Commentary: Five trailblazing, inspirational Black women

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Photo credit: Graphic Illustration by Molly Solowitz

Rihanna, Janet Jackson, Ava DuVernay, Simone Biles and Toni Morrison are depicted above. The month of March is recognized in the United States as Women’s History Month, and in this piece, I want to highlight a handful of women I found inspirational and influential.

By Cadence Callahan, Senior Reporter

March is Women’s History Month, an annual celebration that highlights the numerous accomplishments and contributions women have made throughout history. The holiday is celebrated throughout the entirety of March in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, while International Women’s Day is celebrated worldwide March 8.

In the past, Women’s History Month rarely highlighted the innumerable accomplishments of Black women and other women of color. White women, such as Susan B. Anthony, are praised and considered pioneers, despite their exclusivity of women of color in the feminist movement.

As a young Black woman who attends an all-girls school, Women’s History Month is an important holiday. This past month, I’ve taken the time to research and discuss the powerful, inspirational and admirable Black women who have made a name for themselves in numerous ways. I feel a strong inclination to highlight these women as their names are often erased from the narrative of feminism.

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison was an American novelist and the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. Morrison wrote a variety of books but is most known for her works including, “The Blueyest Eye” (1970), “Sula” (1973), “Song of Solomon” (1977) and “Beloved” (1987). Throughout her novels, Morrison discussed thought-provoking ideas surrounding topics such as internecine racism, which can be described as internalized racism and bigotry within communities of color, the damaging effects of strict beauty standards and more. I first became aware of this incredible woman through a unit in my English class. We read and watched various interviews of Morrison before delving into her novel “The Bluest Eye.” In a video created by The New York Times, where they honored Morrison, I learned about her many contributions to Black literature outside of her own work. Morrison was the first Black woman to work for Random House Publishing. There, Morrison published work from important figures such as Muhammad Ali and Angela Davis. Morrison is truly empowering and serves as a role model for aspiring writers across the globe.

Rihanna

Rihanna is a Barbadian singer, actress, designer and businesswoman. Aside from her music, which I am a huge fan of, she has worked to create a name for herself in the business world. Rihanna is a multifaceted woman who has created various brands in both the beauty and makeup industries. In 2017, Rihanna launched her makeup brand Fenty Beauty, which caters to a wide variety of skin tones and types. Around the time of its initial release, the makeup brand was celebrated for its diverse selection of foundation shades. The brand showcased various people of color with different complections and skin conditions. But, Rihanna’s entrepreneurship didn’t end there. In 2019, she launched her lingerie line, Savage X Fenty. Similarly to her makeup line, Savage X Fenty is applauded for its inclusive sizing and use of both female and male plus-size models. According to a Forbes article published in 2021, Rihanna has made over $1 billion dollars from both her makeup and fashion empires, making her the wealthiest female musician in the world. The success of Rihanna’s businesses is not only inspirational for the monetary value they’ve aquired, but for the numerous expectations she surpassed and glass ceilings she shattered. Rihanna is not only an amazing singer-songwriter but an influential entrepreneur, too.

Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay is an American award-winning filmmaker, writer, producer and director. Some of her notable work includes Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” which follows a young girl’s adventure to find her missing scientist father after he discovers a new planet, the historical drama “Selma,” which chronicles Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign to secure equal rights, the Netflix original mini-series “When They See Us,” which records the infamous Central Park Five trial and the criminal justice documentary “13th.” The success of “A Wrinkle in Time” made DuVernay the highest-grossing Black female director in American box office history. DuVernay has been the recipient of an EMMY, BAFTA, Peabody Award and nominated for an Academy Award. As a young Black woman who has an interest in media and film production, DuVernay’s success is inspiring. She has, no doubt, created a name for herself and opened doors for women everywhere.

Simone Biles

Simone Biles is an American gymnast. Biles currently has 32 Olympic and World Championship medals. She is tied with Shannon Miller as the most decorated gymnast of all time. Aside from her outstanding athletic capabilities and accolades, Biles has been an outspoken force of nature and advocates for not only mental health awareness but the destigmatization of the topic as well. Biles has anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). During the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Biles made the decision to prioritize her mental health and withdrew from the games. This sparked a lot of discussion surrounding athletes and mental health. Since then, Biles has partnered with the mental health subscription, Cerebal, which provides users with access to online care for illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, ADHD and anxiety. In an interview with NBC News, Biles advised all athletes to, “Put mental health first, because if you don’t, then you’re not going to enjoy your sport and you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to.” I find Biles inspirational for a multitude of reasons, but I truly admire her vulnerability when speaking about her own mental health issues and advising everyone to prioritize their well-being first. Biles is a stellar athlete and an amazing advocate.

Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson is an American singer, songwriter, actress and dancer. Aside from being related to the famous Michael Jackson, Janet has established herself as her own creative entity. Jackson is credited for her innovative, explorative and sometimes provocative take on music. Jackson has penned numerous hits such as “Together Again,” “All For You,” “That’s The Way Love Goes” and “Nasty.” Jackson has won four Grammy awards, various MTV awards and others. The television program Lifetime aired a two-night documentary, Jan. 28, exploring Jackson’s initial start and road to fame. Jackson is praised for her innate rhythmic talent and choreography. She was and continues to be an inspirational and dominating force in the music industry. I admire Jackson for her insane musical abilities and talent. Jackson has paved a way for artists such as Beyoncé, Mariah Carey and others.

The women listed above are only a handful of women everywhere who are making strides in their respective fields. These women are not only admirable for what they do, but for the amount of courage it took for them to attempt to make a name for themselves in fields with little to no Black representation. They truly embody the phrase “BlackGirlMagic.”