What does it take to make history? From Simone Biles to Blossom Brown, there's been no shortage of women who have stepped up for the progress of us all, and this is especially true for Black women.
In celebration of Women's History Month, we’re putting the spotlight on the contributions of women in history by honoring the pioneers who made major advances in sport’s, television, fashion and much more.
Although March is Women’s History Month, women are pretty historic year-round, so take a look at the women who are the trendsetters and trailblazers of today.
Founder Bianca Maxwell was looking for a way to track the progress of her skin, which led her to Skinary, a digital health company. After someone at Bianca’s job said “her skin looked angry,” Maxwell leaned on her experience in e-commerce management, global brand management, and building digital platforms, to develop the iPhone application that she felt was necessary for people like her.
Skinary monitors skin changes from breakouts to dryness, encouraging user’s observations of their diet and behaviors to develop thoughtful lifestyle choices and cleansing routines. Using artificial intelligence to help people understand their skin, users can upload selfies to better track and focus on habits that trigger or irritate problem areas.
Described as a smart diary for your skin, the free application launching in May 2020 also offers recommendations on things to try and products to use based on the daily journaling of your food intake and product usage. Maxwell’s passion for womxn and minority-owned companies is also seen through B.Made.Well, her consulting company that assists other female founders in digital branding, strategy, and development. When she’s not talking about her growing tech businesses with investors, Maxwell is an avid traveler and advocate for the elevation of women founders and minority entrepreneurs.
Rue Mapp is the CEO and creator of Outdoor Afro, a non-profit aiming to create opportunities for recreational activity within the African-American community. Founded in 2009 as a blog, the organization has managed to garner an audience of millions in order to manifest beyond the web into a service-based community. With offices in Oakland, California and Washington, D.C, Mapp oversees a highly trained volunteer team of roughly 80 individuals who represent 30 states in the United States of America. Outdoor Afro leads environmental education training, schedules meetups, and organizes informal walks in parks like in the Arnold Arboretum to catch the lilac blooming season.
Through her organization, the founder has successfully created a network of committed nature leaders, especially within the African-American community. Most recently, Map led an outdoor healing hike with Oprah Winfrey to bring awareness to seeking wellness in nature and to share the benefits of being outdoors. Since California Governors Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom appointed Mapp as one of the nine voting commissioners of California State Parks, Mapp has been integral to voting on plans for the State Park system as well as establishing and recommending policies. The CEO also serves on the boards of The Wilderness Society and The Outdoor Industry Association.
Mapp has contributed to First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move Initiative,” and alongside President Bill Clinton, received the National Wildlife Federation Communication award. By urging people of color to get involved outdoors and educate themselves on the environment, Rue Mapp is successfully changing the demographics of her field.
From gaming and production to code development, Cierra McDonald has created a name for herself in the gaming arena. After loving gaming growing up in Chicago’s south-side, and being surrounded by a STEM family, it was a natural progression for McDonald to eventually pursue computer science at the University of Illinois.
Now, McDonald is a Principal Program Manager for Xbox at Microsoft. It has been over a decade since she’s been with Xbox and along the way she has remained committed to creating more space for youth to excel in her field. To help young people cultivate skills in gaming production and development, McDonald hosts her own Intro to Game Design workshops in partnership with notable tech organizations for girls; Girls Who Code, DigiGirlz and YTech. “There are many girls and kids of color who are not so lucky. They may not have first-hand exposure to someone who works in technology. They may not be in an environment where they are encouraged to be curious about science and math. Perhaps they are even being actively dissuaded from these interests,” the game developer told Ignite.
Organizing Xbox’s annual Blacks in Gaming event at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) with over 200 black game creators, innovators, and industry leaders, she recognizes the need to increase visibility in the gaming industry for people of color. Using her platform to transform the gaming community, McDonald is a model for how young people can manifest their beloved gaming hobby into a successful and impactful career.
Emmy-nominated actress, producer, and writer, Issa Rae, is the business savvy creative who makes it clear that she is “rooting for everybody black.”
