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Celebrating Black History Month: People Who Have Changed America

February is Black History Month — 28 days of celebrating the contributions of exceptional people the world over. From writers and educators to activists and freedom fighters, who’s your favorite hero?

Barack Obama

Barack Obama was a community organizer, lawyer, constitutional law professor, author, and Illinois State Senator who became the 44th President of the United States. He was the first African American President. He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School.

LeVar Burton

Actor LeVar Burton was the face of Roots’ Kunta Kinte in 1977. It was a breakout role that catapulted the young college man to instant fame. You may remember him, however, for his work on a not-so-obscure little PBS children’s show titled Reading Rainbow. Burton took home 12 Emmys for his work in coaxing America’s youth into a love of reading, while the show, itself, took home numerous awards including Emmys and Peabodys. Additionally, Burton captured the attention of the NAACP for his role on Reading Rainbow, which garnered more awards for the positive image he projected. Throughout the 1980s, he courted a career as both an actor and a producer for several of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek spinoffs.

In 2011, Burton launched RRKIDS, which brought various forms of children’s literature to digital devices the world over.

Rosa Parks

Most historians date the beginning of the civil rights movement in the United States to December 1, 1955. On that day, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama. She was arrested and fined for violating a city ordinance, but her act of defiance began a movement that ended legal segregation in America, and made her an inspiration to freedom-loving people everywhere. Rosa Parks is called the Mother of the modern-day Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks received many awards and honors which included the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal. She was awarded two dozen honorary doctorates from universities world wide.

Eloise Greenfield

Eloise Greenfield was born in 1929 in North Carolina. When she was very young, her family moved to Washington, D.C. As a child, Greenfield loved music, movies, and books. She began to write books when she was a young woman. She has published more than 30 books for children. Greenfield writes novels, poetry, and biographies. Over the years, she has won many awards for her work.

Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley was born in Africa and raised as a slave in Boston, Massachusetts. At the age of 14, she became the first African-American poet to publish a book in the United States. It was published in Boston in 1767. The book appeared in England six years later.

George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver was an inventor, a botanist and a teacher. He is best known for creating more than 325 products from peanuts. Born in Missouri three years before the end of slavery, he grew up to attend Iowa State University. He later taught at the Tuskegee Institute, in Alabama.

Althea Gibson

In 1957, Althea Gibson was the first black woman to win the U.S. Open tennis championship. She won it again in 1958. Born in South Carolina and raised in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, Gibson went on to become a major sports star. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971.

Louis Armstrong

Like Jazz music? One of the world’s greatest jazz players was Louis Armstrong. Armstrong was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on August 4, 1901. As a child, he learned to play an instrument called the cornet. He loved it! He decided to make music his life. Armstrong went on to record thousands of songs. He was known for his trumpet-playing and singing. He also acted in more than 20 movies. Today, Armstrong’s home, in New York City, is a museum.

James VanDerZee

James VanDerZee was a talented photographer. Originally from Massachusetts, he later moved to Harlem. There, he set up a photography studio in 1915. His photographs documenting the Harlem Renaissance were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1967.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Of course, no Black History Month would be complete without the inclusion of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A pastor by trade, King was perhaps the most famous of civil right’s activists. His peaceful demonstrations helped to carry the message of racial equality across decades. He was a successful author, a gracious public speaker and was named TIME Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1963. At age 35, he became the youngest man to ever receive the Nobel Prize for Peace.

On April 4, 1968, King was shot and killed by segregationist James Earl Ray. He left behind his wife, Coretta and four young children.

Celebrating Black History

This month, as you go about your day-to-day activities, remember to take a moment to tell your children about these three American heroes who helped to shape and to form the face of racial equality today. Black History Month happens once a year, don’t let this year pass by uncelebrated.

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