Black History Month 2022: Living Historical Figures to Know

The Spokesman asked nine faculty members at Morgan State University for their top impactful Black figures everyone should know.


Spokesman Staff

The Spokesman’s Black History Month 2022 Living Figures to Know

Thalya Baptiste and Amere Dorsey

In honor of Black History Month, The Spokesman put together a list of 50 living, influential Black people that shape the lives of many people. 

From Serena Williams to Deborah Gray White, the purpose of this list is to provide a wide range of Black leaders that everyone in the Black community, as well as the Morgan community, should know about.

Nine members of the university’s faculty were asked to share their choice of influential individuals whose legacy should be shared in the present and future history. From there, Spokesman editors compiled a list of the top living figures selected.

Aisha Pew

Pew, 41, is the current manager of Dovecote Cafe in Baltimore. She is originally from Brooklyn, New York, but moved to Baltimore because it reminded her of the community she grew up in. She opened Dovecote Cafe to build a business that put the community first. Dovecote Cafe is described as “The Best of Baltimore” by the Marriot Bonvoy Traveler. 

Al Sharpton

Rev. Al Sharpton, 67, is an American civil rights activist, Baptist minister, talk show host, and politician. He is also the founder of the National Action Network, which is one of the leading civil rights organizations in the nation with chapters all throughout the United States. Rev. Al Sharpton is a frequent lecturer on civil rights and political issues. 

Alicia Garza

Garza, 41, is an American civil rights activist and writer known for co-founding the international Black Lives Matter movement. Alicia believes that Black communities deserve to be powerful in every aspect of their lives. She is the Strategy & Partnerships Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the co-founder of Supermajority. She shares her thoughts on politics and pop culture on her podcast, “Lady Don’t Take No.”

Amanda Gormon

Gormon, 23, is an American poet and activist. Gormon is the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate. She graduated from Harvard University in 2020. Gormon read one of her poems “The Hill We Climb” at the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden which made her the first and youngest female poet to read at an inauguration.

Amy Sherald

Sherald, 48, is a painter who mostly depicts African Americans in everyday settings. Her portraits address issues of injustice in Black culture. Sherald became the first woman and first African American ever to win the National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. Sherald is known for the Official Portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama. 

Andrew Jackson Young Jr.

Young Jr., 89, is an American politician, diplomat, and activist. He began his career at a young age as a pastor and was heavily involved in the civil rights movement. He served as the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was a close confidant to Martin Luther King Jr. 

Angela Davis

Davis, 78, is a political activist for civil rights and other social issues. She gained an international reputation during her imprisonment and trial on conspiracy charges in 1970. Davis was one of the founders of Critical Resistance, an organization dedicated to building a movement to get rid of the prison system. Davis is now a professor at the University of California.

Annette Gordon-Reed

Gordon-Reed, 63, is a historical and law professor. She is a professor at Harvard University.  She wrote books like “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family” and won a Pulitzer Prize for it. Gordon-Reed also won the National Book Award.

Barack Obama

Obama, 60, is an American politician, lawyer, and author, who served as the first African-American president of the United States from 2009 to 2017. During his presidency, Obama addressed the global financial crisis and included a major stimulus package, legislation to reform health care, a major financial regulation reform bill, and the end of a major U.S. military presence in Iraq. 

Benjamin Crump

Crump, 52, is an American attorney who specializes in civil rights. Crump has played pivotal roles in the case of Trayvon Martin, Martin Lee Anderson Boot Camp, Jannie Ligons and Robin Tolan. Crump has a passion for advocacy which has given him the privilege to fight for justice amongst marginalized groups of people. 

Beverly Guy-Sheftall

Guy-Sheftall, 75, is a professor of women’s studies and english at her alma mater, Spelman College. She is a feminist scholar, writer, and editor. Sheftall was the founder of the Spelman Women’s Research and Resource Center in 1981, which is the first of its kind at an HBCU.

Bozoma Saint John

John, 45, is the chief marketing officer at Netflix. She worked for nine other employers across several industries before that position. She is known as a trailblazing brand and marketing executive and genuine change-agent in the space. 

Chef Shunquita “Que” Neal

Neal, 44, worked as a U.S. Navy Chief Logistics Specialist and counselor before turning her sights to cooking. She established herself as a chef and launched many businesses, including her catering company called, Creole Soul. Chef Que’s motto is: “Some of life’s heaviest problems can be solved over a warm blanket, a good pot of gumbo and heartfelt conversation.”

Claude Steele

Steele, 76, is a professor of psychology at Stanford University. He is known for his work on stereotypical threats and its application to minority student academic performance. He identified a situational factor operating in ability gaps between women and men and the IQ gaps between whites and blacks.

Cornel West

West, 68, is a philosopher, political activist, social critic, actor, and public intellectual. He is known as one of the nation’s foremost Black scholars and an outspoken progressive activist. He is best known for his classics, Race Matters and Democracy Matters, and for his memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud. West spoke at Morgan State’s presidential distinguished speaker series last fall.

