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.
Aina began her start in the entertainment industry as a YouTuber with a concentration on makeup tips for Black and brown women, specifically women with deeper complexions. Throughout the years, she evolved and built an empire, partnering with multiple large makeup brands, creating exclusive products and starting her own brand of candles, Forever Mood.
Tracee Ellis Ross
Tracee Ellis Ross has been a familiar face in the entertainment industry after getting her start as a fashion model at a young age. Later, Ellis Ross got into acting, and became known for her lead role in the 2000 sitcom, Girlfriends. She currently stars as Rainbow Johnson in the award-winning series Black-ish. Ellis Ross has started her own hair care lines, Pattern Beauty which caters to those with naturally curly hair.SAUL LOEB//GETTY IMAGES
Lawyer and politician, Stacey Abrams served in the Georgia House of Representatives for 11 years. After running in 2018 and earning the most democratic votes in the state’s history at the time, Abrams announced once again that she will be running for Georgia Governor. Abrams continues to advocate for voter rights and brings awareness to voter suppression happening in the U.S.ROY ROCHLIN//GETTY IMAGES
Gayle King is a familiar face that graces the television screens of millions every morning on CBS This Morning. As if being an author, journalist and editor-at-large of Oprah Daily wasn’t enough, King also hosts her own on SiriusXM Satellite Radio show, The Gayle King Show.
GARETH CATTERMOLE//GETTY IMAGES
Singer, songwriter and actress, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is known for her show stopping performances, record-breaking songs and multiple business ventures. Knowles-Carter has earned 28 Grammy awards and 79 nominations, making her the most Grammy winning and nominated female artist of all time. If you don’t snag a piece (or two) from one of the highly anticipated athleisure collections from her brand Ivy Park, then you can catch her at one of her stadium concerts (if you’re lucky enough to grab tickets before they’re gone, that is).
ROB CARR//GETTY IMAGES
The young and established Amanda Gorman shook the world with her outstanding poem, recited at the presidential inauguration, making her the youngest poet in inaugural history. The Harvard graduate has graced multiples stages, reciting her award-winning pieces. Gorman has three books under her belt, including the latest 2021 release titled The Hill We Climb.
ROY ROCHLIN//GETTY IMAGES
Actress and women’s rights activist Lupita Nyong’o is known for her work in films such as 12 Years a Slave, Star Wars and Black Panther. The Yale graduate made her Broadway debut in 2015 and was nominated for the Tony Award for best actress in a play.
Acting vet Jurnee Smollett has been in the industry since she was a child, starring in films such as Eve’s Bayou, Selma Lord Selma and The Great Debaters. Most recently, Smollett starred in HBO’s LoveCraft Country, which was nominated for 18 Emmy Awards.
TIM CLAYTON – CORBIS//GETTY IMAGES
Allyson Felix is a five-time Olympian, starring in her first Olympic Games 2004 — earning her latest medal during the Tokyo Olympics for the 400 meter and 400-meter relay. Felix has earned 11 Olympic medals including 7 gold, 3 sliver and 1 bronze.
STEVE JENNINGS//GETTY IMAGES
Oprah Winfrey might be best known for her television show but “talk show host” is just one of her many titles. Not only does she have her own network (OWN), magazine and website, but the primetime and daytime Emmy Award winner is constantly breaking boundaries and creating new platforms. Most recently, she set streaming records with her interviews with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and then Adele — but this is just the tip of the iceberg when looking at all Winfrey has accomplished.
LESTER COHEN//GETTY IMAGES
Starting her ballet career at 13, Misty Copeland joined the American Ballet Theater studio company in 2000, and the following year, joined ABT as a member of corps de ballet. After continuous work with American Ballet Theater, she became the company’s second African American female soloist. In 2015, she became the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in the company’s almost century-long history.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters is a representative of California’s 43rd district and advocate for women, children and people of color. During her 15th term in the U.S. House of Representatives, the California State University graduate gained much attention for her powerful response during a 2017 hearing of the House Financial Service Committee. “I’m reclaiming my time,” the congresswoman said after the Treasury Secretary tried to avoid her question. #ReclamingMyTime shortly started trending across social media, inspiring other women to stand up for themselves.
AMY SUSSMAN//GETTY IMAGES
Entrepreneur, producer and actress Marsai Martin managed to accomplish all the previously mentioned titles before the age of 18. Known for her role on television show Black-ish, Martin expanded her resume in 2019 with her film Little, which she stared and produced. In 2022, she launched her company Mari, a luxury press on nail and nail care line.
