Dear 2015: A Look Back at the Year in Black Culture

These moments inspired us, cracked us up, devastated us and left us scratching our heads.

These moments inspired us, cracked us up, devastated us and left us scratching our heads.


It was a rough start to the New Year—Bobbi Kristina Brown, the 21-year-old daughter of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, was found unconscious in a bathtub in her home. Things picked up when Uzo Aduba gave a tear-inducing speech after she won a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series, but then Madonna filled a rage hole in our hearts when she promoted her new album by Photoshopping ropes over the faces of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. Thankfully, we were able to hop off the emotional roller coaster when a little show called Empire premiered on Fox.


What was more surprising: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failing to nominate a person of color for an Oscar in any of the acting categories even though Selma was eligible, Missy Elliott's Super Bowl appearance, or the touching Black Lives Matter tribute during D'Angelo's performance on Saturday Night Live? None of these. The biggest surprise was that Beyoncé launched a vegan meal delivery service. You can't rule the world if you're constantly full of cheese.


The Transportation Security Administration agreed to retrain agents on how to search Black women's hair at airports, so we could finally stop getting all up in our feelings every time we took a flight. Scandal's "The Lawn Chair" episode focused on police brutality and simultaneously gave us a break from the Olivia/Fitz cycle of romantic violence. Black excellence was on full alert this month—Rihanna became the first Black ambassador of Dior, Jay Z launched the music streaming service Tidal, Kendrick Lamar released To Pimp a Butterfly and Tituss Burgess sang his way right into our hearts with a truly moving, ad-libbed song about wine on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.


When 25-year-old Baltimore resident Freddie Gray died in police custody under suspicious circumstances, we were thrown into a tornado of disbelief and confusion about how and why this keeps happening. Eight days later, Loretta Lynch was finally sworn in as the first Black female U.S. Attorney General, and she made quick work of starting a civil rights probe into the case. Activist and Grey's Anatomy actor Jesse Williams prompted us to use broken heart emojis with his insightful tweets on the Black Lives Matter movement. Speaking of hearts, Ava DuVernay was honored by Barbie with her own doll, and actress Amandla Stenberg's viral video about cultural appropriation turned us into clapping, hand-waving believers that children really are the future. We waved our hands in a different way when NeNe Leakes broke down in a flood of tears and left during the Real Housewives of Atlanta reunion. Girl, bye.


Prince released a Freddie Gray tribute song and brought his Afro to Baltimore to headline the Rally 4 Peace benefit; Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj released the "Feeling Myself" video on Tidal and wore matching outfits to their cheeseburger-eating party. Queen Latifah blazed in Bessie, the HBO biopic about legendary blues singer Bessie Smith. But the shining star of this month, this year and possibly this lifetime was 2-year-old Riley Curry, daughter of NBA MVP Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, with her supercute antics at the Western Conference Finals press conferences.


Just in case we were worried that art doesn't imitate life anymore, basketball stars and future soap opera cast members Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson had their marriage annulled within a month of walking down the aisle and in the midst of domestic violence claims. Johnson was pregnant with twins. Sean Combs was arrested and accused of assault after threatening his son's football coach with a kettlebell. Rachel Dolezal took Black Like Me a little too seriously: She had masqueraded as a Black woman for years and even became president of her local NAACP chapter. When she got busted, the world was sent into a frenzy of discussion about what it means to be Black. The heartbreaking, racially motivated massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, left us all in a daze. In response, Bree Newsome soared into history when she climbed a pole and removed the Confederate flag from the front of the South Carolina statehouse. Janet Jackson saw our Bat signal and sensed how much we needed her, so she released her first single in seven years, "No Sleeep," shortly after she won the inaugural BET Ultimate Icon: Music Dance Visual Award.


The misery train went full steam ahead this month. Bobbi Kristina Brown died, and the #IfIDieInPoliceCustody hashtag gained traction when Sandra Bland was found hanged in her jail cell after being arrested for a minor traffic violation. Key and Peele decided to end their show, and a powerful New York magazine cover depicting 35 women who've accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault dropped shortly after court documents revealed Cosby admitted to drugging women. There was some injection of joy into our lives when Serena Williams won Wimbledon, and Magic Mike XXL somehow managed to make a movie about male strippers feel like a feminist extravaganza, and even included Donald Glover's soft-talking poetry disguised as rap.