Deborah Gray White

White, 73, is the Board of Governors professor of history and women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University. White specializes in African-American history and American women’s history. She currently heads the Scarlet and Black History Project which investigates Native Americans and African Americans in the history of Rutgers University. 

Earl Richardson

Richardson, 78, was the ninth president of Morgan State University. He has over 45 years of experience in Maryland higher education including various executive-level positions at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, the University System of Maryland, and Morgan State University. While he served as president of Morgan for over 26 years, the university became a doctoral urban research university campus with expanded academic program offerings at the baccalaureate, master’s and doctorate levels.

Emma Jordan Simpson

Simpson, 59, is the executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and executive pastor of The Concord Baptist Church of Christ in New York. She previously served as the executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund where she worked with advocates to name and address New York’s School to Prison Pipeline Crisis, to close abusive youth prisons and redirect sources to invest in youth communities. 

Ernest Shaw Jr.

Shaw Jr., 53,  is an artist whose work defines the duality of the African American experience. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. He graduated from Morgan State University. Shaw is now a teacher in Baltimore City and a professor at Maryland Institute College of Art.

Hank Willis Thomas

Thomas, 47, is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, media, and pop culture. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and abroad. Thomas is said to be one of the most prolific artists of his generation.

James A. Forbes, Jr.

Forbes, Jr., 86,  is the senior minister emeritus of the Riverside Church, an interdenominational church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City. He was the first African American minister to lead this multicultural congregation and served it for 18 years. Forbes spoke out as a vocal critic of President George W. Bush and as a proponent of gay marriage.

Jefferson Pinder

Pinder, 51, is an African American performance artist whose work primarily provokes commentary about race and struggle. Pinder’s work greatly expresses race and the struggle in the communities. Pinder was born and raised in Washington D.C.

Jesse Jackson

Rev. Jesse Jackson, 80, is an American political activist, Baptist minister, and politician. He was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988. He also served as a shadow U.S. senator for the District of Columbia from 1991 to 1997. 

Kamala Harris

Harris, 57, is the current 49th Vice President of the United States. She is the first female, African American and Asian American to become Vice President. Harris is the highest-ranking female in U.S history. Before becoming Vice President, she was a junior United States senator from California. She is an HBCU alumna graduating from Howard University in 1986.

Keith Wallace Smith

Wallace, 61, is a figurative sculptor and educator working primarily in ceramics and cast metal. He received a bachelor’s degree from Morgan State University. He had a position as an associated educator of the Baltimore Museum of Art. He is currently the head of the ceramics department at Kennesaw State University.

Kim Crenshaw

Crenshaw, 62, is a leading scholar in critical race theory. She is also known for being a writer on civil rights, black feminist legal theory, and more. Crenshaw is a professor at the UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School.

LeBron James

James, 37, is an American Basketball player. Drafted in 2003 straight out of high school, James has played for the Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Miami Heat. He is a four-time NBA champion and has been selected in 16 All-star games.

Mae Jemison

Jemison, 65, is a doctor, engineer, and NASA astronaut. In 1992, Jemison became the first African American woman to travel into space as a science mission specialist. She founded The Earth We Share, an international science camp for students based on her travels into space.

Mary Frances Berry

Berry, 83, is a historian, writer, lawyer, activist, and professor. Berry was one of the most visible activists in the Civil Rights Movement. She graduated from Howard University in 1962. From 1980 to 2004, she was a member of the U.S. Commission 1993 to 2004. Her activism and public service included work in three presidential administrations.

Marsai Martin

Martin, 17, is an actress and producer. Martin has won numerous awards for her role in the sitcom “Black-ish.” Martin is the youngest person  to ever produce a studio film; “Little” in which she also starred in. Martin was inspired to launch her own production company called “Genius Productions.”

Mellody Hobson

Hobson, 52, is an American businesswoman who currently serves as the president and co-CEO of Ariel Investments and the chairwoman of the Starbucks Corporation. She received honorary degrees from Howard University, John Hopkins University, St. Mary’s College, and the University of Southern California. She was named one of the “100 most influential people” in the world in 2015 by Times Magazine.

Michelle Obama

Obama, 58, is an American attorney and author. Obama was the first African-American to serve as First Lady of the United States. Through her main initiatives, higher education, healthy families, service members, and their families, and international adolescent girls education, she became a role model and advocate for women. Even after her husband’s presidency, Obama’s influence remained high. 

Opal Tometi

Tometi, 37, is best known as one of the three founders of the Black Lives Matter movement.  Tometi, born in 1984 to Nigerian parents who had illegally immigrated to the United States, grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and is the oldest of three children. Tometi considers herself to be a transnational feminist because of her parents’ immigrant status.

