Black Leaders Inspire Change, Creativity


(art by Taylor Zhang)

Traditionally, Black History Month is reserved for honoring the achievements of great African-American leaders in America’s past. This year, however, it is important to celebrate figures who are currently inspiring change in each of their individual fields.

Pat McGrath

Pat McGrath is one of the most influential and sought after makeup artist in the world. McGrath has had a long career in the beauty industry. Beginning in the 1990’s, she started working for iconic brands conceptualizing and creating runway beauty looks. McGrath made herself beloved in the beauty industry, and her endeavors have taken her far. She has worked overseeing Covergirl and Max Factor, and creating Dolce & Gabbana: The Makeup. Her advertising campaigns are well known, and her social media presence has a unique look to showcase makeup. Her career has led her to create Pat McGrath Labs, a luxury beauty line with a net worth of $1 billion.

Jordan Peele

A few years ago, Jordan Peele was most famous for his comedy show with Keegan-Michael Key, Key and Peele. Today, Jordan Peele is well known for directing the film Get Out. For this film, Peele won an Academy Award for original screenplay. Get Out transformed the premise of what a horror film could be, and this film targets racial tension in America as it follows a young black man meeting his white girlfriend’s parents. Peele is going to keep audiences excited well into 2019 with the release of his new film Us.

Yara Shahidi

Yara Shahidi is one of the most influential young adults in popular culture. The Iranian and African-American actress became famous as Zoey Johnson in Blackish. Today, she is the lead of a Blackish spinoff show, Grownish. Yara is also a fashion icon at the moment. She is a Chanel ambassador, regular attendee at fashion events, and frequently graces magazine covers. In 2018, Yara launched a political initiative, Eighteen x ‘18, to encourage voter turnout in the midterm elections. She is an activist and freshman at Harvard University. Yara was even a speaker at Tory Burch’s inaugural Embrace Ambition Summit alongside other well known activists. Yara embodies the future of activism:intersectional, driven, and fun loving.

Ayanna Pressley

Ayanna Pressley was elected to represent Massachusetts 7th Congressional District in the 2018 midterm elections. She is the first African American from Massachusetts to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Previously, she was the first woman of color elected to the Boston City Council. Ayanna Pressley has been active in the #MeToo movement after she revealed her experiences with sexual abuse as a child and during college. Her election reflects the diversity in Massachusetts 7th district, which is the only majority non-white district in Massachusetts.

Virgil Abloh

Virgil Abloh, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Ghana, grew up near Chicago, and eventually received his masters degree in architecture. He has been close with Kanye West for most of his career, and Abloh even served as creative director at Donda (a creative content company founded by West). Virgil Abloh founded Off-White, a Milan-based luxury and streetwear fashion label, which is beloved for its innovative products. Since 2018, he has been the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s Menswear Collection. Students might be familiar with Abloh’s most recent work, which includes a giant technicolor sculptures in New York City and Japan to advertise the Louis Vuitton Menswear Spring/Summer 2019 collection.

Ilhan Omar

Ilhan Omar is another recently elected Congresswoman that reflects the diversity of America. She now serves Minnesota’s 5th district. Omar is a Somali-American whose family fled the civil war when she was 8 years old, and they lived for a time in a refugee camp. She has been a public servant in Minnesota for many years as a Minnesota House of Representatives and a senior aide to a Minneapolis City Council member.

Michelle Obama

Aside from being everyone’s favorite First Lady, Michelle Obama is a very accomplished woman. After graduating from Princeton and Harvard University, Obama has worked in corporate law and public service. Obama — the first African-American first lady and one of three first ladies to have post-graduate degrees — used her time as First Lady to develop many campaigns, including Let’s Move, Joining Forces, and Reach Higher. After her husband left office, Michelle Obama has continued to be an influential figure to young women everywhere. Her new book, Becoming, provides insight into how she came to be the woman she is. It details growing up in Chicago during a period of white flight, and how her focus on her education allowed her many wonderful opportunities. It’s comforting to know that one of the most influential women grew up with experiences similar to those of today’s teenagers.

