengthen hair, enhance curl definition, cleanse and moisturize.
In 2021, Monique became the first Black woman to raise a non-controlling nine-figure investment in a deal with Berkshire Partners. Earlier this year, her brand was acquired by Procter & Gamble, in a historic partnership that will allow both Monique and her husband Melvin Rodriguez to stay on as CEO and COO of the brand, respectively.
While her rise to fame began in the 1990s, makeup artist and innovator, Pat McGrath, has maintained her relevance through to today’s fashion and beauty industries. Since she took on the role as Procter & Gamble’s Global Beauty Creative Design Director in 2004, she has overseen brands such as Covergirl and Max Factor, and launched Dolce & Gabbana: The Makeup. She was also dubbed by the late Queen Elizabeth II as a Member of the Order of the British Empire for her contributions to the fashion and beauty industry.
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Cori “Coco” Gauff
Coco Gauff first captured the attention of the world with her 2019 win over former World No. 1 and seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams at Wimbledon. That same year, Gauff, 15 at the time, won her first WTA Tour singles title, becoming the youngest singles title-holder on the Tour since 2004. Since then, she has secured the ranking of world No. 4 in singles and in August 2022 she became world No. 1 in doubles.
Sheryl Lee Ralph
Actor and singer Sheryl Lee Ralph has been in the acting world for decades, with notable performances as an original in the Broadway musical Dreamgirls and as a co-star alongside Brandy Norwood in
Moesha. Most recently, she has taken on the role of Barbara Howard on Abbott Elementary, a portrayal which won her the Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy.
Michelle Obama is an attorney, philanthropist and the first African American First Lady in U.S. history. During her time as First Lady, Mrs. Obama created the Let’s Move program which was developed to help end childhood obesity. In 2019, she became author of bestseller Becoming which was followed by the corresponding Netflix documentary in 2020.
Currently, her new book, The Light We Carry, is a top-seller. The Princeton University and Harvard Law School graduate continues to advocate for education for young girls, and the overall health of children.
Multi-talented artist Melissa Jefferson a.k.a. Lizzo, hit the ground running with her mainstream success. With multiple singles climbing on the music charts, the singer, rapper and flutist has been breaking boundaries since she stepped onto the music scene —earning eight Grammy nominations and winning three Grammy Awards, among a multitude of others. An advocate for body positivity, Lizzo continues to use her platform to encouraging women to embrace their beauty regardless of societal standards.RICH POLK//GETTY IMAGES
You may recognize Quinta Brunson from her multiple viral dating parodies or trending BuzzFeed videos. The producer, actress and writer has expanded her career by appearing on television shows such as Big Mouth and most recently launching her own show, Abbott Elementary, which she has won her Golden Globe Awards and Critics’ Choice Television Awards.
Symone D. Sanders
Political strategist Symone D. Sanders is the former chief spokeswoman for Vice President Kamala Harris, and in 2016, was named national press secretary for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders during his presidential campaign. A few years later, Ms. Sanders would join Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign as a senior advisor. Once elected, the Biden-Harris administration named Sanders a senior member. Now, Sanders has landed multiple shows on MSNBC.
This fashion forward, author, talk show host and award-winning journalist got her start in the editorial industry. After years of hard work Welteroth was named editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue in 2017, making her the youngest EIC in the publication’s history at the time. Author of New York Time’s bestseller More Than Enough and judge on the new Project Runway, Welteroth has proven there’s no stopping her.
Harvard University student, activist and actress, Yara Shahidi is well known for her role as Zoey Johnson on ABC’s Black-ish, as well as her own spinoff, Grown-ish, among many other television and film roles. At a young age, Shahidi demonstrated her dedication to advocating for people of color and bringing light to injustices happening around the globe.
Time magazine’s 2017 Person of the Year, Tarana Burke is an activist and the founder of Me Too. The New York native’s group brings awareness and support to sexual violence survivors. In 2017, the group’s hashtag #metoo started a revolution and brought women together in solidarity in the fight against sexual assault. Me Too helps bring resources to survivors, as well as those in their lives.
Creator of the award-winning television show Insecure, Issa Rae has proven that there are no limits to what you can accomplish. After creating the popular web series The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl, Rae broke into the television and film industries — producing, directing and starring in multiple projects, and even began her own production company, HOORAE, as well as her own record label, Raedio. Rae has dedicated her career to creating storylines and platforms for artists and actors of color.DOMINIK BINDL//GETTY IMAGES
Activist, comedian, host and actress, Amanda Seales can be found on her HBO stand-up comedy special, I Be Knowin’ or on television shows such as Insecure. Her first book Small Doses: Potent Truths for Everyday Use, hit the shelves in 2019, and her game show, Smart Funny & Black, which celebrates Black culture has a huge following. When you can’t find her on the television screen, she’s using her platform to address injustices and issues in the Black community.
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Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad made history as the first American woman to wear a hijab during an Olympic game. The world champion and 5-time senior world medalist has release two books, including the best-selling children’s book, The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family, as well as the memoir PROUD: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream.
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Owner of Debbie Allen Dance Academy, actress, choreographer, producer and director, Debbie Allen is an icon in the entertainment industry. Allen is well known for her work on the television series FAME, as both a choreographer and actress. With over four decades in the industry, Allen has earned countless awards, including a Golden Globe, Emmy and NAACP. Allen has been a director on numerous shows including How To Get Away with Murder, Scandal and A Different World, and is currently a director, star and executive producer on Grey’s Anatomy.