10 Inspiring Individuals to Celebrate this Black History Month - Firefly Books Blog

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10 Inspiring Individuals to Celebrate this Black History Month

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10 Inspiring Individuals to Celebrate this Black History Month


February is Black History Month, making it the perfect time to celebrate the inspirational people who have helped shape our history but who may not always be widely recognized in white-focused history lessons. 

From civil rights activists and important political voices to artists and athletes, these ten aspirational individuals are brilliant role models for everyone to look up to — no matter what month it is!

The Human Rights Activists

Sojourner Truth was born in New York in around 1797, and she was sold as a slave for $100 when she was just nine years old. She finally escaped to freedom in 1826 and soon became a leading figure in the fight to abolish slavery. In 1851 she delivered her famous “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention, and during the American Civil War she advised Abraham Lincoln on his Emancipation Proclamation.  Her activism for civil rights, voting rights, prison reform, and women’s rights make Truth a continuing icon of intersectional feminism.

Martin Luther King Jr was a Baptist minister and leader of the American civil rights movement from 1954 to 1968. In 1957 he helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a civil rights organization dedicated to combating racial inequality through non-violent resistance. He led several important protests and marches, including the 1963 March on Washington where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and in 1964 received the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Political Leaders

Arawelo was the legendary ruler of Ancient Somalia and one of the earliest-known female rulers. She believed that society should be led by women and that as men traditionally instigated and fought in wars, women should make decisions relating to conflict. Throughout her leadership, she fought for female empowerment and saved her people from starvation during a major drought by having the women in her kingdom collecting water and hunting alongside the men. She remains an inspiration for Somalian women to this day.

Nelson Mandela was the President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country’s first black head of state as well as the country's first president elected in a fully representative democratic election. As an anti-apartheid revolutionary, he was imprisoned for 27 years before being released in 1990 amid fears of a civil war. Following his release, he negotiated a successful end to apartheid and organized the country’s first multiracial general election. Alongside his work as a statesman, he worked extensively on combating poverty and HIV/AIDS and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

The Nobel Prize Winners

Ralph Bunche was an American political scientist, academic, and diplomat who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 — the first black person to be honoured with this prize. During World War II he worked in the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, and he was involved in the formation of the United Nations, where he worked for 25 years championing civil rights and cultural understanding.

Wangari Maathai was an environmental activist and politician from Kenya who founded the Green Belt Movement, an organization focused on environmental conservation and women’s rights. Her work for women’s rights began in the 1970s when she became the first woman ever appointed to the position of associate professor at the University of Nairobi, and she campaigned actively for equal benefits for her fellow female employees. In 2004 she became the first African woman and the first environmentalist to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her contributions to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.

The Star Athletes

Willie O’Ree is a retired professional hockey player and the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, helping the Hockey is for Everyone initiative introduce thousands of young people from diverse backgrounds to the sport. He was the first black player in the NHL when he made his debut in 1958, and he has been called the Jackie Robinson of hockey for breaking down racial barriers in hockey. As a dedicated youth mentor and pioneer of hockey, he continues to be an important voice for diversity in sports.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee is a six-time Olympian and was voted the greatest female athlete of the 20th century. She attended her first Olympics in 1981 when she was just 19 years old, and she is the heptathlon world-record holder, having set the record four times. Though she retired in 2001 due to asthma, she remains active on the board of directors for the USA Track and Field Organization and she has founded several charitable organizations to help underprivileged kids become involved in sports.

The Music Legends

Ella Fitzgerald was one of the most important jazz and blues artists of all time and came to be known as the Queen of Jazz. Her immediately recognizable voice influenced countless other singers, and she won hundreds of awards in her lifetime. She was one of the first artists to break down the barriers between black and white audiences and was famously the first black artist to perform at The Mocambo nightclub in West Hollywood in the 1955 — following a request from fellow superstar and civil rights supporter Marilyn Monroe.

Prince was a singer, songwriter, music producer, and all-around entertainer whose innovative and versatile music style and flamboyant stage presence made him one of the bestselling music artists of all time. He was a leading figure in the emerging dominance of music downloads, selling his own albums through his website as early as the late ‘90s, and putting on show-stopping tours for adoring fans worldwide. He became an icon for the LGBTQ community for his androgynous, amorphous sexuality, evasion of gender norms, and defiance of racial stereotypes.


Get the books:

 Girls Can Do Anything

  Nobel: A Century of Prize Winners

  The NHL 100 Years in Pictures & Stories

  Rock Chronicles, 2nd Ed.

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