Her introduction to fame came shortly after she launched her YouTube series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” showcasing her witty and refreshing sense of humor. This authenticity in comedic storytelling translated well on the screen to her now NAACP Image and Peabody award-winning HBO Series “Insecure.” Notable moments e.g. when Rae’s character raps in the mirror to process the ebbs and flows of her career and romantic challenges, elevated the show into a global success. Rae’s commitment to being unapologetically black is seen in her work from screen to print.
Her 2011 NYTimes bestseller The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, showed what it's like to grow up as an introverted black girl further making space for the “uncool” young black girl that is often unseen in entertainment. Her movie credits include The Photograph, Little, and the Academy-Award winning short film Hair Love. Her success in entertainment inspired her Peabody award-winning production company, Issa Rae Productions, responsible for The “F” word, The Choir, Ratchetpiece Theatre, and other short-form content. Most recently, Rae launched Raedio Publishing, LLC in collaboration with Atlantic Records to pair artists with film and television opportunities.
MSNBC host, commentator, and author, Joy Reid, is at the forefront of significant conversations in politics and national issues.
Reid is the host of #AMJoy, a weekly weekend program on MSNBC, where she dissects complex issues and tackles a wide range of topics including policy, elections, and national interests. Her analysis of political discourse and policy has allowed the correspondent to accumulate a loyal audience of nearly one million every weekend. Along with Jacque Reid, the host runs “Reid This Reid That,” a podcast where she comments on pop culture and trends.
Reid is A seasoned author who released Fracture: Barack Obama, The Clintons And The Racial Divide along with We Are the Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama, respectively. Her newest novel The Man Who Sold America: Trump and the Unraveling of the American Story, questions the Trump presidency and how life in the United States has been transformed as a consequence. “My thing is that I can talk on TV, and write books, and write articles. My ability to communicate is what I can contribute, and I am blessed with a platform, so I’m going to use it” Reid told The Cut.
Global Vice President of Partner Solutions at Spotify, Danielle Lee, is a force within the technology, music and business industries.
After growing the multi-screen advertising business at AOL and directing product marketing and advertising at Showtime Networks, Lee continued to dominate the tech business space. The executive then led product marketing and innovation at AT&T, elevated global commercial marketing at Vevo subsequently, and now fronts market strategy at the world’s largest music streaming company; Spotify.
This industry leader specializes in all things data and content across verticals from mobile to video. Such expertise has influenced Lee’s workflow to prioritize personalization where she uses music data to predict behavior and understand how Spotify can better offer a more engaging experience to their consumers. When this Columbia Business School alumna is not transforming market initiatives, Lee is investing in companies and serving as a board member of MAKERS, a media production company named after the 2013 documentary that tackled women’s long and continued fight for equity in the United States over the years.
With over 15 years of experience, Lee’s accomplishments establish her as a pioneer and valued marketing maven in the space where tech, music, and business intersect.
The first-round pick in the 2012 WNBA draft and Los Angeles Sparks player, Nneka Ogwumike, is creating a significant and positive impact in the WNBA on and off the court.
Her athletic career took off at Stanford University where she led her team to the final four tournaments for four years in a row and became Stanford University’s second all-time leading scorer. Ogwumike is a three-time Wade trophy finalist, an award presented annually to the top women’s basketball player in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), for excellence in the sport, positive contribution to the team, and meaningful impact on the surrounding community.
Being a first-generation Nigerian-American, Ogwumike’s identity remains an integral part of her work as seen through her partnership with UNICEF, which supports community service efforts, education for girls, and raises money for Nigeria’s emergency fund. As president of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA), the basketball star represents all 144 WNBA players as they continue the work of advocating for pay equity in the latest and arguably the most significant collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in WNBA history.
In this role, she encourages fellow players to be well informed of the history of the CBA and be prepared to present transformative changes based on their needs as players. “Obviously, we want to get paid our value, and that starts with looking to increase the salary now,” according to The Undefeated.
British-born Broadway star, actress, and singer, Cynthia Erivo, is an unforgettable talent.
