Black History Month: Celebrating Young Leaders
February 28, 2023
As we wind down Black History Month, I wanted to celebrate some incredible up and coming young Black leaders. We often focus on historical leaders, which mightily deserve our attention and recognition for their innovation, sacrifice, leadership, scientific contributions, pioneering endeavors, strength, and advocacy. We asked our graduate students to help us celebrate Black History Month by writing names of Black authors, leaders, politicians, inventors, heroes, athletes, etc. on our board. No surprise names such as Barak Obama, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, and Jackie Robinson appeared. There are also some lesser known (but noteworthy) names such as Terrance Hobbs (guitarist), Charlie Mitchell (NYC’s first Black Michelin Young Chef), and Esteban Hotesse (WWII hero). Some of these people are historical figures who are no longer with us, others are older, well-established folks who continue to have influence. I wanted to celebrate younger newer Black voices, leaders, innovators, and advocates – they are the future.
Amanda Gorman (24) – the youngest Inaugural Poet in U.S. History. She performed her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at the 2021 Biden Inauguration, winning the hearts and minds of listeners. On her website, she lists herself as a wordsmith and a change-maker. She is all that and more, including a published author. Her talent, creativity, and honesty in her writing have won her numerous awards. We have much more to hear from Amanda Gorman!
Sydney Barber (23) - In the U.S. Naval Academy’s 175-year history, at age 21, Barber was named the first Black female Brigade Commander and only the 16th woman to ever earn this distinction. Brigade Commander is the highest-ranking leader in the brigade and as a result, Barber led 4,500 midshipmen until she graduated in May 2021 with Merit. She is currently serving at a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps and as a Policy Analyst at the National Space Council.
Kenneth Harris II (30) started working at NASA when he was just 16 years old and has worked on five different satellite missions since. He graduated from high school in 2010, later earned his master’s in Engineering Management from Johns Hopkins University in 2017. Forbes named him as “one of the world's youngest and most impactful individuals in the field of science.” He is now a speaker, consultant, and he sits on the on the Board of District 7’s Board of Education in Prince George’s County, Maryland – where he grew up.
Nia DaCosta (31) released her debut feature film, Little Woods, which won numerous awards including the Nora Ephron Prize. She co-wrote Candyman with Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld. That film was released in 2021 and debuted in the No. 1 slot, which made DaCosta the first Black woman director to earn that distinction. She is also the first Black female director of a Marvel film. The Marvels is scheduled to launch later this year.
Mari Copeny (15) aka “Little Miss Flint” because when she was just 8-years-old she wrote to then President Obama asking for his help regarding the water issue in her hometown of Flint, Michigan. Her letter drew national attention to this water crisis. She has raised a lot of money, advocated for her community, and has spread her wings to further her work. In 2017, she became a national youth ambassador for the Women’s March on Washington. She speaks up about bullying, the climate, and even developed a water filter, which she has shipped all over the country to help others survive the effects of toxic water. She refers to herself as a philanthropist, an activist, and a future president!
Imani Barbarin (32) is a disability rights and inclusion activist. She has created more than a dozen trending hashtags including #PatientsAreNotFaking and #ThingsDisabledPeopleKnow. Imani is from our great city of Philadelphia. She earned her Master’s in Global Communication from the American University in Paris. She runs a blog entitled, “Crutches and Spice” and uses her platform to raise awareness and drive conversations around disability. She has also been published in Forbes, Rewire, Bitchmedia, and more.
These up-and-coming voices are – no doubt – going to continue to shape the discussion as they speak out, lead, and advocate for others. These young people are our future, and they have a lot to say! We need to give them the airspace they deserve, and we need to listen! Today is the last day of Black History month, but it does not mean we stop taking notice of, acknowledging, and celebrating Black voices, leaders, innovators, change-makers, artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, financiers, etc. There is much more work to be done!
Anne Converse Willkomm
Associate Dean, Graduate College
Associate Teaching Professor, Dept. of Communication, College of Arts and Sciences