Black History Month - 2020

I’m adopted and was raised by a white family in rural Arkansas. As much as my parents tried to teach me about  Black History, they were limited in their knowledge and the public school system fell short. I’ve done A Poster A Day series every February. My goal in this is to both learn more about Black historical figures and events but also share that knowledge with others in engaging and exciting ways. Each poster is accompanied with a writeup or video explaining the significance of the subject. 

This has been one of my favorite recurring projects as it gives me a challenge to communicate effectively while also giving me creative freedom to see the task through.  

Here are some of my favorites from 2020.

Olympic Gymnasts

There aren’t very many Black women that have made it to compete on the highest level. In fact, the first one wasn’t until 1980 (Luci Collins). But the ones that did have gone on to inspire generation upon generation. ⁣

Dominique Dawes (bottom) was the first Black person (male or female) to win an Olympic gold in gymnastics. (She went to the Olympics three times in 1992, 1996, and 2000.) Following in her footsteps, Gabby Douglas (top) won golds in the 2012 and 2016 games and became the first Black woman in history to become the individual all-around Olympic champion (oh, and the only American EVER to be all-around champ and win multiple golds in a single Olympic games). She and Simone Biles (middle) were members of the 2016 olympic team, which cleaned HOUSE. ⁣

Biles is the most decorated American gymnast with a total of 30 Olympic and World Championship medals… and she’s still kicking. She’s planning to compete at the 2020 games with 3 other teammates. Here’s hoping she and the rest of the team can bring home some more hardware for the USA. ⁣

This isn’t even mentioning the other insanely talented individuals like Kyla Ross, Diane Durham, Betty Okino, or Dionne Foster. They may not have the accolades like the three here, but each of them have shown young girls and boys that if they wanna do gymnastics, they can.⁣ The world needs more Black models of hard work, perseverance, and grace. ⁣

The Chitlin’ Circuit

In the early-to-mid 1900s, racial segregation was rampant. You’ve probably seen signs of bathrooms and water fountains for “coloreds”. Trains were divided by a curtain once they crossed into Southern states, one side for Whites, one side for Blacks. In the south, it was especially hard for Black entertainers to find work since there were so many laws against it. ⁣

Enter the Chitlin’ Circuit. Named after a “garbage-turned-gold” soul food dish, the Chitlin Circuit was a collection of venues that were targeted at providing work for Black people in the entertainment industry. Dozens of nightclubs, bars, and dance halls scattered throughout the eastern half of the USA (from Texas to Michigan to NYC) played host to a variety of performers, including Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, Lena Horne, B.B. King, The Supremes, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin — the list is EXTREMELY long.⁣

They didn’t ever pay very much, but it was just enough to keep the dream alive. These artists’ drive would inspire others to keep striving for something you believe in even if it’s not accepted by the world’s standards.⁣

Satchel Paige

Satchel Paige is one of the most famous ballplayers in the world, but his story is so interesting and inspiring. When he was younger, he was already a standout athletically and the best pitcher among his group of friends but he wouldn’t have gone into professional baseball at all if it hadn’t been for some run-ins with the law.⁣

After being caught shoplifting at age 12, he was sentenced to 5 years in a correctional facility in Alabama for Black boys. There, one of his coaches mentored him and taught the proper technique for all things baseball and MOST importantly, that he wouldn’t be able to rely on his physical gifts forever. He had to learn from and study the mental side of the game in order to compete at a high level.⁣

When he was released on parole, he joined up with his hometown’s Black semi-pro team, the Mobile Tigers. Paige would bounce around in the Negro Leagues for 23 years(!) before making his MLB debut (mostly thanks to Jackie Robinson, who, a year before, became the first Black man to play for an MLB team). Satchel was a 42 year old ROOKIE, the oldest there had been. That’s insane. ⁣

What’s even more insane is that his pitching directly contributed to the Cleveland Indians winning the World Series that year. Oh, and he earned the title of being the first Black player to play in a World Series. He’d bounce in and out of the major leagues and the minor leagues, but his personality and pitching style would guarantee a fan wherever he went. He’d eventually play his last MLB game at the age of 59 and passed away 16 years after that. ⁣

The man had a playing career of nearly 40 years. He was playing baseball more than he wasn’t playing baseball. That’s really hard for me to imagine, not to mention the fact that he wasn’t even in the Majors until he was over 40. Never give up on your dreams! (There’s a whole piece to this that is all about the discrimination that Satchel faced… but that’ll be a story for another time.)⁣

Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland was the very first Black female principal dancer in an international dance company. Her meteoric rise through the ranks of ballet has been mind-boggling to say the least. ⁣(There is a LOT to her story so I’m likely missing stuff – look her entire story up, it’s so inspiring!)

At 13 years old, she put ballet shoes on for the first time and took to it like a fish takes to water. She reached pointe in just 6 months. (It typically takes anywhere from 2 to 4 years with proper and regular training.) At the same time, she was going through a rough time at home. Her birthmom was single and struggling to provide for her six children. Copeland’s ballet teacher offered to bring her to and from class, and even offered to let her live with her family during the week and take Copeland to see her mom on the weekends. Over the months that followed, Copeland grew in popularity and started in key roles in ballets across the state of California. ⁣

Copeland eventually applied for emancipation from her mom (which was fairly common practice among performers), having been assisted and encouraged by her ballet teacher. Her mom didn’t like this and tried to file restraining orders on the family. After learning what emancipation really means and being assured that she’d always be allowed to dance, Copeland dismissed the papers, moving back in with her mother. Together, they found a new ballet school and continued on with their lives.⁣

Over the next decade, Copeland would continue to shock audiences at her level of talent. She’d make her way up the charts to being the principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre in 2015 at age 32. I love her story of reconciliation that she had with her mother, and the fact that she stuck with ballet through it all! As I’ve said before, it’s SO important for there to be people of color achieving in public eye. That goes such a long way to opening the hearts and minds of future generations.⁣

NASA’s Human Computers

Dorothy Vaughn, Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson were three Black human computers who worked with NASA to put the first American into an orbital space flight. I often hit the character limit when talking about just ONE person, so excuse me for making this a bit brief! The movie that tells their story, Hidden Figures, takes some creative liberties but is pretty accurate – definitely give it a watch! ⁣

First off, as a collective, these women were BRIGHT. All had multiple degrees. Johnson graduated high school when she was 14 and college when she was 18. I mean, they literally crunched extremely challenging life-threatening equations and formulas all day.

They all faced challenges unique to being Black and being women. Their offices were separated from white offices, and they were often looked down upon and talked down to. They got paid a little over half of what men doing the same work did. They couldn’t put their names on any scientific reports they generated (some did anyway ✊🏾).⁣

Still, they were respected by several people within the organization. As NASA started to use digital computers to make flight calculations, astronauts called for these ladies to verify the results. Their willingness to find new roles was respectable too – Vaughan learned how to program and taught her team how to as well, Johnson calculated trajectories for the moon landing and for a mission to Mars, and Jackson became NASA’s first African-American female engineer. They were each part of NASA for 28+ years.⁣

And the cool thing is, they continued inspiring generations to work in the STEM field until their deaths. At NASA they led teams and taught people from within, and after leaving, they’d speak to students about the reality of such a career.⁣

It’d important to remember that while these three women are the most famous of the human computers, there were MANY more – over 400 in total. These women were shakers in the field and made movements for the engineers, mathematicians and techies of the future.⁣