We’re living in a world where governors are trying to keep our real history out of schools, but like the late, great Maya Angelou said:
“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
And this Jordan year (the athlete, not the actor)—ESSENCE is choosing to celebrate joy all Black History Month long. Here are our 23 favorite moments when our people made history this Millenium!
Our Forever POTUS & FLOTUS
The historic 2008 election of Barack Obama as our first Black president also heralded in our gorgeous First Lady Michelle Obama.
Kamala Harris became the first Black, first Asian, and first woman to become the Vice President when she was sworn-in to office in 2021
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during the inaugural National Space Council meeting at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Harris announced the expansion of the National Space Council. Photographer: Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images
“I’m rooting for everybody black” will be complicated at Super Bowl LVII
For the first time ever, we have two Black quarterbacks facing off against one another in 2023 with Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles (whose agent Nicole Lynn is “the first black woman to represent an NFL quarterback in the Super Bowl”) and Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs.
LANDOVER, MARYLAND – SEPTEMBER 25: Quarterback Jalen Hurts #1 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on against the Washington Commanders at FedExField on September 25, 2022 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
When the Marvel Cinematic Universe released its 18th movie Black Panther, it became “the first megabudget movie—not just about superheroes, but about anyone—to have an African-American director and a predominantly black cast. Hollywood has never produced a blockbuster this splendidly black.”
Guyanese actress Letitia Wright (C) delivers a speech at the Queen’s College in Georgetown on January 31, 2023. – Letitia Wright goes up on stage and waves with her arms crossed over her chest. A hundred young people shout “Wakanda forever” in response. The “Black Panther” blockbuster actress returned to her native Guyana 20 years after she emigrated with her family to England. On Tuesday she visited a high school where she shared with students. (Photo by Keno GEORGE / AFP) (Photo by KENO GEORGE/AFP via Getty Images)
Misty Copeland became the first African American Female Principal Dancer with the American Ballet Theatre in 2015
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – OCTOBER 27: Misty Copeland attends the American Ballet Theatre Fall Gala at The David Koch Theatre at Lincoln Center on October 27, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for American Ballet Theatre)
We’re no longer hidden figures
In 2020, NASA headquarters were renamed after the first Black female engineer, Mary W. Jackson, and a satellite launched into space was even named after her on November 6, 2020.
NEW YORK, NY – DECEMBER 20: Actress/singer Janelle Monae visits Build Presents to discuss the film ‘Hidden Figures’ at AOL HQ on December 20, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Mireya Acierto/FilmMagic)
Black Girl Magic literally reigned supreme in 2019, marking the first time 5 major beauty pageants had Black queens
Nia Franklin, Miss America; Kaliegh Garris, Miss Teen USA; Cheslie Kryst (may she rest in peace) Miss USA; Zozibini Tunzi, Miss Universe; and Toni-Ann Singh, Miss World all did it big in 2019.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 28: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) (L-R) Miss Teen USA 2019 Kaliegh Garris, Miss Universe 2019 Zozibini Tunzi and Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst visit BuzzFeed’s “AM To DM” on February 28, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
In 2019, Marsai Martin broke a Guinness World Record
Martin became the “youngest Hollywood executive producer to work on a major production” for her work on Little, which also starred Issa Rae and Regina Hall.
US actress Marsai Martin arrives for the premiere of Universal Pictures’ “Little” at the Regency Village Theatre in Los Angeles on April 8, 2019. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP) (Photo credit should read VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)
Despite her struggles with a speech impediment, Amanda Gorman gave us chills during her inspirational poetry recitation at President Biden’s inauguration
WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 20: Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman speaks during the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. During today’s inauguration ceremony Joe Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Other people now know about the Juneteenth cookout
In 2021 President Biden “signed into law Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, S. 475, creating a federal holiday to commemorate Juneteenth. This is the first federal holiday approved since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.”
NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 19: A woman poses in front of the Apollo theater on Juneteenth on June 19, 2022 in New York City. President Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday in June 2021, proclaiming it as a day for all Americans to commemorate the end of slavery. The date’s history goes back to the year 1865 when Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas to deliver the news that slavery had ended after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
In September of 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened on the National Mall, giving us a home for all of our beautiful, Black history
WASHINGTON, DC-SEP7: The oculus of the Contemplative Court outside of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, September 7, 2017, in Washington, DC. Now that the reflective space is open, and has become a favorite spot in the museum, it stands for both the strengths and weaknesses of the museums larger form, created by lead designer David Adjaye and lead architect Philip Freelon. The building is conceptually strong, but sometimes weak on details. The drama of light and water in the Contemplative Court is as beautiful and striking as the basic design of the corona on the buildings exterior, but there is already corrosion on the ceiling panels near where the water is released. On a recent visit, it also seemed strange that, to enter the room, one had to walk up a ramp because the court is slightly higher than museums underground concourse. This only adds to the jumble of elevations throughout the history galleries, which are accessed by an elevator from the first underground level, which is in turn accessed by another elevator or stairway from ground level. (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Hamilton: An American Musical debuted on Broadway in 2015 and became available on Disney+ in 2020, achieving critical acclaim with an original cast featuring majority Black and brown faces
NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 12: The cast of “Hamilton” performs onstage during the 70th Annual Tony Awards at The Beacon Theatre on June 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)
Don’t mess with the Bey Hive!