The actress is well on her way to EGOT status, having earned three out of the four categories back to back. The acclaimed actress conquered theater through her role as Celie in Broadway’s rendition of The Color Purple, based on the 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning Alice Walker novel. A transformative role in her career that earned her both a Tony and Emmy Award. Most recently, Erivo portrayed abolitionist, Harriet Tubman, in the biological film Harriet, a role that earned her Academy, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations.
She’s also racked up Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for the best original song “Stand Up” in Harriet, proving profound excellence in both acting and singing on screen. Erivo is also a Grammy Award winner and can be seen in the HBO Stephen-King inspired television series “The Outsider,” and films from “Widows” to “Bad Times as the El Royale.”
Grace and poise coupled with a phenomenal vocal range make Cynthia Erivo a talent to truly admire. A thespian at her core, Erivo is seen in not only film and theater, but earlier in her career in television shows like Chewing Gum. Her upcoming project is ‘Carrier,’ a podcast inspired sci-Fi thriller that she will star in and produce. Erivo will also be starring as Aretha Franklin in National Geographic's "GENIUS: Aretha."
Acclaimed actress and executive producer, Laverne Cox, paved the way for transgender people in entertainment through her groundbreaking roles on screen. Her show, Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word Cox made her an Emmy Award-winning producer, and the first openly transgender person to receive the award. Her breakout role as Sophia Burset in Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black, encouraged much-needed conversation about trans people from Black families.
This role led Laverne to become the first openly trans person to be nominated for an Emmy in an acting category with a lead role on a mainstream scripted television show. Specifically, the two episodes, where the character of Burset was played by both Cox and her twin Reginald “M” X Cox, showcases how trans people require certain needs during their transition- something rarely, if ever, discussed on television.
The Actress is now working on a documentary, "Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen", to share the real stories of transgender people. She is the first transgender woman to be featured on the cover of Time magazine, and British Vogue. She also has a wax figure in Madame Tussauds.
When she is not hosting Lifetime’s Glam Masters, a competitive beauty show, Cox is fiercely shaking the world’s understanding and dispelling notions of gender and trans people.
Quinta Brunson has become a fan favorite overnight, as her Buzzfeed produced videos went viral across social media platforms.
This boomeranged her career in comedy writing and production for short-form content. A true dream chaser, Brunson dropped out of Temple University to pursue her dream of moving to Los Angeles. She soon joined an improv group and performed at one-mics when she could. She hustled by getting a job at the Apple store, occasionally working as a stylist assistant.
After joking with a friend about posting her videos, Quinta's Instagram series “The Girl Who’s Never Been on a Nice Date,” became viral -propelling her career. Once her catchphrases like “He Got Money!” circulated, the 30-year-old Philadelphia native quickly established herself as an authentic and relatable content creator. Quinta went from a junior producer to a developmental partner at BuzzFeed Motion Pictures in 2014 after pitching them a show.
Quinta has garnered over 400k+ views for her TEDx Talk, “I Like Myself, America and You Can’t Stop Me,” where she discusses being unapologetically herself. The Producer has also joined the cast of HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” a new comedy series featuring entirely Black women.
Brooke Devard is shifting beauty conversations through meaningful dialogue with inspiring women.
Earlier in Brooke's career, the beauty maven spearheaded marketing strategy at Viacom before transitioning into the role of podcast host/creator, and product marketing manager at Instagram. When she’s not sharing skincare hacks from her extensive beauty routine and traveling the world, she is invested in growing her Instagram community, Naked Beauty Planet, sharing deets on clean skincare products she’s loving, beauty inspiration, and all things women empowerment.
With a platform that stands out, Brooke is building an intimate online community with each post by asking thought-provoking questions and creating a dialogue with and amongst her followers. She encourages members to read the labels to find ingredients that work for their skin (for her its grapeseed oil) and often brings admirable women into the conversation to tell their beauty secrets, too.
Her #NakedBeauty podcast breaks down topics from the best foods for glowing skin and braids at the Met Gala, to authenticity and acceptance of one’s self. “The podcast I really wanted to listen to was with real women having transparent conversations about beauty. In 2016, I decided to make one myself,” Brooke told Into The Gloss.