JON KOPALOFF//GETTY IMAGES
Screenwriter, producer and author Shonda Rhimes has been in the television and film industry for over 20 years, creating classics such as Princess Diaries 2. She is the producer of the long-running and award-winning show Grey’s Anatomy, which started in 2005 and is now on its 18th season.
GILBERT CARRASQUILLO//GETTY IMAGES
Plus-size fashion model Tabria Majors is helping to break the standard idea of beauty and proves that confidence comes in all different shapes and sizes. Majors has earned major props with her fearless recreations of iconic music moments from artists like Beyoncé and Ciara. She also has released multiple plus-size clothing collaborations with clothing brands like Fashion to Figure and Boohoo, continuing to advocate for plus-size women everywhere.
DREW ANGERER//GETTY IMAGES
Author of best-selling memoir Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For, Susan Rice is currently a Domestic Policy Advisor in the Biden Administration. The Stanford and Oxford University alumnus was previously the National Security Advisor and was the first Black woman to serve as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations during the Obama Administration.
LAURENCE GRIFFITHS//GETTY IMAGES
The most decorated gymnast of all time, Simone Biles has a combined 32 Olympic and World Championship medals. Biles is not only the most decorated but is the first American woman to win seven national all-around titles and the first female gymnast to win three consecutive World All-Around tiles, all before the age of 25. Biles has graced multiple covers and even had her own Kellogg’s Special K cereal box, adorning one of her many gold metals.
MARK SAGLIOCCO//GETTY IMAGES
Known for her role in Orange Is the New Black, Laverne Cox made history by becoming the first transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. The LBGTQIA advocate was also awarded a GLAAD award in 2014 for her work in the transgender community. Cox has graced the covers of Cosmopolitan and Time, and starred in the hit show Inventing Anna.
STEFANIE KEENAN//GETTY IMAGES
Ruth E. Carter
Costume designer Ruth E. Carter has over 40 film credits, and has created iconic costumes for films such as What’s Love Got to Do with It, Selma and the Butler. In 2018, she became the first African American to win an Academy Award for costumes for the 2018 film Black Panther, and finally received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2021.
LEON BENNETT//GETTY IMAGES
Lena Waithe is a producer, actress, screenwriter and LBGTQIA advocate who got her start as an assistant on the popular television show Girlfriends. Waithe would later climb her way to the top, creating multiple web series and writing for shows like Bones and How to Rock. In 2015, she joined the HBO show Masters of None, which earned her a Primetime Emmy for the Thanksgiving episode that was inspired by her own coming out story. Waithe continues to break boundaries with her creative storytelling that portray characters from all walks of life.
As a writer, director, actress and producer, Natasha Rothwell is known for her hilarious work on the HBO show Insecure, but her credits go beyond her character Kelli Prenny. Rothwell showcases her talents as a writer on comedy show SNL, a producer of the show The Characters and star on the HBO original series White Lotus.
TIMOTHY NWACHUKWU//GETTY IMAGES
Kizzmekia Corbett, PhD
Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett was one of the leading scientist during the development of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine in 2020. She has over 15 years of experience studying influenza and coronaviruses. A viral immunologist by training, Dr. Corbett uses her expertise to propel novel vaccine development for pandemic preparedness.
KELLY DEFINA//GETTY IMAGES
After turning pro in 2013, Naomi Osaka gained limelight during her 2015 match against her idol and fellow tennis star Serena Williams during the U.S open, where 20-year-old Osaka won her first major title. Osaka would continue on her winning streak, earning all four of her first Grand Slam finals.
DOMINIK BINDL//GETTY IMAGES
Artist Amy Sherald was commissioned in 2018 by former first lady Michelle Obama to create the presidential portrait for the National Portrait Gallery, which made Sherald the first Black woman in history to do so.
TIM CLAYTON – CORBIS//GETTY IMAGES
Tennis player Serena Williams, who many considered the greatest tennis player of all time, has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles — the most by any player. Williams holds the most titles of any active player and is a three-time Olympian, earning four Olympic gold medals.
KEVIN WINTER//GETTY IMAGES
An Academy Award and Golden Globe are just some of the awards won by film director, producer and writer Ava DuVernay. She is the first Black woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Director. She is also the first woman of color to be Oscar-nominated for Best Picture Film.
CHRISTIAN PETERSEN//GETTY IMAGES
In addition to being a two-time Olympian and silver medalist, Raven Saunders is an advocate for racial justice and mental health.
CBS PHOTO ARCHIVE//GETTY IMAGES
Politician Condoleezza Rice was the first woman and first Black woman to become Secretary of State, a position she held from 2005 to 2009 during the Bush administration. Rice is currently a professor and dean at Stanford University.