February is Black History Month. Every year, we honor the achievements of African-Americans throughout history. This year is different. We have the first African-American president and, while it is important that we honor the contributions of historical figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and Booker T. Washington, I would like to take some time in showcasing the heroes of today. These African-American leaders are the next generation’s historical figures.
Van Jones – An environmental advocate, a civil rights activist, attorney, and a New York Times bestselling author. Based in Oakland, California, Jones is the president and founder of Green For All, a national NGO dedicated to “building an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.” His first book, The Green Collar Economy, released in 2008, was a New York Times bestseller. Time Magazine named Jones one of its 2008 “Environmental Heroes” and Fast Company called him one of the “12 Most Creative Minds of 2008.”*
Jesse Jackson, Jr. – A Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives representing Illinois’s 2nd congressional district. The son of activist and former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, he has served the 2nd district since 1995. He served as a national co-chairman of the Barack Obama presidential campaign. Prior to elective politics Jackson was proactive in international civil rights activism.*
Colin Luther Powell – An American statesman and a former four-star general in the United States Army. He was the 65th United States Secretary of State (2001-2005), serving under President George W. Bush. He was the first African-American appointed to that position. During his military career, Powell also served as National Security Advisor (1987–1989), as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Army Forces Command (1989) and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989–1993), holding the latter position during the Gulf War. He was the first, and so far the only, African American to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.*
Majora Carter – An African-American environmental justice advocate and economic consultant from the South Bronx area of New York City. Carter is best known for founding the non-profit environmental justice solutions organization Sustainable South Bronx. Since 2007 Carter has appeared on The Green, a television segment dedicated to the environment, shown on the Sundance Channel. A December 2008 New York Times profile calling Carter “The Green Power Broker” called her “one of the city’s best-known advocates for environmental justice.” Currently Carter is president of a private, for-profit “green” economic consulting firm, The Majora Carter Group.*
Condoleezza Rice – Rice was the 66th United States Secretary of State, and the second in the administration of President George W. Bush to hold the office. Rice was the first black woman, second African-American, and the second woman to serve as Secretary of State. Rice was President Bush’s National Security Advisor during his first term. When beginning as Secretary of State, Rice pioneered a policy of Transformational Diplomacy, with a focus on democracy in the greater Middle East. Before joining the Bush administration, she was a professor of political science at Stanford University where she served as Provost.*
Martin Luther King III – An American human rights advocate and community activist. King is the eldest son of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. King attended The Galloway School and went on to Morehouse College, which was the same school his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather attended. King has lead the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), served as director and co-owner of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change and currently heads an organization called Realizing the Dream.*
Leonard Pitts, Jr. – A nationally-syndicated columnist and winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. He was originally hired by the Miami Herald to critique music, but within a few years he received his own column in which he dealt extensively with race, politics, and culture. He lives in Bowie, Maryland. He has won awards for his writing from the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and was first nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1993, eventually claiming the honor in 2004. He is also the author of the bestselling book Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood. Pitts gained national recognition for his widely-circulated column of September 12, 2001, “We’ll Go Forward From This Moment,” in which he described the toughness of the American spirit even in the face of such a horrible attack.*
Barack and Michelle Obama – Barack Hussein Obama II is the forty-fourth and current President of the United States. He is the first African-American to hold the office. Obama was the junior United States Senator from Illinois from 2005 until he resigned following his election to the presidency. He was inaugurated as President on January 20, 2009. Michelle Obama is the current First Lady of the United States, and the wife of the forty-fourth President of the United States Barack Obama. She is the first African-American First Lady. She is a lawyer and was a University of Chicago Hospital Vice-President.*
Chuck D – Carlton Douglas Ridenhour, better known by his stage name, Chuck D, is an American rapper, author, and producer. He helped create politically and socially conscious rap music in the late 1980s as the leader of the rap group, Public Enemy. Ridenhour is extremely politically active; he co-hosted Unfiltered on Air America Radio, participated in a 2004 rap political convention. He continues to be an activist, publisher, lecturer, and producer. Addressing the negative views associated with rap music, he co-wrote the essay book Fight the Power: Rap, Race, and Reality.*
Spike Lee – Shelton Jackson “Spike” Lee is an Emmy Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated American film director, producer, writer, and actor, noted for his films dealing with controversial social and political issues. He also teaches film at New York University and Columbia University. His production company, 40 Acres and A Mule Filmworks, has produced over 35 films since 1983.*
Who is your African-American hero of today? Leave their name and a little bit about them in the comment section.