Celebrating Black History Month
February is Black History Month, a celebration of the incredible, enduring, and ongoing role of the Black community in shaping the United States of America and its history. As Barack Obama said in 2016, his last year as US president, “It’s about the lived, shared experience of all African Americans, high and low, famous and obscure, and how those experiences have shaped and challenged and ultimately strengthened America.”
This year we want to celebrate five of the Black artists, writers, and scientists making incredible contributions to the world today.
Prolific inventor Lonnie Johnson may be best known for coming up with the best-selling Super Soaker® toy, but he’s contributed to lots of other fascinating projects, from the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber and the Mars Observer mission to a wet-diaper detector. Today, Johnson is working on rechargeable batteries and other energy technologies as president of his own company.
Poet Amanda Gorman made history in 2021 during President Joe Biden’s inauguration as the youngest person ever to serve as inaugural poet. In the next year, she published three books that became #1 New York Times best sellers: the poem The Hill We Climb, the picture book Change Sings, and the poetry collection Call Us What We Carry. And at just 23 years old, Gorman is only beginning to make her impact on the world.
A theoretical physicist and professor at Brown University, Stephon Alexander leads a research lab studying questions about the fundamental nature of the universe, like what happened before the Big Bang, the relationship between matter and antimatter, and why the universe is structured the way it is. He is also a jazz musician, and his book The Jazz of Physics, about using the principles of jazz to explore the thorniest questions in physics, earned a place on NPR’s list of the best books of 2016.
Artist Amy Sherald came to prominence when she painted a portrait of Michelle Obama for the National Gallery that was unveiled in 2018. Her paintings, usually portraits with titles that draw from literature, have gained praise for their complex layers of meaning, using references to other famous works and artistic traditions to make subtle, challenging points easiest to understand when the paintings are viewed in person. In 2020, one of them sold for over $4 million.
Dr. Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Corbett co-led the team of scientists responsible for one of the principal vaccines involved in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. She had been studying coronaviruses for years when the pandemic began, and her team took only 66 days from the time the virus’s DNA sequence was released to get their vaccine into clinical trials. Now a professor at Harvard University, she has won a host of awards for her work, including being named one of TIME magazine’s Heroes of the Year in 2021.