Black history month: Celebrating notable 21st century figures

February 1 begins the celebration of Black History Month in the United States. This month is seen as a time to celebrate achievements made by African Americans and as a time to recognize the central role of Black people in American history.

This February, it is extremely critical to remember the work that Black people have done for American history after a revolutionary year in 2020. Many injustices were brought to the limelight of American politics and people’s minds. It is now as important as ever to recognize those that were in the forefront of change.

Last year, the Warrior Word celebrated Black History Month by honoring notable Black figures who broke down barriers in this article. This year, we want to focus on notable Black figures who are making a change in the 21st century.

Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a human rights organization based out of Montgomery, Alabama. According to the organization’s website, “Under his leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults.”

Stevenson has argued and won multiple cases at the US Supreme Court. He and his staff have also won reversals, relief, or release from prison for over 135 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row.

Stevenson also wrote about his experiences as a lawyer in his memoir Just Mercy. The novel focuses the case of Walter McMillian, a man who was convicted in 1986 and spent six years on death row before Stevenson helped exonerate him.

Walter McMillian (left) celebrates with family after Bryan Stevenson (right) won his release from death row in 1993. [Source: Equal Justice Initiative]

The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.

Bryan Stevenson

Overall, Stevenson has done tremendous work in order to better the lives of those who were wronged by the American criminal justice system.

Vice President Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris is no stranger to breaking barriers. She recently became the first woman, first Black, and first South Asian to be elected vice president of the United States. Prior to her groundbreaking election, Harris was also the first African American and first woman to be elected as the attorney general of California.

That I am here tonight is a testament to the dedication of generations before me. Women and men who believed so fiercely in the promise of equality, liberty, and justice for all. While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last.

Vice President Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris was sworn in as the Vice President of the Unites States on January 20. [Source: AP News]

Harris received her undergraduate degree at Howard University, an HBCU in Washington D.C., and earned her law degree from Hastings College. She is also a member of the historically African-American Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

Moreover, her journey to the White House did not go unnoticed by Americans. Harris has become a role model to millions of women of all ages and of all races. Overall, Kamala Harris is a modern day example of Black excellence, and proves that a Black woman can hold the same office that many men have held in years past.

Tyler Perry

Tyler Perry was born to a poor family and an abusive father in New Orleans, La. After many empty crowds, Perry’s first musical I Know I’ve Been Changed received critical acclaim as well as commercial success. However his most famous character, Madea, was brought to life when she first appeared in his 2000 play, I Can Do Bad All by Myself. Perry continued to make successful films in the Madea franchise, with the final installment of the series coming in 2019 with A Madea Family Funeral.

Tyler Perry gained fame through the creation of his most famous character, Madea. [Source: USA Today]

In October 2019, Perry announced the grand opening of the $250 million Tyler Perry Studios on the site of a former 330-acre Confederate military base in Atlanta. The spacious grounds and and state-of-the-art production facilities make it one of largest entertainment studios in the country. Perry also dedicated 12 of the massive soundstages to groundbreaking Black artists, including Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington, Whoopi Goldberg, Sidney Poitier, Will Smith, Halle Berry, Della Reese, and John Singleton.

I am paying tribute to people who have inspired me, who all paved a brick for me to be here. Denzel is the greatest actor of all time. Will Smith is the biggest movie star in the world. Of course there is Oprah, and all that she has meant to me. They’re all tremendously important to me.

Tyler Perry
Tyler Perry shows off his new 330-acre studio in Atlanta. [Source: Los Angeles Times]

The studio has already been the host of productions such as movies like Black Panther and Pitch Perfect 3 and tv shows like The Walking Dead. According to the Los Angeles Times, A future phase of Perry’s studio will include a six-lane highway running along the entire back of the property that could be used for filming. He also wants to build a backlot and restaurants.

Perry’s success in the film industry has amplified the voice of Black people in Hollywood. His achievements have led to a new appreciation for Black film and television, and has helped to put Atlanta in the forefront of the film industry.

LeBron James

NBA star LeBron James is a winner on the court, but he has also become one of the NBA’s leading voices in speaking out against racial injustice and police brutality. Prior to the 2020 presidential election, he helped promote voter registration by creating the organization “More Than A Vote” in an effort to combat voter suppression.

The organization, which is made up of prominent athletes and artists, focused on primarily Black electoral districts with its “We Got Next” poll worker recruitment effort. “We Got Next” is a partnership with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “More Than A Vote” helped to sign up more than 40,000 volunteer poll workers for November’s election, focusing on young, healthy volunteers so that older people are not put at risk. You can learn more about the goals of the organization here.

LeBron James has focused on eliminating voter suppression with his organization “More Than A Vote” [Source: CNN]

The most important thing you all need to know is Black voters matter more than ever. The biggest cities in the most critical states in this election have incredible, vibrant Black communities. Detroit, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Miami, Milwaukee, Atlanta.

“More Than A Vote” open letter, August 17, 2020

In 2018, James also opened the I Promise School, a public elementary school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. The school is specifically targeted at at-risk youth, and it helps to provide free tuition, free meals, and job placement services for parents. Most importantly, the school guarantees tuition to the University of Akron for all students who graduate.

Since the opening of the school, the inaugural class of third and fourth graders have been outperforming their initial expectations. According to the Medium, “The Akron public school system has been one of the worst in the country, making the initial progress by the students very encouraging. While the school isn’t perfect, and the students’ proficiency in subjects are not quite at the grade average, it is still substantial progress in turning around the education system in Akron.”

James has had a surplus of success on the court, but his successes off of the court are even more important. His influence will have many affects on voter suppression for Black Americans and on the kids in Akron, Ohio.

Overall, it is necessary to look back on the history and influence of Black people in America. During Black History Month, it is important to honor those who are creating change in our country.

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