Conscious and unconscious bias make it nearly impossible to be what you can’t see. It’s one of the many reasons so many mothers and women marked the historic election of the first female, first Black and first Asian-American U.S. Vice President with hope. Kamala Harris’s achievement filled us with joy, yes, and we also are finding joy in the successes of Black women like Cori Bush, Stacey Abrams, Oprah Winfrey, Shonda Rhimes, Serena Williams, Amanda Gorman, Michelle Obama, Nia Dennis, our forever queen Beyoncé… There is an ever growing list acknowledging the power of Black women and how they are continuing to make the world a better place for all of us.
In February, Black History Month is an opportunity for us to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black American Women. The opportunity to celebrate these women and their work - the work that gives us more hope, more joy, more Black Mom Magic to look up to. Because when we have more women, more diverse views, more successes to admire, a shift in our reality starts to happen.
With that said, here are a few Black mothers that have positively impacted the world for the better, and their powerful words we should all take to heart, as fellow mothers, women and professionals.
Madame C.J. Walker
The first in her family to be free-born, orphaned at 7, married at 14, and widowed with a child just a few years later, Madam C.J. Walker’s motto throughout her life was perseverance. The Black entrepreneur, philanthropist, and political and social activist became one of the wealthiest self-made women in America and one of the most successful women and Black business owners by developing and marketing a line of beauty and hair products for Black women through Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. And she didn’t keep her successes to herself. The self-made millionaire was well-known for her philanthropy and activism. She made financial donations to numerous organizations and became a patron of the arts. Walker’s daughter eventually joined her mother’s business and is recognized in her own right as an important contributor to the Harlem Renaissance.
Advice to take from Walker on giving back to your community:
“I am not satisfied in making money for myself. I endeavor to provide employment to hundreds of women of my race.” and “I want you to understand that your first duty is to humanity. I want others to look at us and see that we care not just about ourselves but about others.”
Allyson Felix outlook on life is, "Break Records. Break Stereotypes. Break Barriers. And do it like a girl." This is a woman we can all look up to. In 2019 the four-time Olympian broke Usain Bolt’s record for the most-ever gold medals won at the world championships. Even more incredible? Felix had her first baby via emergency C-section 10 months before beating Bolt's record. Felix has also worked hard to change the world for female athletes. She denounced Nike’s effort to pay her less after becoming a mother, creating a movement to help create wider maternity leave for sponsored athletes.
Advice to take from Allyson on overcoming obstacles:
"Overcoming obstacles is tough. This year I have been learning the importance of just doing the work. It’s not glamorous, it’s tedious and sometimes frustrating. Slowly but surely, even when it’s hard to see, the goal is getting closer. If you are in a similar space right now, keep pushing."
Zadie Smith is a revered novelist, essayist, and short-story writer who covers race, religion, and cultural identity among other themes in her work. Her debut novel, White Teeth, immediately became a best-seller and won a number of awards. Currently a tenured professor in the Creative Writing faculty of New York University, Smith is often sought after as a public speaker and contributor to periodicals. She’s also not one to mince words when it comes to pointing out the differences between how mothers and fathers are viewed in the writing profession: "I have two children. Dickens had 10 – I think Tolstoy did, too. Did anyone for one moment worry that those men were becoming too fatherish to be writeresque? Are four children a problem for the writer Michael Chabon – or just for his wife, the writer Ayelet Waldman?" she once asked after hearing that women writers were better off having just a single child if they chose to have children at all.
Advice to take from Zadie on making the choice that’s right for you:
“We need decent public daycare services, partners who do their share, affordable childcare and/or a supportive community of friends and family. As for the issue of singles v multiples v none at all, each to their own!”
Bozoma St. John
Bozoma St. John has a 20 year career that is crazy impressive. Last summer she became the CMO of Netflix after serving in the same role at Endeavor since 2018. She has worked at Uber as Chief Brand Officer; was Head of Global Consumer Marketing for Apple Music and iTunes, and before that head of the Music and Entertainment Marketing Group at Pepsi-Cola North America. She has been the first through many doors and often speaks to the heaviness that comes from opening those doors and holding them open for those that come behind. Yet, she is constantly out there doing the hard work, making space for other Black women to follow in her successes. St. John is also a single mom, after losing her husband to cancer in 2013, and in the face of all her success claims motherhood as her greatest achievement.
Advice to take from Bozoma on imposter syndrome:
"It's not even about the stretch, because I do believe we should take jobs that stretch us and grow us. But I know that, even though I may not have the experience yet, I am capable of learning and stretching and getting there and then doing the work. I'm no longer arrogant about it -- I realize where the gaps are, and I work really hard to fill the gaps."
Dr. Mayme Clayton
Dr. Mayme Clayton was a Black librarian, and the founder, president, and leader of the Western States Black Research and Education Center (WSBREC), the largest privately held collection of African-American historical materials in the world. She accumulated the vast collection of black literature, documents, photographs, films, books, and memorabilia that was shared first as a bookstore and later as a library out of her home and her garage. This highly respected collection originated from garage sale and used bookstore finds and grew to become a treasured resource for scholars and communities in Los Angeles and abroad. Also a wife and mother of three sons, Clayton served the community with original programming, such as black film festivals to share her compiled works.
Advice to take from Dr. Clayton on educating the future generations:
“Children should know that Black people have done great things.”
Gabrielle Union supports conversations around plenty of hard topics in motherhood, everything from fertility struggles to racial and gender equality in Hollywood. But her viewpoints on raising her children with love no matter what has set her apart as a voice for a number of underrepresented communities. Union is an advocate and ally for these communities and the author of Welcome to the Party also speaks out on behalf of issues involving women's health and violence against women.
Advice to take from Gabrielle on empowering other women
“But the more empowered women in the workforce, the better. The more that women mentor women, the stronger our answer is to the old-boys’ network that we’ve been left out of. We can’t afford to leave any woman behind. We need every woman on the front lines lifting each other up . . . for the good of all of us and the women who come behind us.”
These women are the just tip of the iceberg when talking about accomplishments by Black mothers. We encourage you to explore and learn more on your own, this month and all the ones coming after it. After all, as Maya Angelou once said, “Won’t it be wonderful when Black history and Native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.” A movement we could all benefit from indeed.
We loved the inspo from these well-known women so much we’d also love to hear about the everyday #BlackMomMagic happening out there. Who do you know that is making moves and being excellent on the daily? Shout ‘em out on Insta so we can recognize these Queens!
Tiffany Nieslanik is the Managing Editor at The Mom Project, a graduate student, and a homeschooling mom to 3 young kids. In her (limited) free time she’s also an avid reader, a proponent of power naps, and enjoys getting outside as often as possible.