Civil rights leader Julian Bond died at age 75, and Broadway star Kyle Jean-Baptiste, the first Black actor to play the lead role in Les Misérables, lost his life at age 21 after falling from a fire escape. The N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton premiered to huge numbers; and even though the movie skipped over the terrible ways the group treated women, Dr. Dre apologized publicly to "the women that I've hurt." Better 24 years late than never? A state of emergency was declared in Ferguson on the anniversary of Mike Brown's death.


Ta-Nehisi Coates revealed that he will write a Black Panther comic for Marvel, and then he won a MacArthur Genius grant. Kids, please remind your parents that comic books are not only good for you but could also one day help you land a grant for more than half a million dollars. Matt Damon earned the scorn of social media when he tried to explain diversity in Hollywood to Black movie producer Effie Brown. And our Ava DuVernay struck again with her Apple commercial featuring Kerry Washington, Mary J. Blige and Taraji P. Henson. Wasn't it so much fun to see a group of carefree Black women cutting up and dancing around to an old-school mixtape? Grace Jones released a memoir, and Viola Davis gave an unbelievable acceptance speech at the Emmys that brought people to their feet and Hollywood to its knees when she said, "The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity."


Will Smith shared that he has new music in the works and a tour with DJ Jazzy Jeff is in the works. All across the Black universe a collective sigh was let out when Raven-Symoné said "I'm not about to hire you if your name is Watermelondrea!" on The View. Former NBA player Lamar Odom was found unconscious in a Las Vegas brothel with cocaine in his system. A year after the tragic accident that left Tracy Morgan severely injured, the comedian made his TV return to host Saturday Night Live and proved that one thing hasn't changed—he's still funny as ever. A South Carolina Police Officer violently attacked a Black female student as she sat at her desk at Spring Valley High School. Russell Simmons' prepaid debit card company, RushCard, suffered a a major glitch that left thousands of users without access to their paychecks. "Ladies, how y'all feel? Brothas, y'all alright?" Erykah Badu announced the release of her new mixtape, "But You Cain't Use My Phone" and it sounds like everything we need to hear and more. #BossMovesOnly: Rihanna secures a partnership with Samsung Mobile for $25 Million to sponsor her upcoming album, ANTI, and a world tour.


A nine-year-old Chicago boy, Tyshawn Lee, was lured into an alley and shot execution style. In her memoir, Year of Yes, TGIT mastermind Shonda Rhimes detailed lessons learned by simply saying "Yes." Vivica Fox appeared on Bravo's Watch What Happens Live where she made some pretty insinuating comments about ex-boyfriend 50 Cent's sexuality. A social media clap back ensued. #ConcernedStudent1950 at The University of Missouri took the nation by storm when they forced university president Tim Wolfe to resign following multiple racial incidents on campus. President Obama became the only commander-in-chief to have a personal page on Facebook where he hopes to engage in real conversations with constituents. The White House announced an initiative to help improve the lives of women and girls of color with the help of a $118 million grant over the next five years. Prayers of peace and protection were extended to Paris after terrorists targeted the Bataclan Concert Hall killing at least 128 people and injuring 180 others. James Wright Chanel posted a review of the Wal-Mart exclusive Patti LaBelle Sweet Potato Pie on Facebook and #PattiPies sold out in record timing and even scored Wright an invitation to the "If Only You Knew" singer's home for Thanksgiving dinner. We're still mad we couldn't get our hands on a slice of some of that pie. Taye Diggs doesn't want people to address his 6-year-old son referred to as Black. He would prefer he be identified as biracial. A judge ordered the Chicago Police Department to release footage of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by a police officer in October 2014.


Keyshia Cole announced her engagement but she's remained pretty tight lipped as to who the lucky guy is. Spike Lee is releasing a new film, Chi-raq, and people have an awful lot to say about it. The Wiz Live, is set to debut and the star-studded cast is bringing us lots of great musical moments in the new adaptation.

What a time to be alive!

Danielle Henderson (@knottyyarn) is a New York City–based writer and the author of Feminist Ryan Gosling (Running Press).

Additional reporting by Lauren J. Porter.

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