Beyonce embodies the spirit of turning lemons into Lemonade, as she became “the first woman in history to have 20 top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 as a solo artist, and 10 on the chart as a member of a group,” the third person to do so alongside Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney.
LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 12: Singer Beyonce poses in the press room with her awards for Best Music Video for “Formation” and Best Urban Contemporary Album for Lemonade” at The 59th GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Dan MacMedan/WireImage)
As all of Rihanna Navy eagerly await Rihanna’s Super Bowl halftime performance, we celebrate her Fenty line becoming the “first woman to create an original line with LVMH and the first woman of colour at the helm of an LVMH maison.”
SIMI VALLEY, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 09: In this image released on November 9, Rihanna attends Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 4 presented by Prime Video at Allied Studios on November 08, 2022 in Simi Valley, California; and broadcast on November 9, 2022. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 4 presented by Prime Video)
Serena Williams won 23 Grand Slam single titles
Williams won “the most in Open era,” truly cementing her as the GOAT, and even won the Australian Open while she was pregnant in 2017.
NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 2: Serena Williams of USA during her last career match against Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia during day 5 of the US Open 2022, 4th Grand Slam event of the season at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 2, 2022 in Queens, New York City. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
Between 2000 and 2001, Tiger Woods won four straight majors, a feat which is now referred to as the Tiger Slam
Woods achieved the milestone of being the first person to “ever hold all four titles at the same time.”
ORLANDO, FLORIDA – DECEMBER 18: Tiger Woods of The United States plays his tee shot on the fourth hole during the final round of the 2022 PNC Championship at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club on December 18, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
Quinta Brunson won the Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series in 2022 for Abbott Elementary
Brunson became the first Black woman to win this award solo for the ABC show she created and stars in.
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 24: Quinta Brunson attends the ESSENCE 15th Anniversary Black Women In Hollywood Awards highlighting “The Black Cinematic Universe” at Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel on March 24, 2022 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by David Livingston/FilmMagic)
On a memorable night 2002, Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won Oscars for their roles in Training Day and Monster’s Ball
This was “the first and only time that both lead acting Oscars have gone to Black performers.”
LOS ANGELES – MARCH 8: Actors Denzel Washington (L) and Halle Berry present at “The 34th NAACP Image Awards” at the Universal Amphitheater on March 8, 2003 in Los Angeles, California. The show airs Thursday, March 13 on the Fox Network at 8:00 PM. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
The term “Black Twitter” was coined in 2010, but since its inception, it’s been a safe haven for our people
Black Twitter has been a place we can turn “to…for comfort, for camaraderie, for commiseration, for solidarity.” Basically, it’s the cookout meets the cafeteria.
INDIA – 2023/01/29: In this photo illustration, Twitter logos seen displayed on the smartphones. (Photo Illustration by Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
When Insecure debuted in 2016, Issa Rae became “the first Black woman to create and star in a show for a premium cable channel.”
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 06: Issa Rae speaks onstage during the 2020 13th Annual ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon at Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel on February 06, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images for ESSENCE)
Oprah’s transcendence in pop culture
Not only was Oprah the first Black person to have her own syndicated talk show, she is a philanthropist, advocate, and icon, on top of being the first African American woman billionaire, “giving back to the culture every step of the way.”
NEW ORLEANS, LA – JULY 02: Oprah Winfrey speaks onstage during the 2016 ESSENCE Festival presented By Coca-Cola at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 2, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for 2016 Essence Festival)
One of the world’s biggest retailers got shook by a Black warehouse worker, Christian Smalls
With Smalls’ leadership, the world’s first Amazon Labor Union was formed to challenge the retail behemoth for fair wages and better work conditions.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 21: Christian Smalls, President, Amazon Labor Union, attends The Fast Company Innovation Festival – Day 2 on September 21, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Fast Company)
It wouldn’t be #23 without referencing the OG 23, Michael Jordan
When the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat retired his number, it marked “the first time in sports history that two teams retired a player’s jersey in his honor.”
PARIS, FRANCE – JUNE 12: Michael Jordan attends a press conference for the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Air Jordan Shoe during the ‘Palais 23’ interactive exhibition dedicated to Michael Jordan at Palais de Tokyo in Paris on June 12, 2015 in Paris, France. (Photo by Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images)