19 African American Women Elected as Judges in Texas

This title might be long-winded, but these women deserve full recognition for flipping many judge seats in Harris County, Texas. After initially running separately, the 19 women decided to take a promotional photo together and run as a group to motivate their voting base. The picture began circulating social media with the phrase “Black Girl Magic.” On election day, all 19 were elected to be judges. It is an incredible feat to flip so many judges’ seats, seeing as this position is one of the last on the voting card, and many people aren’t aware of who is running for these seats ahead of time. The judges include Judge Shannon Baldwin, Judge Lucia Bates, Judge Ronnisha Bowman, Judge Sharon M. Burney, Judge Dedra Davis, Judge Linda Marie Dunson, Judge Toria J. Finch, Judge Ramona Franklin, Judge Lori Chambers Gray, Judge Angela Graves-Harrington, Judge Cassandra Y. Holleman, Judge Erica Hughes, Judge Maria T. Jackson, Judge Tonya Jones, Judge Latosha Lewis Payne, Judge Michelle Moore, Judge Sandra Peake, Judge Germaine Tanner, and Judge LaShawn A. Williams.

Mari Copeny

Mari Copeny is arguably the most influential eleven year old in America. Mari is an incredible young activist who does great work on behalf of her city, Flint, Michigan. At just eight years old, she met with President Obama regarding Flint’s water crisis. Mari’s persistent activism for Flint has earned her the nickname “Little Miss Flint.” She is also the youngest Women’s March Youth Ambassador, National Youth Ambassador for the Climate March, and Youth Ambassador for Equality for Her. To support Mari Copeny, students can go to her instagram page, @littlemissflint, and click the link in her bio.

Lupita Nyong’o

Lupita Nyong’o has starred in many profoundly impactful films, such as Black Panther, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and 12 Years a Slave. Nyong’o is a Kenyan-Mexican actress who has dual citizenship in both Mexico and Kenya. Lupita Nyong’o is invested in social issues, as evident in the documentary she directed, In My Genes, that follows several Kenyans with albinism. She is a fashion icon to many, a Hollywood Walk of Fame inductee, and an academy award winner for best supporting actress for her work in 12 Years A Slave. Nyong’o is likely to keep impressing audiences with her role in Jordan Peele’s upcoming film Us.

Viola Davis

Viola Davis continuously gives spectacular performances on television, film, and Broadway, and she is the only African-American performer to have received a Tony, Oscar, and Emmy award. Recently, Davis has opened up about how she struggled with child hunger in order to help others growing up in the same situation. Davis’s past and bravery in pursuing acting have undoubtedly had an impact on other kids who have an undeniable love of the arts. She has helped raise over $4.5 million for the Hunger Is campaign, which strives to combat child hunger.

Jaden Smith

Jaden Smith, the former Karate Kid, has grown up to be an incredible artist, activist, and business leader. Smith’s first album, “Syre,” has earned lots of anticipation for his future musical endeavors. Some students might have even been lucky enough to hear Jaden live when J. Cole came to Little Rock during his tour. Jaden Smith is also a business leader, whose water company, Just Water, also reflects his interest in environmental protection. Smith is revolutionizing the bottled water industry by using bottles that cut down on carbon dioxide emissions, and investing in conservation efforts. Smith has also worked with the makers of the Impossible Burger, Umami Burger, and Impossible Foods to promote the environment-friendly burger and design his own environment-friendly foods. Jaden Smith seems to have the ability to make waves in whatever he is working on, and the world is waiting with bated breath to see what he does next.


Since her first album released in 2005, Rihanna has been an inspiration. Her magnetic personality and musical skill have made her an influential figure in America. Most students basically grew up listening to Rihanna’s music, whether they fully understood the lyrics or not. Today, Rihanna has become a champion of diversity through her business endeavors. Both Fenty Beauty and Fenty Savage have been incredibly successful thanks to consumers who appreciate Rihanna’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity. The foundation options at Fenty Beauty have been praised for offering colors for women that often aren’t included in the beauty industry. Her lingerie line, Fenty Savage, offers nude pieces that match darker complexions, in addition to pieces for plus size women. Rihanna is forging the path for a beauty and lingerie industry that is made for all women. Soon, her lingerie line is likely to surpass Victoria’s Secret as most popular because of her commitment to providing options for women who are often excluded in this industry.

Information courtesy of,,,,,,,,,,, and Becoming by Michelle Obama.