Investor, founder, and CEO, Kathryn Finney, runs Digital Undivided (DID), an enterprise that supports promising Black and Latinx women founders.
Born in Wisconsin to a family of entrepreneurs, is what gave Kathyrn the fuel needed to propel her into the business of building companies. Since 2013, DID has raised more than 100 million dollars in investments to economically help women execute their ideas. The company’s BIG incubator is the only program committed to the expansion of high-growth technology companies founded by Black and Latinx women.
The CEO demonstrates how the intersection of technology and entrepreneurship can be used to change the future of business. Kathryn's #ProjectDane launch put a spotlight on much-needed dialogue around Black women, entrepreneurship, and inclusivity in tech spaces.
Kathryn continues to be a pioneer for bridging the gap between women founders and financial resources in her work. Her best-selling book, "How to Be a Budget Fashionista: The Ultimate Guide to Looking Fabulous for Less" gives women tips looking stylish without overspending.
Inc. magazine calls her “One of the most influential women in tech,” and Rutgers University inducted her into the African-American Alumni Hall of Fame for her groundbreaking achievements. Her commitment to economic empowerment and ownership of women founders is what makes Kathryn a gatekeeper to success in the tech, entrepreneurial, and business industries.
Screenwriter and producer Tracy Oliver holds the pen behind so many critically acclaimed cultural pieces, we can't keep track!
Tracy’s writing and producing credits include award winning sitcoms and films we love, such as ABC’s Black-ish, Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl, Little, Barbershop: The Next Cut, and the blockbuster film, Girls Trip. Girls Trip grossed 140 million dollars globally establishing Tracy as the first Black woman to screen write a film that grossed over 100 million dollars.
Her upcoming, untitled project includes an all-star cast of actresses -- Meagan Good, Shoniqua Shandai, Grace Byers and Jerrie Johnson -- and is in partnership with Amazon Studios. “I always approached writing from a place of what is missing in the conversation, what I feel like me and my friends are talking about that hasn’t been reflected yet," Tracy told the New York Times.
Tracy Oliver continues to set the bar for storytelling that is true to the multifaceted and dynamic lives of Black people. She is currently executive producer for the BET+ show, "First Wives Club," reimagined after the 1996 cult classic film, which has been recently renewed for a second season.
Tracy is taking Hollywood by storm!
Ava DuVernay is one of the most prominent and deeply respected filmmakers of our time.
The Sundance Film Festival’s Best Director Prize winner has created works deemed both thought-provoking and necessary in the catalog of great American films. Ava has produced, distributed, wrote, and/or directed culture-shifting films such as Academy Award-nominated Selma and Academy Award-nominated 13TH. Her successful collaboration with Oprah Winfrey resulted in the NAACP Image-Award winning television series Queen Sugar, and her partnership with Disney for A Wrinkle In Time made her the first African-American woman director with a movie budget of over $100 million. Most recently, her Emmy-nominated and NAACP Image-Award winning Netflix docu-series When They See Us, exposed how the criminal justice system not only fails young black men but how it can be manipulated to communicate a story of victimhood for non-black bodies, perpetuating dangerous and false stereotypes.
This BAFTA and Peabody Award winner’s unapologetic pursuit of truth in storytelling and dedication to sharing unheard stories is what makes her such a monumental figure in the cinematic world now and forever. Her commitment to illuminating stories of people of color continues through her non-profit film collective ARRAY, founded in 2010, an organization that since it’s creation prides itself on showcasing independent films and grassroots distribution of varied works.
At only 15-years-old, Cori “Coco'' Gauff is becoming a global phenomenon for her record-breaking accomplishments in tennis. This Atlanta-born player’s road to tennis stardom begins with her athletic parents- her father Cory played collegiate level basketball and her mother ran track and field at university -- who set aside their careers to support her dreams.
Using Serena and Venus Williams’, journey to success as the blueprint, the Gauff parents saw the heights that their daughter could reach with diligence, focus, and hard work. The teen tennis star first picked up a tennis racket at age six, often practicing against her garage door, and quickly fell in love with the game that has now earned her global recognition.
