2021 has been a glass shattering year for women. Although we are only two months in, we’ve already witnessed Kamala Harris’s historic ascension to be the first Black and Asian Vice President in US History and Whitney Wolfe’s Bumble IPO, becoming the youngest woman to ever take a company public.
Although this has been a historic year of firsts, the pandemic has set back gender equality decades. McKinsey’s COVID-19 and gender equality study found that women’s jobs have been twice as vulnerable as men’s. Dr. C. Nicole Mason dubbed the dropping out of women from the workforce during COVID the first-ever “she-cession”. In January alone the pandemic forced 275,000 women out of the U.S. labor force.
As bad as these numbers are, they are even worse for women of color. As Kathy Caprino wrote, “for Black women, the pandemic has added additional burdens to what was already a worse experience in the workplace.” These challenges make it that more important for us to celebrate and honor Black History, the contributions of Black men and women, and those who can be deemed history-makers.
Although Black History Month is almost over, educating yourself and celebrating the wins of Black women is an ongoing practice. It is so important to honor and recognize Black women that have been overlooked by our history books (check out “Black Women I Wished I Learned About in History Class”), but it is equally important to celebrate women that are making a difference —and making history— today.
Here are just a few of the many Black women making history in 2021, pushing back against systemic racism, uplifting, and empowering an entire generation.
Rachel Cargle is an activist, educator and entrepreneur. Every day, through her platform, she provides thousands of people (1.8 million to be exact) tools and resources to encourage critical thinking and intellectual discourse.
Rachel uses her social media to guide conversations, encourage critical thinking and provide resources to her audience. She even developed The Great Unlearn, a curriculum highlighting academics of color with the goal of creating critical discourse to aid in the unlearning of racism.
Rachel founded The Loveland Foundation in 2018 with the mission of bringing opportunity and healing to communities of color, and especially to Black women and girls. Through fellowships, residency programs, listening tours, and more, ultimately we hope to contribute to both the empowerment and the liberation of the communities we serve.
Amanda Gorman rose to national fame when she performed at President Biden’s Inauguration. She became the youngest inaugural poet in US history and inspired millions of people around the world with her poem “The Hill We Climb.”
"My hope is that my poem will represent a moment of unity for our country" Gorman told
Washington Post journalist Ron Charles
Since then, Gorman has become the voice of her generation, from making the cover of TIME Magazine’s this February to performing at the Super Bowl. As January Gill O'Neil wrote for WBUR “Her very presence underscores the importance of representation — in the classroom, on the page and on the stage.”
Nikki Porcher founded Buy From A Black Woman (BFABW) in 2016, after noticing that annual sales for Black female business owners were five times smaller than other female-owned businesses. Before founding BFABW, Porcher worked as a teacher in the public school system and served in the Air Force
Through BFABW, Nikki created an online directory of Black women entrepreneurs to highlight and bring awareness to Black female founders and their businesses -- even providing the Black Woman Business Grant for Black women who have an idea for a business but lack funding.
A Hollywood legend and trailblazer. Winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Honorary Oscar winner. Cicely Tyson was an actress who became known for her strong portrayal of Black women (the Encyclopedia Britannica defines as “noted for her vivid portrayals of strong African American women.
Her memoir “Just as I Am: A Memoir” was published days before she passed away on January 28, 2021.
Her story is an ode to Black women, and in the last pages she addresses them directly:
“I want to feel as if I embodied our humanity so fully that it made us laugh and weep, that it reminded us of our shared frailties, I want to be recalled as one who squared my shoulders in the service of Black women, as one who made us walk taller and envision greater for ourselves.”
Sydney Barber will become the first Black woman to serve as a brigade commander in the U.S. Naval Academy. As the NYT reported, “Sydney Barber will break one of the final leadership barriers in the Annapolis, Md., school’s 175-year history.” The position is comparable to a student body president, and Sydney will oversee more than 4,000 students.
In an interview with NPR, Barber said she is aware of what her achievements mean not just for history itself but for her own personal family history, her great-grandparents were sharecroppers on a plantation in Mississippi “They would never even picture this moment. This America looks nothing like the America that they experienced, and they died before they saw anything different, So I always take that to heart. And I think about it pretty much daily as I go about my day here at the academy”