Oprah Winfrey

Winfrey, 68, is one of the richest and influential women in the United States. She is an American television personality, actress, and entrepreneur. Winfrey is the founder of “O”, and “ The Oprah Magazine.”. Her past talk show, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” was among one of the most popular of its genre. The show became the highest-rated talk show in the United States and has won several Emmy awards.

Patricia Hill Collins

Collins, 73, is an American academic who focuses on race, class, and gender. She is a professor at the University of Maryland College Park. She is the first African American woman to serve as the president of the American Sociological Association (ASA). 

Patrisse Cullors

Cullors, 38, is an American activist, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, artist and writer. Cullors created the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag in 2013 and has written and spoken widely about the movement since then. Her creative practice is focused on building a world that promotes and protects human dignity and joy through Black art and creativity.

Randall Kennedy

Kennedy, 67, is a law professor at Harvard University. He is also an author and known for books like ‘Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word,” “Race, Crime, and the Law” and more. Kennedy wrote for a wide range of scholarly and general-interest publications.

Robyn Rihanna Fenty 

Fenty, 33, is a singer, actress, fashion designer and businesswoman. Fenty is originally from Barbados, but she came to the United States to pursue music. After a successful music career, she decided to focus on other crafts. Fenty has her own clothing line and cosmetics brand. Fenty was most recently also appointed to be an ambassador of Barbados in 2018.

Rosalind G. Brewer

Brewer, 60, is an American businesswoman serving as the CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance. She is one of only two Black women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. She was also the first Black woman to become COO of the Starbucks Corporation. 

Ruth Simmons

Simmons, 76, is an American professor and academic administrator, who currently serves as the president of Prairie View A&M University, a historically black college in Texas. She previously served as the president of Brown University from 2001 to 2012 which made her the first African-American and first female president of an Ivy League Institution.

Serena Williams

Williams, 40, is an American professional tennis player. She has won 23 Grand Slam titles, the most by any player in an open era and the second-most of all time. Williams learned tennis from her father on the public courts in Los Angeles and turned professional in 1995. Williams has additionally inspired more diversity within sports and the community. 

Sharif Bey

Bey, 47,  is an artist, ceramic and professor. With his colorful large-scale bead sculptures, Bey explores the cultural and political significance of ornamentation and adornment.He is an associate professor in arts education and teaching and leadership in the College of Visual and Performing Arts and Syracuse University’s School of Education.

Sherrilyn Ifill

Ifill, 59, is a professor and a lawyer. She is the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Ifill taught civil procedures and constitutional law to thousands of law students and pioneered a series of law clinics. 

Shinique Smith

Smith, 51, is a painter and sculptor known for her great abstractions of calligraphy textiles and collage. Her work gives emphasis to what the artist describes as “the graceful and spiritual qualities of the written word and the everyday.” Smith was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. With Smith’s art, she captures the art of human power and resilience. 

Shonda Rhimes

Rhimes, 52, is an American producer, screenplay writer, and author. She is best known for her hit TV show creations, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and Scandal. In 2017, Rhimes was inducted into the Television Academy of Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame. She is also the creator of Shondaland, a storytelling digital media company that often works in collaboration with Netflix to produce content.

Stacey Abrams

Abrams, 48, is an American politician and voting rights activist who served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017, serving as minority leader from 2011 to 2017. In February 2019, Abrams became the first African-American woman to deliver a response to the State of Union address. 

Tyler Perry

Perry, 52, is a world-renowned producer, director, actor, and screenwriter. Perry opened “Tyler Perry Studios” in Atlanta in 2008, which later became the first major film studio to be owned by an African-American. Perry is best known for his character, Madea, whom he has portrayed in both films and plays. 

Ursula Burns

Burns, 63, is an American businesswoman mostly known for being the CEO of Xerox from 2009 to 2015. She was one of the first Black women to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Currently, she is chairwoman of the international telecom company Veon and a founding member of the nonprofit, Change the Equation, focused on STEM education.

Vanessa Williams

Williams, 58, is a singer, actress, and fashion designer. She was the first African-American woman to become Miss America in 1984. William re-emerged in 1988 and released her debut album which sold over two million copies that led to a successful music career

Zeba Blay

Blay, 33, is a Ghanian-American writer and culture critic. She is best known for her coined hashtag on Twitter “#carefreeblackgirl.” She is also famously known for her book of pop culture essays, Carefree Black Girls, which is a celebration of Black women in pop culture in 2021. 

This list was made possible with contributions from Aber Wilson, academic advisor, Oluwatosin Adegbola, executive director of Clara I. Adams Honors College, Alice Jackson, interim chair of the political science department, Felicia Thomas, assistant professor of the history department, David Terry, associate professor of the history department, Charly Woodruff White, web editor in the department of mathematics, Sarita Edwards, assistant to the Dean of the School of Global Journalism and Communication, Joanna Crosby, associate professor of the department of philosophy and religious studies and Eric Briscoe, lecturer of illustration, drawing, painting and visual arts.