Coco was the youngest qualifier in history for the tournament at Wimbledon and walked away victorious after being up against one of her idols, tennis superstar Venus Williams. At the 2020 Australian Open, Coco dethroned defending champion, Naomi Osaka, proving that she is unstoppable and rightfully amongst the top 50 players in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings. A former wild-card for the U.S Open's main draw, Gauff now has a career-high ranking of No. 49 demonstrating the possibilities of what a young Black woman can do in tennis on a world stage.
Seasoned chef, businesswoman, and NYTimes bestselling author, Ayesha Curry appears to succeed at everything she does with tremendous style and grace. The Canadian-born entrepreneur first aspired to become an actress then later pivoted to businesses that instead gave her the well-deserved the spotlight. Her positive personality coupled with a commitment to faith and family admirable but has also contributed to her ability to thrive in both the business and the culinary world.
Household items from her company “Homemade'' can be found in kitchens all around the nation and her barbecue-style restaurants “International Smoke” combines her love of global cooking techniques and travel to inspire new and exciting cuisine. Ayesha is working to alleviate world hunger with six-time NBA All-Star husband Stephen Curry, through their non-profit “Eat Learn Play,” by promoting healthy lifestyles and making nutrition education more accessible.
The 30-year-old author wrote The Seasoned Life: Food, Family, Faith, and the Joy of Eating Well (2016), her take on an authentic cookbook devoid of things like food stylists, determined to give her readers something more approachable than the other books on the shelf -- all while emphasizing that faith and family is at the foundation of everything she does.
Tech leader, Valeisha Butterfield-Jones, is a model for how women can intersect their passions to create maximum and positive transformation in the world. When she is not shaping the future of the entertainment industry as Co-founder of the Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network (WEEN), from 9-5 she serves as the Global Head of Inclusion for Google. Her work at Google is seen through the site’s growth in involvement with resource groups, minority education institutions, and national community organizations.
Earlier in her career, she took on the role of Executive Vice President at Russell Simmons’ media company RUSH Communications and later worked for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign as the National Youth Vote Director observing the impact of technology usage in the process of political engagement.
Valeisha's book, “The Girlprint,” shares her journey from intern to mogul while mentoring young readers on how to relentlessly pursue their dreams despite possible setbacks.
This pursuit allowed her to become a powerhouse who uses her platform to bring attention to facts often ignored like Black women’s influence behind voter turnout and their annual collective buying power.
At just 22-years-old, Simone Biles is the most decorated gymnast in history. As a fierce competitor, she continues to excel by crushing the competition, earning her 25 World metals. Most recently, Simone was named 2019 AP Female Athlete of the Year and that is just one prestigious title amongst the plethora of her accolades.
She is recognized for her unmatched agility, high-level performance, and execution of difficult artistic gymnastic skills; dominating in the vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise. When she is not being an Olympic champion and breaking records, the 22-year-old is combating harmful competitive beauty standards by raising awareness with her enormous platforms. Her mission to champion acceptance of one’s beauty and body is what separates her from other athletes. Not only can Simone's strength be seen in landing a double-twisting on beam, but also in her journey from foster care to Olympic royalty.
Her NYtimes bestselling memoir “Courage to Soar '' shares her story, and emphasizes her perseverance and courage after beginning her gymnastics training at eight years old and being adopted by her grandparents. She was spotted at a young age as someone who showed great potential and now gymnasts alike can refer to a double-dismount from the balance beam as the “Biles” and a triple-double as “Biles II,” aptly named after the world-renowned gymnast herself. Simone continues to pave the way for the next generation of gymnasts.
Vogue describes British-born Pat McGrath as the most influential make-up artist in the world — and rightfully so. From curating 50 looks at the MET Gala to Christian Dior and Maison Margiela runway shows, Pat is the genius behind most of the makeup looks you see.
