This black history month, we are looking at some of the extraordinary men and women who demonstrate black excellence.
Salem student Zykeria Carlton explained that, “before slavery we were fine. We had our own businesses. We were dependent on ourselves…we had our own civilizations. We were well off. I think that’s what people tend to forget.”
One of the best examples of a successful black civilization was the Mali Empire, which stretched from the Atlantic coast of West Africa to Timbuktu and Gao. Mali was known for its trade skills and famous ruler Mansa Musa who is reported by Business Insider to be the richest man to ever live.
Carlton says, “through oppression comes liberation.” A prime example of this would be Fannie Lou Hamer, who at the age of seventeen joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to expand voting rights for African Americans in her home state of Mississippi. During her fight, Hamer was arrested and brutally beaten by Mississippi police officers after a protest. PBS reports that the injuries to her eyes, legs and kidneys were so severe they affected her health for the rest of her life. Instead of giving up, Hamer used the experience as motivation to continue her fight and ensure that black people were afforded equal rights. She went on to be a founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and run for Congressional office.
“Just standing out in an environment where people don’t expect you to stand out is the definition of black excellence,” says Fafa Glover, a first-year Salem student. The oil industry, for example, is stereotypically an industry of white and Middle Eastern men, but one black woman has challenged this idea. Folorunsho Alakija is a Nigerian oil tycoon worth 3.3 billion dollars. She is the owner of Famfa Oil and has been dubbed one of the richest black women alive by Forbes magazine.
Oprah Winfrey is another wealthy black woman. Winfrey was the first black woman to host her own nationally syndicated television show and has gone on to create her own television network and amass a fortune worth 3 billion dollars, according to Forbes magazine.
Kimberly Bryant is a black woman who created the program Black Girls Code. The program introduces young black girls to the fields of engineering and computer science, which are currently dominated by white and Asian men.
In the field of politics, Barack Obama, Shirley Chisholm and Thurgood Marshall have made great gains for black people. Barack Obama was the first black president of the United States of America. Economist Alan Krueger reported that due to Obama’s policies, the United States was able to add 15 million jobs after a grueling recession in 2008.
Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman ever be elected to serve in the United States Congress, serving seven terms in office as a representative for New York. Chisholm was also the first African American and the first woman to ever run for presidential office.
Thurgood Marshall was the first African American man to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Marshall was also a lawyer and acted as counsel on the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. The case ended segregation in public schools in the United States.
These great black people are just a few of the millions of amazing black men and women who have championed black history. Hopefully, the next generation of black history makers will proudly hold a degree from Salem College.