McGrath began to experiment with makeup at age six and later took small jobs with family and friends before establishing beauty trends with bold colors, dewy skin, and mastery with gemstones. A slow and steady build as an artist acquiring skill and learning on the job paired with years of drawing from inspiration around her eventually led to Pat McGrath Labs (2016).
Pat's beauty line - an award-winning catalog of lip glosses, glittery eye shadow palettes and more, can be found worldwide at Sephora and is now valued at one billion. Such prowess has shattered the glass ceiling for what a make-up artist can be in the beauty arena today. Great Britain’s own Queen Elizabeth II noticed her reign and adorned her with the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for her beauty and fashion contributions.
Actress, producer, activist, and pioneer for trans women’s rights, Blossom Brown encourages others to fearlessly live their undeniable truth. At four-years-old, she knew that she was born in the wrong body and her journey in cultivating a sense of self inspires others to do the same.
In 2015 she became the first trans woman to graduate from Mississippi University for Women and after being denied acceptance into nursing schools with nearly perfect grades, still pursued higher education in public health.
Blossom is a supreme example of someone who stands in her power by making space for others while also giving back to their community. She took up well-deserved space at the “CNN Equality Town Hall,” an event intending to be inclusive, but managed to avoid diving into trans issues, taking the mic to challenge the program to include trans issues in conversations on equality.
On and off her social media platforms, she is outspoken about hard truths -- the mortality rate, funding for safe spaces, transphobia, trans people serving in the military and reproductive justice concerning trans men and women globally. Her passion for equity coexists with her on-screen talent making appearances in “IAMCAIT,” a reality show that she hopes will create the opportunity for even more trans women to be seen and tell their stories.
Candice Carty-William represents Black Girl Magic to the fullest. Her novel “Queenie,” is now a New York Times bestseller and drew international attention for this British-writer following a bidding war between four publishing companies.
In her early internship days, she realized the underrepresentation of authors and writers, which later, to a certain extent, inspired her creation of the Guardian and 4th Estate BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) Short Story Prize in 2016 -- an award celebrating underrepresented authors in a white-dominated industry.
Candice was driven by the desire to see characters like Queenie represented in literature while tackling the idiosyncrasies that come with sexual agency, social politics, and interracial dating. “Representation is important because I need to read something that I recognize and my children, if I have them, will need that too … My plan at the start of this was that I wanted to do something that represents. That, ultimately, is why Queenie exists,” says Candice. “Queenie” named after the name character follows a young black woman post-break-up on a journey full of pain, honesty, and undeniable wit. When she’s not writing novels, Carty-Williams is a book columnist at The Guardian, but you can also trace her writing back to i-D, Vogue, The Sunday Times, BEAT Magazine, and Black Ballad.
Founder and CEO of Black Girls CODE, a non-profit geared towards transforming the future of STEM by exposing girls (ages 7-17) to coding, computer science, and technology, Kimberly Bryant, is preparing Black girls to takeover.
Born and raised in Memphis, her studies in electrical engineering and later work in biotechnology, allowed her to subsequently step into director and advisory board roles at top technological and pharmaceutical companies; DuPont, Pfizer. Inspired by her daughter’s interest in learning computer programming, Bryant founded Black Girls CODE in 2011 to offer training courses that both educate young girls in computer science and increase awareness and accessibility to careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
Today Black Girls CODE has established 15 chapters, including one in Johannesburg, South Africa, many of which host workshops on python programming, robotics, mobile apps, artificial intelligence, and offer financial-need based scholarships to school-aged girls. The fostering of impactful partnerships between organizations such as Lyft, Google, Verizon, Microsoft, and Capital One with Black Girls CODE speak to Bryant’s goal of amplifying inclusion in technology and computer industries.
The company’s #FutureTechBoss series gave notice to young women who are leaders in their community by highlighting their accomplishments-- from winning hackathons to aspirational goals like becoming a biomedical engineer and dominating the STEM world. Bryant was recognized by Business Insider as one of the “25 Most Influential African-Americans in Technology” and also received the Jefferson Award for Community Service.
(Photo: Motion Mami, @MotionMami, www.motionmami.com x Getty images)
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